5 simple resolutions for you and your children

As many of us have been setting goals for the new year, I am naming these ‘simple resolutions’ because they are coming from a proposal not to set more goals for you and your children, but instead to integrate a life philosophy encompassed by the foundation of love. When we live from this element – what we are all created from – everything we do can be driven from a place of true inspiration. And when we are truly inspired, we don’t need motivation to achieve our goals. We simply achieve them because it is an essential part of our makeup. So as you dream and plan for this year, ask yourself whether it’s coming from a place of fear or a place of love. If it’s not love, then make a commitment to make that subtle but profound shift. You will feel the difference and so will your children.

  1. The whole world is a series of miracles, but we’re so used to them we call them ordinary things. - Hans Christian Andersen

    The whole world is a series of miracles, but we’re so used to them we call them ordinary things. – Hans Christian Andersen

    Storytell. – Add some flavor to your daily/nightly story time with your own storytelling. This may seem like a daunting task especially if it’s at the end of the day and your chops are not chugging at optimal speed. But trust me on this: make it a game and ask your child his favorite food and favorite animal, for example. Then let your own stream of consciousness (or sleepy state of mind) take its natural course. Your children are the friendliest critics especially when the story is about them, their alter ego and the unique things amongst their lives. Check out a previous post on storytelling here.

  1. skateboarding2016

    Up your superhero status by engaging in a new activity together, showing your flaws and then getting right back up to try again.

    Learn something new together. – Demonstrate to your child to embrace the challenges that come with learning something new. Growing through the difficulties are what make it interesting. Have fun with your follies! In our home, the boys recently got their first skateboards. I’ve enrolled them into a skateboarding class and currently taking notes! I’m open to the challenge and having so much fun with it. You’ll get a bunch of laughs and make fun memories with of your kids too! Check your local rec center for classes. Choose something that you know your child will enjoy and is within their level of healthy challenge. If something is too challenging, it will be too difficult and that may prevent growth, or create new fears or barriers.

  1. wheatfield2016

    By fostering a healthy relationship with food now, they become more in sync with their own bodies – a gift that pays in dividends throughout their lifetime.

    Have a healthy relationship with food. – As parents, this is one area that we all may find challenging. If we constantly tell our children ‘eat your vegetables’, the energy around it is the same as when our own parents told us to finish our plates when we were kids. We developed unhealthy relationships with food and took us decades and lots of unhealthy choices to learn from our parents’ generations’ lessons. Plant seedlings and harvest your own fruits and vegetables. Allow your children to understand why their bodies need sustenance and what a gift it is from mother nature to provide us with the delicious array of natural nourishment. Some good books that may help: How do apples grow? by Betsy Maestro,  Life cycles Pumpkins by Robin Nelson, How does a seed sprout? by Melissa Stewart, How bees make honey by Louise Spilsbury

  1. familyboardgames2016

    Have some genuine fun with each member of your family. Create a space for your older children to enjoy a night in by allowing them to choose the activity without any criticism.

    Have an unplugged family connection night every week. – This is a screen-free night several nights per week, if not every night (especially with younger children in the home). On your designated special family night, entice the whole family to engage in activities that require interaction, conversation, laughter, connection and love. Make banana bread and hot cocoa then play board games and charades. End it with a fun book or storytelling session about your family’s roots or parent’s childhood. These cooperative games encourage teamwork. – Race to the treasure board game.  Hoot owl hoot board game.

  1. meditate2016

    Give yourself the gift of solitude and introspection. Knowing thyself deeply and respecting your own needs is a blessing for the entire family.

    Feed the soul. – Always observe your children. Know what makes them tick, what they thrive off and what they shy away from. Help them understand themselves so that eventually they become their own self-advocates for everything in life. Nurture them, guide them, entice them, inspire them and continuously explore with them so they learn about the world around them and learn about their own authenticity. Feeding your own soul is just as essential. You can’t give your own light if your light is not being nurtured. If you’re not sleeping well or not getting regular exercise or stressed about something, the energy needed to nurture these areas of your life will get zapped and your entire family is impacted. Give yourself what you need on a daily basis – meditate, exercise, eat well, laugh, love. Then integrate your life philosophy into your parenting philosophy by involving your children with just about everything (age-appropriate).

 

Happy 2016, friends!!

May you continue to inspire and guide our children to lead truly authentic and compassionate lives.

Quote of the day

When I say to a parent, ‘read to a child’, I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.  — Mem Fox

There is energy within everything – in our laughter, the way we complete the banal tasks of the day, in the food we eat. Our children are often more porous and susceptible to the energy behind the interaction we have with them than in the actual task at hand. When we play and love, we exude positive light through our actions. Let the positivity and the love flow through all of our actions so that our children receive the message that reading is a true gift, just like all other things we may enjoy in life.

 

Happy Reading! xo

Top 10 books for the spirit of Halloween

Celtic-Origins-Samhain

Samhain traditionally means ‘summer’s end’.


Mystery, magic, and superstition are common associations with our modern day Halloween. But this popular holiday first began as a pre-Christian Celtic end-of-summer festival called Samhain to honor our deceased loved ones.

Traditionally, Samhain (pronounced saowin) was less about the spooky and evil, and more about preparing for dormancy as winter was a time of food scarcity, colder weather and shorter days. Two thousand years ago, Samhain was a time when people believed the dead returned to the earthly realm as ghosts. So they would leave food and wine at the front door to prevent them from entering the home, and would wear masks to be mistaken as fellow spirits.

souling

On this day, the needy would participate in ‘souling’ where they would beg for pastries known as ‘soul cakes’. In return, they would pray for peoples’ dead relatives. They would also participate in ‘guising’, where they would dress up in costume for food, wine and money in return for singing, telling jokes and performing, similar to our modern-day trick or treating.

By 1000 AD, the Christian church turned Samhain to All Saint’s Day or All Hallow’s Day – a day to honor the dead. So the eve of All Saint’s Day became All Hallow’s Eve, then later shortened to Halloween.

Halloween1In the late 1800s, tricks and pranks such as egging houses, tipping over outhouses and opening farmer’s gates were well established as part of the festivities. Some believed they were getting out of hand so there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a more friendly, community-centered holiday. By the start of the 20th century, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones. Then by the 1920s, parades and town parties became the featured entertainment. Today, with $2.5 billion spent on costumes annually and $6 billion on candy alone each year, Halloween has successfully become a secular holiday in North America.

So in honor of the traditional spirit of Halloween – here are my top read-aloud story time picks that will inspire our young children to enjoy the spirit for now and well into the rest of the year.

  1. bones skeletonsBones – Skeletons and How They Work by Steve Jenkins: Let your kids discover real facts about the skeletons that are currently prominent around town as decorations. They can learn about the bones in their own bodies, but also those in familiar animals.
  2. Have you Seen my Monster? by Steven Light: Utilizing the monster theme, your young child can learn about uncommon geometric shapes while feasting their eyes on vivid pops of color and masterful illustrations throughout the book.
  3. beastlyverseBeastly Verse by Joo Hee Yoon: Beastly Verse transports the reader into a richly worded world of scary and not-so-scary animals such as tigers, hummingbirds, owls, elephants, pelicans, yaks, snails, and even telephones! Poetry is not only fun and playful to recite and hear, but it is also a helpful way to expose children to the rhythmic and phonological sensitivity to help springboard your child to further hone their early literacy skills.
  4. Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett: This charming tale of friendship is a sweet and innocent way to share the message that all kinds of friends – real, imaginary and of the ghostly kind – can be special.
  5. eye to eyeEye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins: This Caldecott honor is a beautiful way to explain the power and insight we have through the information we may acquire about our world via the eyes.
  6. Lenny and Lucy by Philip Stead: Despite Peter’s fears of scary creatures hiding in the woods behind his new home, he comes up with a plan to protect himself as well as adapt to the move and even make new friends. A solid story to help your child overcome his own fears.
  7. dark_emp_cpverDark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman: The darkness isn’t so scary with this Newberry honor book, as children learn about the nocturnal animals that live in the forest through beautifully poetic text.
  8. Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer: Having an imaginary friend is one way children cope with feelings of loneliness and Sam is no different. Follow his entertaining adventures with Fred, a fun-loving friend who is only real to him.
  9. wolfie the bunnyWolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman: Wolfie is not as scary as first thought in this delightful tale that can help children adapt to having a new baby in the family.
  10. Night Animals by Gianna Marino: Help children overcome their nighttime fears with this cute twist on a cozy bedtime story. With shiny eyes peering out of dark pages, they’ll soon realize there is nothing to fret.

Top 5 spooky books for your tween

tween

Keep them engaged with read aloud activities such as anticipating what will come next, incorporating histrionics when re-enacting parts of the plot and utilizing themes by making parallels into their own lives.

A tween’s life is full of drama, emotion, crises, excitement – and it can all happen within a five-minute text thread. It may be challenging to have your tween’s undivided attention for even a moment, so ensuring you have her focus with the right type of book is key. With the season of Halloween in the air, stay on point with my Top 5 book list. Who knows, you may even get to take turns reading aloud…

  1. Sherlock-HolmesSherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: This book will garner enough attention from your tween who can appreciate a book that can test their problem solving and critical thinking skills. Each puzzling story will get their wheels and cranks turning, while engaging them in a mysterious web of well-crafted literary characters and exceptional writing.
  2. dracula-bram-stokerDracula by Bram Stoker: Halloween is not complete without a classic vampire tale. The descriptive text brings the story alive and keeps readers on their toes as they explore the mysteries of Count Dracula. There are many sub-themes woven into the story – gender roles, social issues and religion during the Victorian era.
  3. The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright: This story is as much about the mysteries of the non-living as it is about the living. Tweens may be intrigued to learn more about their own family history as they try to figure out what secrets the seemingly haunted dollhouse in the attic holds. In addition, it is also a story of family relationships that withstand the test of time and hardship.
  4. eyesofhtekillerrobotEyes of the Killer Robot by John Bellairs: This is Book Five of the Johnny Dixon series and combines the supernatural with a sports theme as well as innovative technology. When the characters bring this powerful robot back to life, they’re faced with the consequences of their actions and must save the town from destruction.
  5. Short and Shivery by Robert San Souci: This collection of ghost stories and folklore are ideal for the abbreviated reading sessions – waiting in lines, during transitions, or a daytime read. They come from all around the world and focus on Halloween favorites such as werewolves, witches, ghosts, goblins, vampires, and more. They are complex yet contain just the right balance of fear and fun to keep tweens returning for more. These short stories can pique readers’ interests about culture and history.

If you have a tween at home, I’d love to hear more about your own reading recommendations and related adventures, for Halloween and beyond.

 

xx

nj

Best books to read to your newborn

We have long known that the gentle sound of a human voice can be used to soothe a baby. Longitudinal research has discovered the powerful effect a familiar voice has on an infant’s health condition, brain development and emotional stability. Whether you are in gestation or recently gave birth, it is never too early to start regularly reading to your baby.

newborn baby

Confession: I had too much fun perusing newborn baby photos online. Pulled at my heart strings.

Aside from the essentials – nutrition, warmth, sleep – love is really all your baby needs in this phase of her life. With that as your guiding force for all nourishment, read with love as your essence and you can essentially read anything – Rudyard Kipling, Dr. Michael Beckwith or the side of your cereal box. What your baby is seeking is the pleasant sound of your voice – the one she recognizes and will associate with this peaceful and secure time of day. So along with your daily story time, during the first several months and beyond, get acquainted with becoming a narrator of your activities and thoughts. That’s golden for her semantic development and assimilation into her new environment. “What a gorgeous morning it is! I could just lay here forever. But our list of things to do today is endless. Maybe we should x the to-do list and have a picnic in the park…”

Here is my list of some of the best books to read to your newborn (or fetus):

  1. look lookLook, look by Peter Linenthal – The black and white images are a great way to catch the attention of a newborn’s developing eyes.
  2. Global babies by The Global Fund for Children – A great addition to your photographic books. With clear pictures exploring the bright canvas of cultures around our world is a great way to show her the beauty and authenticity of culture.
  3. veryhungrycaterpillarThe very hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle. The simplicity and vivid images are enough to attract any child. The repetition and rhyming make it a favorite. As your baby grows, you can also extend the lesson and apply it to real life by showing your baby a real life caterpillar and sharing its life cycle and miracle of transformation.
  4. Anything by Dr. Seuss – Rhyme. Rhythm. Magic. Need I say more?
  5. GoodnightmoonGoodnight moon by Margaret Wise Brown – This classic is a favorite for so many reasons. Just the sheer poeticism will engage your baby and help take her to dreamland.
  6. Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney – An ideal book to read while getting your snuggles in.
  7. patthebunny

    Pat the bunny is also available as a ‘touch and feel’.

    Pat the bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt – the soft pastel colored images, the sturdiness of the pages, the wonderful variety of textures and the invitation of interactivity make this a favorite.

  8. Where is baby’s belly button? by Karen Katz – This well-loved classic is a wonderful way to involve your baby by having her open the flaps on each page and learn her body parts.
  9. myfirstbookofwordsMy first book of words by Joanna Bicknell– As your baby familiarizes herself with her environment, she is also labeling them, thus building her vocabulary. My first book of words has photographs of real objects to help baby connect object with word. The very best picture book is the one you make with photographs taken of the objects around your home. Use any photo book site to organize, design and bind your personalized book.
  10. Giraffe and friends by Rettore or any ‘touch and feel’ book that your baby can feel and manipulate herself when she is developmentally ready.
  11. fivelittlemonkeysFive little monkeys jumping on the bed by Eileen Christelow– This may not be much loved among parents, however, the little ones will delight at the upbeat nature of this story, the silly images, and the repetitive rhyme.

 

 

When selecting your own books for your newborn, some things to remember:

  1. For the first few months, black/white and high contrast patterns are what attract your baby. Your book selections should be those that stimulate sight and hearing, as this is how they largely absorb information during this time. Your baby’s eyesight is perfectly developed at birth but her brain is still processing all of the stimuli. At four months, she has developed better depth perception and can process more color and shapes. By eight months, her vision is 20/200 but still prefers to focus on what’s right in front of her.

    newborn daddy reading

    The identity of this family is unknown, as this photo was discovered online, but what a moment to witness! Thank you for your existence and for sharing this photo!❤

  2. Choose books with hard cardboard pages, ‘touch and feel’ books or provide a teether or toy during story times. By around six months, oral stimulation is another preferable way babies use to process information.
  3. Rhyming books are always a hit. As babies grow, the ability to find words that rhyme appears to be an important ability in early readers, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and many experts agree. Honing in on this skill is one of the stepping stones to phonological awareness and understanding.
  4. Selecting themed books will help your child learn many words in that particular category – ie. various types of books about the beach – photographic, good plot lines, non fiction.
  5. Read anything and everything. The more you read, the more opportunities you are providing your infant for developing the complex continuum of language and literacy.

When reading to your newborn:

  1. There is no need to finish the book, nor read from beginning to end. The point is that you are providing the daily, regular dosage of this type of phonetic and socio-emotional engagement with your baby.
  2. Remember to narrate the story on the side, to help your baby learn the sounds and rhythms of language. Feel free to act out animal sounds, accents and other elaborate storytelling techniques.
  3. Show your face and make eye contact! Babies largely read emotion and information from our faces, our eyes, our lips as they move. They can detect joy, shock, sadness through facial expression.
  4. Repetition! Prior to the age of about two, repetitions of a few favorite books is highly recommended, as opposed to a huge selection. This repetition reinforces learning, so commit as much as your baby requests it. You will be amazed with how flawlessly your baby will be able to recite the story word for word as she grows.
  5. Over time and upon readiness, allow and encourage your child to turn the pages herself. This fosters more engagement, interest and independence.

    baby book

    Source: How we Montessori

  6. As she continues to develop into her toddler years, engage in discussion by asking questions and answering her babbles by pointing to the pictures and using lots of facial, body and verbal emphasis. So that the session becomes interactive, confirming your child’s developing vocabulary. Expanding on your child’s response creates a stronger sense of self-confidence.
  7. Commit to those moments of bonding and security. Maintain skin-skin contact as often as possible – patting, touching and hugging her as you read. These bonding and feel-good moments during story time reinforces the love of literacy.
  8. As your infant becomes mobile, choose moments after activity or before nap and sleep times, so you have a child who will actually sit still to listen and see the pages. Certainly don’t enforce reading times when your baby is unwilling to read. Associate reading with positive, memorable shared times.

 

Toddlerhood and beyond:

Phonological awareness – the ability to perceive and manipulate sounds – is essential to future reading success, such as in the word cup – k-uh-p. This ability allows the child to understand that words contain letters that represent sounds. Once the child can break the ‘code’, they can connect the symbols (letters) and decode or read the words. Children who have well-developed phonological awareness are much more likely to learn to read quickly and be good readers over time.

As your infant grows into toddlerhood and the preschool level, here are other ways to elaborate on semantic and syntax development, bonding and early literacy:

  1. Label and elaborate on new words throughout the day – Make comments and ask questions about the things you see and the experiences you share while grocery shopping, doing laundry or going for a stroll.
  2. Play games – A fun way to incorporate early phonological development is to play a sort of Simon says! game. “Put the ball under the chair.” You may do it for her repeatedly until she can do it herself, repeating the words and phrases.
  3. Sing songs – Listening to music helps children build many important language and literacy skills, from developing a sense of rhythm to processing small and large chunks of sound (like phonemes and sentences). They also help build vocabulary and comprehension.
  4. Clapping activities for syllable awareness – Choose a funny word that your child may enjoy – sunshine – Clap with each syllable. Take turns. Or while singing your child’s favorite song, clap with each syllable. “Row, row, row your boat…” would be 5 claps or play a separate game where you break down the phonemes in a word – b – ag (two claps).
  5. Use blocks to put together meanings of words together – i.e. pen (one block) cil (another block) with a little space between the blocks OR ask “what word am I trying to say? i.e. di (pause)- no (pause) – saur”
  6. Rhyming games – This is a great game to play while waiting in line or driving long distances. Before you introduce this one, make sure your child understands the concept of rhyming by giving lots of previous opportunity to rhyme yourself. “What rhymes with cat? Hmm, bat! Mat! Flat!” Encourage your child to participate when she is ready.
  7. Give specific feedback. In lieu of saying ‘good job’, explain in detail why your child was correct in her speech – “That’s right! ‘Flower’ has two syllables!”

May you all enjoy this special bonding time with your new life now and for years to come. xoxo

 

Baby, we can’t wait to welcome you to our world!

I’m going to be an auntie!

 karren belly

 

 

Top 10 picture books for the new year

As we commit to this time of year as an opportunity of renewal and resolution, our children may feel the energy surrounding these intentions as alive and enthusiastic. In lieu of passing onto our children the anxieties and pressures that may also grip these goals, a good way to guide them is to direct the energy around the practice of doing our best everyday (not just in the first few months of the year), which may also prevent burn out later. One way to keep the momentum is to incorporate some good habits into our everyday lives. How do we do this? If we have chosen our work and goals based on the foundation of our true interests, we can remind ourselves of the initial heartfelt intent surrounding these goals. Children are naturally driven by their core desires and interests, so when we also exhibit this behavior, it becomes more natural to emulate.

sky

A new year means new opportunity, fresh purpose and renewal.

Three ways we can commit to guiding our children to do their best everyday:

  1. Keep them curious: Observe your child to pinpoint their deepest desires and delve deep into the subject as a team. Encourage their inquiries by matching their enthusiasm. You can both become ‘experts’ on the topic as you explore together.
  2. Discover through adventure: Don’t just stop at books. Sure, reading in your cozy nook all day can be very appealing. However, children are kinesthetic learners; they absorb the material and the lessons far better when they are given concrete experiences.
  3. Inspire: As you trek forth in this journey of adventure together, it is also healthy to encourage our children to explore outside of their typical interests and comfort zones. You may encounter frustrations, which is all a part of learning. Be sure to be actively present and allow your child to scream it out, if necessary. When he is calm, lovingly discuss what happened and his cycle of feelings, encouraging how to go about it more constructively next time. As we inspire our children to explore deeper and further, we are giving them the necessary tools and the confidence to continue this exploration into their adult lives.
Family hiking in Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods.

Our world is filled with opportunity for adventure, exploration and discovery. Go out and find it!

While we guide our children to explore their interests and beyond, here are the top 10 books that may further encourage and inspire our children through witty plotlines, endearing characters and enticing visuals:

  1. theumbrella

    This story has no words but contains a sweetly powerful plot line.

    The umbrella by Dieter Schubert – This is one of our favorite wordless picture books. It is a delightful way to instill the love of adventure and the idea of a journey into a young child’s mind.

  2. 10 Things I can do to help my world by Melanie Walsh – A child friendly reminder to be kinder to our world the way we are kind to our loved ones. Full of bold illustrations with big heart.
  3. ourbighome

    Go beyond your child’s day to day scheduling to discover the beauty that lies just beneath the surface.

    Our big home by Linda Glaser – A beautifully illustrated celebration of our big home we call Earth. This concept book gives a clear and beautiful presentation about the coexistence of human beings with other living things. What a wonderful way to open our children’s eyes to the bigger picture!

  4. Sam and Dave dig a hole by Mac Barnett – A sweet and witty story of looking for the extraordinary — and finding it in a manner you’d never expect.
  5. Oneworldoneday

    I am you. You are me.

    One world, one day by Barbara Kerley Exquisite, moving photographs and text to convey a simple yet profound concept: we are one global family. This is a sophisticated concept book, presented as an elegant picture book.

  6. Oh, the thinks you can think! – by Dr. Seuss – The possibilities are endless. This book celebrates the imagination within all of us and encourages young readers to think.
  7. Journey

    This little girl holds the power to create her own magnificent story.

    Journey by Aaron Becker – This book launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.

  8. The Numberlys by William Joyce and Christina Ellis – A wonderful homage to everyone who knows there is more to life than shades of black and gray.
  9. neo-leo

    Our children hold unlimited potential within.

    Neo Leo: The ageless ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Barretta – This book cleverly shows how Da Vinci’s ideas—many inspired by his love of nature—foreshadowed modern inventions, offering a window into the future. A great way to inspire our future scientists, engineers, artists and inventors of the future!

  10. Good people everywhere by Linea Gillen – A colorful picture book that will warm the hearts of children and adults alike, each of its pages contain endearing examples and vibrant illustrations to inspire children to grow into grateful, caring, and giving people.

 

Wishing you all a blessed 2015, filled with the joy, discovery and dedication to continue on your journeys!

 

xo

nj

Charities: In the season of giving

Community-Garden

Give to a charity and witness the ripple effect of compassion and unity with your children.

Every holiday season, I get bitten by the holiday bug – I always feel compelled to gift more, create more, wrap more, bake more, do more. It is a rather warm and joyous time of year for me, but I know that if I’m not mindful, I can get carried away.

One way I’ve been counteracting this impulsive tendency is to remind myself to decline the things that feel obligatory and to choose those traditions that are in line with my family’s values – compassion, creativity, gratitude, meaning, joy, love. If you’ve been following my posts, especially during the holiday season, I share a lot about gratitude and giving back. In that same spirit, one way we are celebrating this season is by continuing the tradition of giving to their charity of choice. Throughout the year, my children donate their toys, books and clothing to the local toy and clothing drive. As they grow older, they can understand more deeply what it means to show gratitude, share compassion, and spread joy and love.

Depending on your family’s special and unique values, here is a shortlist of some admirable national charities that you and your children together can help support during the holiday season and all year long. Be sure to involve your children as much as their level of maturity and understanding will allow. Your preschooler may feel a great sense of gratitude by helping out at the local animal shelter or even fostering an animal. Your preteen may understand the impact of the community reach through involving herself with an environmental project. Your teenager may feel compelled to begin his own local community outreach in his own school, neighborhood or beyond. Just remember to allow them the freedom to choose based on their own heart’s intention and natural interests.

Each link below will direct you to the information you need to get started. It’s a simple but abundantly heartfelt way to show our gratitude for the fulfilling lives we lead.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John F. Kennedy

Feeding America – Through a network of food banks and programs, Feeding America helps find a local food bank in your area – http://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank/

Heifer International – Teaches children how they can help create a better world through their reading incentive service-learning program that offers global education opportunities. http://www.heifer.org/what-you-can-do/school/index.html

No kid hungry – End hunger in your own community by finding local projects and organizations – http://actioncenter.nokidhungry.org

Animal charities of America – Utilize their network to volunteer and help with their mission to enhance the lives of all animals farm, domesticated and wild. http://www.animalcharitiesofamerica.org/find/

Wildlife Conservation Network – Help WCN save endangered wildlife globally by connecting with conservationists and/or collaborating on a project. http://wildnet.org/get-involved

Environmental Defense Fund – Join EDF find practical and lasting solutions to the most urgent environmental threats to the climate, ecosystems, health and more. http://www.edf.org/how-you-can-help

Earthshare – Support Earthshare’s many environmental and conservation charities by finding volunteer opportunities in your area through their ‘Volunteer Match Tool’. http://www.earthshare.org/volunteer-opportunities.html

American Childhood Cancer Organization – Generate awareness and raise funds in your area by organizing a PJammin Day at school or work. http://acco.org/PJammin.aspx

Childhelp – Join Childhelp with the prevention and treatment of child abuse through one of the many volunteer opportunities available. https://www.childhelp.org/volunteer-fundraising-opportunities/

SOS Children’s Villages – Their vision for the world’s children is that every child should belong to a family and grow with love, respect and security. There are many ways to get involved with your children to help advocate for the rights of all children across the world. http://www.sos-usa.org/get-involved

Literacy charities across the country – There are hundreds of charities that advocate childhood literacy by offering deployed parents the opportunity to record storybooks to their children, guiding children to hone in on their storytelling skills, starting libraries – all by providing books to all children across the world. Your children can of course help donate books to any of these charities. You can also involve your children by educating them about how these organizations help to promote literacy – which essentially supports all children with a strong start to education, opportunity, happiness. After all, the love of reading is the first step to a lifetime of joy, creativity, discovery and infinite opportunity.

Girls Write Now

Pro-literacy

Room to read

Reading is fundamental

The African Library Project

Books for the Barrios

Literacy Inc

United through reading

Reading Tree

First Book

Reach out and read

Book Aid International

Charity Resource Databases – If you feel inclined to explore further, the links below are an easy way to browse all national and locally registered charities by category.

Charity Navigator

Children’s Charities of America

Charity Vault

Another powerful way to give back is to consciously circulate positive energy in the world through generally expressing kindness and encouragement, and sharing your skills and resources. Giving may include helping your coworker navigate through a crisis, giving money to someone you know who needs it and offering your time to the neighborhood children on a project. There are so many forms of giving, and through these acts, we model to our children how to become a valuable existence on our planet.

OurKids-GiveBack

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop

 

I am grateful.

With the holidays in full force, gratitude is a word that is getting dropped more often. As we feel more appreciative for the things we already have, many spiritual leaders say to also feel grateful for the things we don’t want. This may seem anti-instinctual but what society refers to as ‘bad news’ are actually admirable opportunities to help us learn more about ourselves and the world around us, grow into the person we are born to become and be the role model our children need us to be, especially in times of challenging circumstances.

Giving thanks during this season of appreciation is a wonderful start to a consistent practice. Committing to a daily ritual of gratitude has proven an overall betterment in our lives. A whole new body of research confirms the benefits of feeling more gratitude:

  1. more happiness
  2. more abundance
  3. better health
  4. more optimism
  5. more altruism
  6. less materialistic
  7. less envious
  8. less depressed
children-playing

“This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” Maya Angelou

So how to integrate it into our daily lives? It’s really simple:

Close your eyes and tune out the external world. Take 3 minutes to reflect on what you are grateful for today. It can be something specific, general, big or small. There are no rules; it’s whatever makes you feel thankful for having it in your life. Write it on a napkin, on your hand, in the air – as long as you can allow yourself to truly embody the feeling of gratitude in your heart. It’s a good feeling to feel frequently.

The following were among those on my list today:

  1. the energy and beating of my strong heart
  2. the steady growth of my inner discipline
  3. the beauty, purity in my children
  4. the joy of connecting with close friends
  5. the sweet, crisp, juicy sensation when I bite into an organic honey crisp apple

Instant increase in the happiness quotient – it’s simple and powerful stuff. An easy time to engage in every day would be at dinner with the family or at the end of the day, by keeping a ‘gratitude journal’ on your night stand, so it is the last thing you do before you turn in.

How to include your children in your daily ritual? Simple, as well!

Two little children planting seeds on the field

A great way to help our children practice their appreciation to the Earth for all of its gifts is to plant seeds, tend to them and watch them grow!

Keep it fun and light. At dinner time or at bedtime would be ideal. In our home, we take a brief moment after the last book is read and the lights have been turned off. This is such a wonderful way for them to close the day. My children always get instantly happy when we do this. Last night, after the busyness of the week and out of utter exhaustion, I forgot. My eldest son quickly remembered and initiated it without hesitation.

For more on how to spread gratitude with your children, below are some of our favorite children’s books that may help create a stir:

  1. Just so thankful by Mercer Mayer
  2. Thanks a million (book of poetry) by Nikki Grimes
  3. Alexander and the wind-up mouse by Leo Lionni
  4. Did I ever tell you how lucky you are by Dr. Seuss
  5. The giving tree by Shel Silverstein
  6. The blankful heart by Mr. Meus
  7. Planting seeds by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘thank you’, that would suffice.”

– Eckhart Tolle

gratitude

However you are choosing to spend your Thanksgiving holiday, may you feel the power and love of gratitude in your heart. xx

 

For further reading:

Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude (Greater Good Science Center – Univ of Cali, Berkeley)

In praise of gratitude (Harvard Medical School)

Boost your health with a  dose of gratitude (WebMD)

 

Let’s get book smart

Set aside daily time to read with your children, at any age. The benefits are bountiful and the moments shared memorable.

Many young children of this era are already besieged by the distractions of growing up – overly scheduled days, rushing from one place to the next, easy access to the clutter of social media. One thing that should be cherished and fostered is the marvelous and wondrous skill of learning to read. As parents, we know the best things are harvested through hard work and dedication. So when it comes to helping our young children learn to read, it should be approached with thoughtful significance, perseverance and generous doses of love and enjoyment – not like a get-rich-quick scheme.

Read post: Teach your child to read in 5 easy steps: But is this really best?

As an early childhood educator and parent, I have discovered a mountain of literature that explores early literacy and reading. I am always on the radar for books and resources that aim to teach and guide reading development. Book Smart is a wonderfully concise, comprehensive resource with a healthy approach to helping our children develop this important life skill. The authors, Anne Cunningham, Ph.D and Jamie Kubulsky, Ph.D, provide such a diverse knowledge base and depth of experience; and the facts are delivered in a way that is non-judgmental and easy to follow.

Booksmart

A comprehensive resource for parents and educators to have in their library as a resource tool to revisit time and time again.

 

The chapter headlines are all appropriately and sensibly titled, directing you exactly where you want to go and sectioned out from oral language (babies/toddlers) to emergent readers (pre-k to elementary) then moves on to writing and reading, story comprehension, the effects of reading volume (the cumulative amount of reading a person does over a period of time) and the social-emotional benefits. Each chapter is well broken down into simple to follow suggestions, strategies and explanations.

Many of us already know that reading has so many benefits – the power to boost academic performance, critical thinking skills and social-emotional development. The authors go into greater depths of understanding through research findings and personal experience they have gained over the years as educators, psychologists and parents. I’d like to share some brief tidbits while perusing Book Smart:

  • Engage in dialogic reading – a technique that is based on the idea that even before children are able to read independently, they are ready to be active participants in book reading experiences. Ask open ended questions about the story or initiate a conversation about the book.
  • Scaffold your child’s reading – provide an appropriate amount of direction to help your child focus on achieving his or her goal. Notice what your child is interested in, nudge her to explore further and build knowledge about the topic and then narrate to expand upon and praise her response.
  • Work within the zone of proximal development – expected changes will be small but staying in this zone assures more success and less frustration which could lead to more failure and disengagement in the future. So it is important to really know the working level of your child.
  • Praise your child – The right type of praise and encouragement are very powerful, motivational tools.
  • Writing makes your child a better reader and thinker. They devote an entire chapter to this – juicy stuff!
  • Continue shared reading and oral reading even after your child can read on his/her own.
    Read post: Read aloud to your child at EVERY age
  • I deeply appreciate how the authors concluded the book about social-emotional development – honoring the whole child, not just placing emphasis on their skill.

Here is a little video on Book Smart that I came across:

For more info, check out their website, Book Smart Family.

May all our little readers be enticed to further explore their worlds through the magical realm of the written word.

xo
nj

“It is not enough to simply teach children to read, we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations – something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.”

– Author Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia

Get Inspired: A Top 10

Creativity. Expression. Art. Magic. Whatever you call it, it’s that sweet spot that culminates from deep inside of us, that perfect melody of the inner and outer dualities of inspiration, the journey combined with the destination of our true essence of life.

And we all have it. It’s in each and every one of our DNA. It is essential to our life. It is what we are made of. It is what we are made from. However, some of us have more ease tapping into it than others. Over time, throughout our lives, we get boggled down by experience, mental process, emotional baggage, memories, societal pressures, culture, negative association, ego blockages – these are familiar to all of us and it gets in the way of our true expression, our true happiness and essentially our true fulfillment of being. When we let this happen, we stop short of being our best selves for our loved ones – our children, our students, our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our lovers.

As we all explore, learn and share in our creative and spiritual journeys that we call life, let’s take the first (or next) step to help us reach our deepest creative potential. When we tap into our creative selves, we either gain spontaneous inspiration from within, seek inspiration through insight from leaders, artists, visionaries, legends, spiritual gurus, or are guided through art itself. I’ve compiled a collection of quotes that may inspire you to connect with your deepest porthole of creativity. When we can express our creative flow, it not only brings true joy of expression, fosters health and well-being, it also benefits those around us – namely the children we inspire, who naturally follow their internal drives towards their unique discoveries.

  1. Never interrupt a child when they are engaged in an activity. You know that moment when you are completely engrossed in an activity – be it work, writing, playing tennis, meditating – you are in a kind of intense focus and crisp sense of clarity where you forget yourself, lose track of time and feel like you are a part of something larger? Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has a term for this quality of time that is set apart from the other, mundane moments. He calls it flow. It is what we want to strive for every time, because it is purity of work and inspiration roused into the sacred moment where nothing else matters except your pure focus of body and mind on this one activity. In Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he demonstrates ways in which this positive state can be controlled and not just left to chance.
  1. peaceful.warrior

    Peaceful Warrior, The Movie. Inspired by real life events chronicled in Dan Millman’s book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

    In Zen, this concept is called satori. In Dan Millman’s book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the protagonist’s spiritual guide whom he calls Socrates, explains that satori is the moment when your attention is resting in the present. The body is alert, sensitive, relaxed and the emotions are open and free. A challenging activity, like the 15 minutes of a gymnastics routine, can serve as a gateway to satori. It draws you into the moment of truth, where your life is on the line. In the plot, Millman discovers his satori during a poignant time in his journey.

  1. Not a natural born artist? Don’t worry, you still have a chance. New research suggests that “various modalities of psychotherapy change not only one’s state of mind but also the state of one’s brain, including increased blood flow to normalized metabolism in the parts of the brain that regulate emotion, such as the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. It seems that wiring is less our destiny than the initial conditions of our existence. In the body’s biochemical flow, there is an ocean of new patterns and possibilities waiting to be relearned to support our new goals. We can take action to reduce preprogrammed, mechanical responses to the world, increasing our capacity to meet the world as a fresh experience, moment to moment.” – Martin S. Martin, E. Rai, S., Richardson, M. and Royall R – General Psychiatry
  1. steve.jobs

    The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. – Steve Jobs

    Who else to get inspiration from groundbreaking pioneer Mr. Steve Jobs? In the 2005 Stanford University Commencement address, Jobs quotes Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University. ‘The imagination needs to be cultivated and developed to assure success in life. Jobs adds that “technical knowledge was only the starting point for creation and discovery. True power lies in the ability to unleash imagination and creativity of the user. The great change agent is to clear out the old to make room for the new. The new is you. Don’t be trapped living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living by others’ thinking. Don’t drown out your inner voice. Most importantly: Have courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” – Stanford 114th commencement address (2005).

  1. Alan Lightman, a cosmic poet of the ages and MIT’s first professor to receive dual appointments in science and the humanities, explores a despairing paradox in his book, The Temporary Universe. “At some point in the future, new stars will cease being born. Slowly but surely, the stars of our universe are winking out. A day will come when the night sky will be totally black, and the day sky will be totally black as well. Solar systems will become planets orbiting dead stars. According to astrophysical calculations, in about a million billion years, plus or minus, even those dead solar systems will be disrupted from chance gravitational encounters with other stars. In about ten billion billion years, even galaxies will be disrupted, the cold spheres that were once stars flung out to coast solo through empty space.” So when you place your current life circumstance within these parameters, the solution is simple. Let go. Let go of your fears, your insecurities, be vulnerable and let your true passions from your deepest heart’s intention shine through. We are all placed on this planet for a purpose. Our purpose is to find our gift and share it, to spread light and be it, and to make every moment count.
  1. anne.lamott

    Ann Lamont: “Don’t give your life force away to help and impress.” Instead, ensure your service to others is directly in line with the true essence of your heart’s intention.

    In Ann Lamont’s practical book on writing called Bird by Bird, she dedicates a whole chapter on perfectionism and people pleasing, which can be applied to any art, labor or passion. She writes that “perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. It will keep you very scared and restless your entire life if you do not awaken, and fight back, it will destroy you.” She goes on to write, “Do you mind even a little that you are still addicted to people-pleasing, and are still putting everyone else’s needs and laundry and career ahead of your creative, spiritual life? Giving all your life force away, to ‘help’ and impress?. Well, your help is not helpful, and falls short. Here’s how to break through the perfectionism: make a LOT of mistakes. Fall on your butt more often. Waste more paper printing out your shitty first drafts. Celebrate messes – these are where the goods are.”

  1. Father of epigenetics, Dr. Bruce Lipton, explains that a vivid imagination controls autonomic functions as much as real events. The only limitation is one’s mind, one’s beliefs, not defective genes. Epigenetics is, simply stated, the science of how your mind controls your genetic expression. People are not limited by any particular genes and there is no limitation to what can be created from these genes.
  1. jim.morrison. poem

    Wilderness: The Lost Writings, Volume 1 – Jim Morrison

    Legendary musician Jim Morrison on fear and freedom, because isn’t it fear that holds us back from being our true selves? “The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” “People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain. Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.”

  1. Brilliant quotes from Albert Einstein: “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
  2. And the most supreme form of inspiration eloquently portrayed by Lao Tzu in an excerpt in Tao Te Ching:

I do not know what to call it. So I shall call it Tao. Reluctantly I shall call it the Greatest. Being the greatest, it goes everywhere. Silently it fills all.

Expressing its integral nature, the universal subtle essence remains intangible, yielding, and uncontrollable, the ultimate expression of the cosmos.

As an expression of its unceasing creativeness; it manifests as the spaciousness of the sky. As an expression of its receptiveness; it manifests as the great massiveness of galaxies, stars, and planets.

As an expression of harmonious reintegration; it manifests as human life.

Thus, in the natural flow of energy transformation, human life becomes one of four expressions of the subtle essence of the universe. It is the way of universal subtle integration.

Humankind conforms to Earth, Earth conforms to Heaven, Heaven conforms to the Subtle Origin, and the Subtle Origin conforms to its own nature.

TaoTeChing.Verse8

Tao Te Ching – Verse 8