Happy Memorial Day, everyone! We have been back from California for a week… Time is flying by! By the way, I previously – and erroneously – wrote that we were going to the Sunshine State, which my husband lovingly teased me is Florida. Oops! He is from the Golden State on the opposite coast. Don’t worry, I’ve updated the last blog post already. 🙂
We had a good time with family and were able to attend two weddings at the beginning and end of our trip. Congrats to each of my brother-in-laws who recently got married!
You will probably not be surprised to find out that while we were in the Golden State😉 I borrowed my mother-in-law’s library card and took the girls there twice during our two-week stay. We read many lovely books that I don’t have time to share about, but one was particularly meaningful: Safe in a Storm by Stephen R. Swinburne. This book has comforting text that will reassure young children that their loved ones are with them, keeping them safe, even when they feel afraid. It ends sweetly and has the most touching dedication, remembering the lives of the students and teachers lost at Sandy Hook Elementary. (Yes, I always read the dedications of books!)
As we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States, honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country to keep us safe, I think it is appropriate to consider the question: Where do you turn when you’re afraid? Reading aloud Safe in a Storm to my precious girls reminded me of Jesus, who kept his closest friends safe in a storm, too, and who has often been my refuge in uncertain times. (See Matthew 8:23-27 and Psalm 46.) I truly believe that God’s love is strong and powerful and peaceful, the kind of love that I long to give my children when they feel scared. And I desire with all my heart that someday they, too, will experience the safety and comfort of God in their lives.
Safe in a Storm is not a faith-based book, so whatever your family’s beliefs, it is a tender and powerful reminder of the love we desire to show our little ones, a protective and strong and enduring love… A love that all our hearts long for.
Since my daughters were each born, I have been praying that they would be good friends with each other. I also hope that they will cultivate meaningful and supportive friendships with children their age as they grow and develop. As Anne in the well-known novel Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery states in Chapter 8, many of our hearts long for “A bosom friend–an intimate friend, you know–a really kindred spirit in whom I can confide my inmost soul.”
I have had the honor of having such friends in my life, past and present, and I sincerely hope to see my children have the same throughout their lives.
One children’s book that tells the sweet story of such a friendship is Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon. My daughter received this as a gift for her birthday from a friend, who told us that it is one of their family’s favorite books. Since then, we have read it too many times to count! The story is easy to follow and relatable for people of all ages, as a friendship is forged and the two must consider what the other needs. It shows children the power of love and sacrifice and kindness.
In the fall, my daughters found pinecones on two family outings – once during a snack break on a bike ride, once during trip to a family friend’s cottage up north – and they immediately connected them to our oft-read story Penguin and Pinecone. So we gathered pinecones, brought them home to paint them and enjoyed the book again..
Vincent Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some of his most beautiful paintings at both the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Art Institute in Chicago. Although his work was not appreciated during his lifetime, Van Gogh’s art is well-known and world-renowned today!
The book Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt touches on a brief time in Vincent’s life and career when he traveled to a small town and befriend the postman’s family. They helped Vincent settle into his home, visited him regularly and treated him kindly and respectfully despite the other townspeople’s distrust of an outsider.
My children liked reading this book and it provided an excellent opportunity to discuss biography, art history and friendship. The illustrations are nostalgic and include photographs of real Van Gogh paintings.
Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade
Discuss how the townspeople treated Vincent and what was different about how the postman’s family chose to treat Vincent. How can we learn from them?
Vincent was a neighbor to the postman’s family and they welcomed him to their neighborhood with many kind gestures. Choose a neighbor (old or new) to show kindness to this week! Bring over a homemade treat, send a card in the mail or offer to shovel the sidewalk.
Camille was sad when he took his painting to school and his classmates laughed at it. How should we treat our friends when they tell us about something that is important to them?
Find the country of the Netherlands (Holland) on a world map, as well as Belgium and France. Explain those were the 3 places where Vincent lived throughout his life.
If you’re feeling adventurous, complete this art activity based on Vincent Van Gogh’s painting style with your students. Coordinate with your art teacher if desired. Display completed paintings in your classroom, along with printed copies of his most famous work as seen in the book.
My husband and I discuss emotional health and boundaries in age-appropriate ways with our daughters, who are ages 2 and 4. We especially appreciate using books and Bible stories as practical tools to help our children gain understanding of how to best handle conflict.
Even with kids who are not yet in school, like mine, or children who are homeschooled, bullying is an important topic to address. We’ve dealt with minor instances of bullying at the park, the children’s museum and the public library. Having conflicts with other people is unavoidable! But we can prepare our children and our students for the best way to handle those conflicts.
As a side note, my husband and I also teach our children to check their own behavior and make sure they aren’t bullying others… or even one another!
My favorite picture book for introducing this topic with younger kids is Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney. Not only is the book cute and relatable, but it outlines 5 important aspects of bullying:
Clear description of bullying behavior.
Clear boundaries established by an adult (the teacher) that apply to all the children (students in the class).
Simple and clear language to say, “That’s not okay.”
Adult involvement and appropriate consequences for the child who demonstrates bullying behavior.
Opportunity for forgiveness and a “second chance.”
For many children who encounter bullying and/or domineering behavior, this is a great way to break down the way to handle that behavior. Llama Llama and the Bully Goat is an excellent resource for home or school use.
Note: If there is a serious, ongoing issue with bullying and your child is involved, please use your discernment on how to ensure your child’s safety and emotional well-being. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from appropriate people such as a classroom teacher or school counselor.
Just ask any parent or teacher or administrator out there: We all want to raise children to have self-esteem and ultimately, to be healthy, responsible and productive members of society. But in the midst of many differing resources and views at our disposal – and oftentimes clamoring for our attention – we find ourselves wondering how to help children develop self-esteem. Especially when it seems difficult to find the time to fit one more thing in to the day!
Still, I believe that it is worth giving time and energy to helping our children develop self-esteem. As a Christian, I believe that it is even Biblical. (Psalm 139:14 comes to mind: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”) From a standpoint of a parent and an educator, I think that building self-esteem in a child starts with affirmation from the important adults in their lives. This affirmation should be:
Genuine. We’ve all been able to tell when someone is half-hearted in their praise of us or others. Kids can tell, too! Make an effort to be honest with your child/students, and don’t feel compelled to say something you don’t mean in order to boost their self-esteem. If it’s hard for you to think of things to praise, set aside some time in your day or week to write down ideas. Ask your spouse or family members for ideas, or your colleagues if you are a teacher working with students.
Clear. There’s nothing wrong with saying “Good job!” or “Way to go!” but long-term, those phrases don’t give specific feedback to your children or students. Even though it takes more effort – and possibly a little more time – look for opportunities to clearly affirm specific behavior, decisions or character traits you see in your child/student. Name and praise the exact instance of taking initiative, completing a task, demonstrating strength of character, etc.
Frequent. No, we don’t need to give children a gold star for every little thing they do in the classroom or at home, or pat them on the back every five minutes. But we should sincerely praise them on an individual and group level with regularity. For parents, it should be on a daily basis. If it’s hard for you to remember, put a sticky note somewhere you’ll see it or program a reminder in your phone. For educators, individual affirmation will vary on the number of students you work with and will take some self-reflection – and maybe discussions with your colleagues – to come up with a frequency that works for you . Whatever that may look like, try to provide whole-group and small-group encouragement on a daily basis. Put a reminder in your lesson plans or attendance records to challenge yourself to meet this goal.
Remember that the more you practice providing genuine, clear and frequent affirmation for your child/students, the more natural it will become. And the more meaningful that affirmation will be to each child’s growing self-esteem.
I can’t end a post without a book! 🙂 For those of you who have young children or work them professionally, I highly recommend the book When I Feel Good about Myself by clinical social workerCornelia Maude Spelman. There is a wonderful note for adults that precedes the story. The story itself has great sentence starters to encourage your child/students to express what they like about themselves. (And may give you some ideas of what things you can look to praise!)
I’d also love to hear any thoughts you have about building self-esteem in children or resources you’ve found to be helpful! Please share in the comments.
How many times do you remind your child to say thank you? When spoken with sincerity, these simple words can be so sweet to the spirit. But oftentimes our children or our students – even we ourselves – forget to say thank you.
Luke 6:45 reminds me, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
You see, if our children aren’t expressing thankfulness (or we aren’t), the root cause may not be poor manners but the deeper reality that in our hearts, we aren’t very thankful. Perhaps we’re too busy to give thanks or too focused on what we want and don’t have or think we are somehow owed the good things that we have. In any scenario, the condition of our hearts matter because that is what truly motivates what comes out of our mouths. And any parent or teacher who ever said, “Say it like you mean it!” instinctively knows this.
So how do we change this lack of thankfulness in our hearts, and subsequently, in our attitudes and words? The starting place is to choose to be thankful. Make a habit of looking for things that you are thankful for and express your thankfulness inwardly and outwardly. If this is hard for you, try to write down ten things you are thankful for each day in a journal or on a computer document. Then try to articulate those things aloud to family members, friends, co-workers or neighbors.
Each day I choose to cultivate thankful heart, I experience great personal joy and witness firsthand how it naturally overflows into my children’s lives. They begin to mimic my behavior, speech and attitude. This is true for teachers, too! When I taught professionally, I noticed how much my demeanor influenced the culture of my classroom and my students’ attitudes.
For a wonderful book that will help your family or classroom cultivate thankful hearts, I recommend the book Thank You for Me by Marion Dane Bauer. The warm illustrations highlight the message that there are many things in life for which we can be thankful. My daughters liked adding their own impromptu “thanks” as we read together.
Before you leave this page, please share your thoughts or experiences on cultivating thankfulness in your child’s heart. 🙂
Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade
With your child, write out a list of 10 things for which you are thankful. Hang this list on your fridge where you will see it often and be reminded to have a thankful heart.
Thank You for Me draws on our 5 senses (touch, smell, hear, taste, see). Remind your child of these senses. Then choose one of the five senses to focus on for a short time today. Practice expressing thanks for that sense and what it allows you to experience. (“I’m thankful for my ears that can hear the car beep as we drive to the store!” or “I’m thankful my eyes can see the beautiful drawing you gave me just now.”)
Write a card, send an email or text someone you to whom would like to say “thank you.”
Make a thankful hearts jar. During morning meeting, hand out small paper hearts to 5 students. Ask them to share one thing they are thankful for today. Then put the hearts in the jar and see how quickly your class can fill it up!
Print out a list of your student names and place them on your desk, a clipboard or binder. Over the next few days, try to thank each student in your room for something specific. Cross off the names as you go. Reflect on which students it comes more naturally for you to thank and which students you have a harder time thanking.
Think of another staff member or a parent helper to whom you can express genuine thanks. Write that person a personal note or email this week.
I believe that personal suffering can bring out the best in a true friendship. In facing difficult circumstances, my closest and dearest friends have shown their love and care for me, as well as my family, in profound ways.
One of the most touching examples of this is found in the events surrounding our second child’s birth. Since both sets of grandparents live across the country, we had close friends from church who were “on call” to take our oldest daughter whenever I went into labor with the second. In an unexpected turn of events, during an appointment to check the baby because I was 11 days overdue, my midwife came into the examining room and said that I was to report to the Labor and Delivery floor immediately. She had reviewed the results from the ultrasound completed a few days prior (standard procedure in their practice with an overdue baby) and discovered that the levels of amniotic fluid were dangerously low. They were planning to induce me within an hour if my contractions didn’t begin to pick up.
Thankfully, the contractions did pick up. And approximately four hours after arriving at the Nurse’s Station and signing forms, our second precious baby girl was born.
And then came the post-labor hemorrhage at 9 PM. The single most frightening event I have experienced in my life. Hearing nurses call for the crash cart, doctor and midwife paged to my room, nearly ten people surrounding my bed as my husband cradled our newborn in the corner and watched and prayed.
Once I was stable, we found out that we had a slightly longer stay in the hospital because of additional monitoring of my health. Our friends gladly took care of our eldest daughter a little while longer, with my husband going back and forth to spend time with her.
And once we arrived home, it was only 48 hours before the varicose vein that had bothered me so much during the pregnancy became hard and swollen, painfully red and warm to the touch. I went to the Emergency Room and was admitted overnight.
My 5-day old baby girl couldn’t stay with me.
I was hormonal and scared to be alone in a hospital room by myself, longing to take care of my sweet little girls but unable to.
Again, friends happily stepped in to help. One couple gladly took our eldest for a “sleepover” while another brought my husband formula and taught him how to make bottles and feed our infant (we had only breastfed our first child and he didn’t know how to use formula). That same friend later came to the hospital late that evening and stayed with me, bringing me a cell phone charger and my Bible, helping me to pump and dump breastmilk while my arms were hooked up to an IV for round after round of liquid antibiotics to fight the blood clots that had formed in the varicose vein in my leg. The following day more friends came with cookies, hugs, a card game and lots and lots of love.
And once I was released from the hospital again, friends brought us meals, gave gifts to both our children, prayed for us, sent us emails and cards. Friends took me to the pharmacy to get my prescription injections and blood thinners to help dissolve the remaining clots in my leg and prevent them from spreading to my lungs or brain. They helped take care of our children when I needed to go to regular follow-ups with my physician and even offered to take my eldest for a couple hours at a time so I could get some rest.
Our friends showed us the love of Christ during one of the most difficult times in our family’s life, when I was physically weak and but emotionally sustained by the care and support we received.
It is the power of that kind of friendship that I think of as I read Dean Roberts’ book Two Friends aloud to my children. The kind of friendship that builds others up – in this case, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas – to be all they can be, to achieve their dreams and highest potential, to influence the world in marvelous and breathtaking ways.
As we read to our children and model our lives in front of them, let us hold true friendship in the highest esteem and encourage them to be good friends with one another.
Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade
Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas regularly met for tea to encourage one another in their work for women’s rights and African American rights. Host a tea party and invite your child’s friends to come and bring a snack to share.
Check out this great article on explaining rights to children and share with your child in an age-appropriate manner what rights are.
Ask your child how they can show kindness to their friends. Share how friends have shared kindness with you.
After reading, give each student a printable tea cup. Ask them to write one way they can show kindness to a friend and allow them to decorate their tea cups. Ask for students to share what they wrote on their tea cups and then hang them up in your classroom as a reminder to be good friends like Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas were.
Show students photos from the Susan B. Anthony house and the virtual tour of the Frederick Douglas museum.
Our family loves to spend time together. We make memories in simple everyday moments, such as molding Play-Doh at the table, baking brownies for a friend who is coming for supper and going for a walk to the park. We also make memories in more extravagant planned outings to the zoo, trips to see extended family members or dear friends and more. In everything we do, my husband and I seek to enjoy the time we have with our children and each other.
Isn’t it delightful that “joy” is a part of the word “enjoy”? We experience joy when we enjoy our time together, just having fun and treasuring one another. We don’t simply do these things to pass the time but to really grow closer to one another and share in life together. No matter who is a part of your family, I encourage you today to look for a moment in which you can experience joy with your loved ones.
In the book Beach House by Deanna Caswell, the author demonstrates the joy we gain as a family when we participate in activities and create memories as a family. The family in this book is excited to go to their beach house and play on the beach all day. My husband and I don’t ever expect to own a second home, but we do have events and traditions that our family looks forward to, including an annual Family Camp that my dad’s side has had for over 30 years.
Whatever your family enjoys doing to build memories while having fun, Beach House will bring back the warmth and nostalgia of your favorite family times (from growing up as a child or raising your own children). And hopefully,we will all come away from a book like this one will remind us to appreciate the beautiful moments in which we experience joy together in this life.
Best Ages: pre-k to 1st grade
Depending on the area where you live, plan a family trip to the beach! Discuss what your family does at the beach compared to the family in the book.
Create a mini photo album of your favorite family outings. Print out photos or create something digitally. Talk with your child about each photo and the memory it represents.
Set up a beach station or sensory play area. If you have a sand table, pull it out! Otherwise include items such as pails, shovels, sea creature toys, towels, sunglasses, sunscreen, hats, picnic basket or cooler. Allow students to interact with the items and talk about them in small groups.
As a class, brainstorm the various activities we do with our family and friends to have fun. Afterward, allow students to draw a picture of a time they went to the beach or did something else fun with their family or friends.
These days, everywhere you turn, people are eating bacon and talking about bacon. Bacon-cheddar waffles, chocolate-covered bacon and bacon-wrapped dates… these are all foods that I’ve encountered in the last year. While I prefer to eat turkey bacon, my husband and my children love the real deal. So when I saw the book Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio, I figured it would be a hit at our house. And I was right!
The word play in Everyone Loves Bacon makes it a super fun read-aloud for grown-ups. My children like the book because of the peppy illustrations of all the personified foods in the story. What I like most, though, is how the plot addresses the way that we see ourselves and others with gentle insight and humor.
Consider yourself forewarned: this book may make you hungry for breakfast!
Best Age: kindergarten – 2nd grade
After reading Everyone Loves Bacon, ask your child some questions about the way Bacon related to others. How did Bacon feel about himself? How did he feel about others and treat them? Discuss how we strive to treat others, particularly those we call our friends.
Cook your favorite breakfast foods for supper one night and re-read the book afterward. Did any of the food you eat show up in the book?
After reading Everyone Loves Bacon, discuss how Bacon treated others. What was his attitude? What was most important to him?
Some of Bacon’s friends missed him, while some of the other breakfast meats felt left out. How can we be sure to include others? What are ways you can do that today? (Examples: sitting next to someone at lunch, asking them to play at recess, sharing during center time or free play)
Look through the pages at the other breakfast foods featured in the illustrations. Which ones does your family enjoy eating? Which ones provide the most nutrition and which are best to eat less frequently?
We have all had good days and bad days. But for those of you who have young children in your home or work with them on a regular basis, you know that children can go from crying to smiling in a matter of minutes. For some reason, children typically seem more open to receive the gift of a good thing and allow their mindset toward their circumstances to change. Unlike older people, young people don’t often get stuck in a negative or pessimistic attitude for an entire day (although hunger, tiredness and illness can take a toll on kids and their caregivers!). Children frequently and unknowingly demonstrate how to cultivate an openness to receive a blessing and allow one’s attitude to change toward the entire outlook on the day.
All of us probably knew how to joyfully receive those blessings at some point when we were younger and at some point found that we no longer could in the same way. Is it because we are we more cynical or more realistic? Or just too preoccupied to take all the wonderful things in and allow them to captivate our attention and thanksgiving rather than the bad? Whatever the case, my yearning to receive good things with an open and grateful heart is what touched me as I read aloud A Good Day to my children this week. Each character in the story has something happen that makes him sad or frustrated or upset… BUT THEN… Something happens to each one that changes the course of his day along with his attitude.
Our little ones can all relate to the characters in this story and we can, too. Enjoy A Good Day by Kevin Henkes as a sweet read-aloud together. And hopefully you, too, will find that today is a good day after all.
Best Age: prek-1st grade
Think of a time in recent days when you or your child were upset by something. What happened to change your feelings? Discuss this together and relate your experience to the characters’ experiences.
Look for an opportunity to bring up A Good Day with your child this week. For instance: “Ben’s toy was lost… but then he found it! What a good day!” or “Our friend couldn’t come to play after all… but then we walked to the park! What a good day!”
Ask students what they consider to happen on a good day. Examples could be visiting grandma’s house, going to a restaurant for supper or playing outside with friends. Share what makes a good day for you.
Print out each of the characters’ good and bad experiences on separate pieces of paper. Mix them up and ask students to match the good and bad experiences for each character by hanging them on the board or easel. Have the words “but then” in the center to divide the two. Celebrate together that each character was able to have a good day after something upsetting happened.
Write a story starter with a line such as “I forgot my lunch at home but then…” or “I lost my favorite pencil but then…” and ask students to finish the sentence with a positive thing that would change the event from bad to good. It will be fun to see what your students come up with!