Earth Day Giveaway

This month we’re giving away four books you can use to help students become contributing citizens and community members:
Earth Day Giveaway FSP

How to Enter: Leave a comment below telling us how you use or would use Free Spirit’s service learning resources.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry. Entries must be received by midnight, May 2, 2014.

The winner will be contacted via email on or about May 6, 2014, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim the prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered by, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winners must be U.S. residents, 18 years of age or older.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Counselor’s Corner: Three Schoolwide Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day Network logo Eartg Day 2014Earth Day 2014 is April 22. Earth Day offers a great opportunity to spread awareness about simple things we can do to make our communities cleaner, more environmentally friendly places.

Ramp Up Recycling
In honor of Earth Day, my middle school is having a friendly competition among the three grade levels (sixth, seventh, and eighth). Each grade is trying to recycle as much as possible during the month of April. Recycling bins labeled for each grade level are in both the cafeteria and the main hallway so that students can add their recyclables to the appropriate containers. Each day, student council volunteers weigh the recyclable materials and add to the grade-level totals. The grade with the most recyclables by weight at the end of the month wins! This competition not only encourages students to recycle, but helps raise awareness about how many items they could be recycling rather than throwing them in the trash each day.

Turn Your Trash into Cash
Many programs exist to help your school earn money for “trash.” Items that can be recycled for cash for your school include electronics, wrappers, paper, bottles and cans, and other recyclable items. NEA_recycling_bins,_wikimedia commons open licenseAndrea Burston, an elementary school counselor in North Carolina, implemented a program through Terracycle that allows her school to earn money for waste. At one of my previous schools, we used Paper Retriever to earn some extra cash for materials we were already recycling. Cartridges for Kids is another organization that gives schools money for recycling old electronics, cell phones, ink cartridges, and more. If you’d rather donate items for a charitable cause, seek out local organizations—such as domestic violence shelters, animal shelters, or organizations supporting veterans—that accept recyclables.

Have a Spring Litter Sweep
Clean_Up_ the World wikimedia commons by Fitgym open licenseAs the weather gets warmer, it is the perfect time to clean and beautify your school. Enlist the help of students: Provide them with work gloves and trash bags so they can pick up trash around the building and outdoors. Also, encourage them to recycle items when possible during the litter sweep. Having students participate in beautifying the school grounds will give them a sense of ownership of their school. They will be less likely to drop a wrapper or other trash on the floor or outdoors if they know how hard they worked to clean it up.

These simple ideas will help you get your whole school involved in being cleaner and greener!

What are you doing on Earth Day (and every day) to make our planet better?

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Counselor's Corner, Service Learning & Volunteerism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Where Have You Gone, Jackie Robinson? Today’s Real Sports Heroes

by Brad Herzog, author of the Count On Me: Sports series

BradHerzog FSP AuthorApril 15 is Jackie Robinson Day. You’ll find every uniformed player, coach, and umpire in Major League Baseball wearing #42, the number worn by the man who ended nearly eight decades of baseball segregation by becoming the first black major league player of the modern era on April 15, 1947.

One of my first books, published nearly two decades ago, ranked and profiled the 100 most important people in American sports history—from Babe Ruth and Arnold Palmer to the inventors of everything from the jump shot to the point spread. Jackie Robinson topped the list—and it wasn’t even close. He wasn’t merely a significant sports figure; I think he ranks as one of the most important Americans.

Billie Jean King 1966 Italy wikimedia commons Italian Public Domain open license

Billie Jean King, 1966

It used to be that the sports world was often ahead of the sociological curve, acting as an agent of progressive change. When Robinson integrated the national pastime, he caused millions of people to confront race prejudice—seven years before Brown v. Board of Education and seventeen years before the Civil Rights Act. A generation later, tennis star Billie Jean King was a leader in the movement to empower women both athletically and financially. Even tragic moments, like basketball star Magic Johnson’s announcement in 1991 that he had contracted the HIV virus, enlightened a large part of the population for whom sports are such an intimate part of life.

So in the 20th century, sports had the power to transform. But something has happened in the past couple of decades. Perhaps the explosion of money and advertising has replaced courage with a certain conservatism, but big-time sports now seem to be lagging behind.

Jason_Collins_Brooklyn_Nets_2014 wikimediacommons flickrbot photo

Jason Collins

Recently, college football star Michael Sam and pro basketball player Jason Collins made headlines simply by going public about their sexuality. Courageous? You bet. “Progress!” everyone shouted. But really? In this day and age, the fact that a gay athlete is news would seem to be an indication that male team sports is only now coming out of the Dark Ages. And the rampant whispers among participants and observers that the NFL “might not be ready” for an openly gay player are somehow considered acceptable. Can you imagine if someone said such things about an “openly Catholic player” or an “openly Hmong player?”

And yes, a national discussion about bullying followed the revelation that Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team after being the victim of a “pattern of harassment” by teammates. But beyond the locker rooms, hasn’t that national discussion been going on for years? These days, nearly every elementary school strives to be a no-bullying zone. Pro football players are only now getting the message?

Here’s the thing: When it comes to acceptance, when it comes to perspective, when it comes to modeling behavior and showing how the sporting scene can produce touching moments that transcend the scoreboard, youth is leading the way.

As I write this, just yesterday in Minnesota, a high school student named Mitchell McKee won a state wrestling title. In attendance was his father, who was battling lung cancer and had desperately wanted to be around to watch his son compete. But this story is about the losing wrestler. After being pinned by Mitchell, Malik Stewart stood up, hugged his opponent, then walked over to Mitchell’s father. He congratulated him. He embraced him. He told him to stay strong. The crowd responded with a standing ovation. “I knew his dad was pretty proud,” said Malik, who was only seven when his own father died from cardiac arrest. “I just did it straight from the heart.”

Trinity Classocal and Desert CHapel logosJust the day before, in California, Trinity Classical Academy beat Desert Chapel High School to win a sectional basketball championship. But the real winner was karma. With his team up 23 points and under a minute to play, Trinity’s Beau Howell entered the game. Beau is autistic. He had never scored a point. His teammates fed him the ball, and he missed a couple of easy shots. His opponents rebounded the ball . . . and gave it back to Howell. He missed a shot. He missed again. An opposing player guided him closer to the basket. And with seconds left, Beau Howell swished it. He raised his arms triumphantly, after which he was immediately swarmed by his teammates. Will he ever forget that moment? Will anyone who was in attendance?

And “openly gay” Michael Sam’s teammates at the University of Missouri? They knew he was gay. They supported him. They loved him. And last year they had the best season in school history.

So while it’s easy to suggest that sport has somehow lost its power to transcend, we need only turn our attention to the moments far from the spotlight and close to the heart.

Have you encountered sporting gestures in your life? Please share your stories in the comments.

CountOnMeSportsLogo_RGBBrad Herzog is the author of more than thirty books for children, including more than two dozen sports books. For his freelance magazine writing (including for Sports Illustrated and Sports Illustrated Kids), Brad has won three gold medals from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Brad travels all over the United States visiting schools as a guest author. He lives on California’s Monterey Peninsula with his wife and two sons.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Guest Post: Tips for National Child Abuse Prevention Month

By Jill Starishevsky, author of My Body Belongs to Me

Starishevsky_Jill_FSP AuthorAs a prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City for the past 16 years, one of the most surprising facts I have learned is that 93 percent of all child sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to the child. This means that teaching “stranger danger” alone is no longer enough.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. To help raise awareness, here are three tips to teach children that will help keep them safe from child sexual abuse.

1. No secrets. Period.
Secrets are the most powerful weapon in a child sex offender’s arsenal. If we can take away their secrets, we can take away their power. Encourage your children to tell you about things that happen to them that make them feel scared, sad, or uncomfortable. If children have an open line of communication, they will be more inclined to alert you to something suspicious before it becomes a problem. The way to effectuate this rule is as follows: If someone, even a grandparent, were to say something to your child such as “I’ll get you an ice cream later, but it will be our secret,” firmly but politely say, “We don’t do secrets in our family.” Then say to your child, “Right? We don’t do secrets. We can tell each other everything.”

2. Teach your child the correct terms for their body parts.
This will make them more at ease if they need to tell you about a touch that made them feel uncomfortable. Additionally, if a child uses a word like “cookie” or “peanuts” to describe their private parts, a disclosure might be missed. National Child Abuse Prevention Month LinkA busy teacher who hears a child say, “The janitor touched my cookie” might just offer to replace the cookie instead of offering help. Inform children that the parts of their body covered by their bathing suit are private and are for no one else to see or touch (noting the necessary exceptions for bathing, potty issues, and medical treatment in the presence of Mom or Dad).

Keep in mind that children may be confronted with another child who touches their private parts. Explain that private parts are private from everyone, including other children.

3. Let children decide for themselves how they want to express affection.
Children should not be forced to hug or kiss if they are uncomfortable. Even if they are with your favorite aunt, uncle, or cousin, your child should not be required to be demonstrative in their affection. While this may displease you, by letting children decide, you will empower them to say no to inappropriate touching.

MyBodyBelongstoMeJill Starishevsky is the mother of three daughters and a full-time prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City. Her picture book, My Body Belongs to Me, available in May, provides a roadmap and starting points for parents and educators to communicate with their children about their bodies and the importance of telling someone if they are touched inappropriately.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Free Spirit Author Spotlight: Nancy Carlson and Armond Isaak

The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following interview was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News.

Nancy Carlson and Armond Isaak, FSP authors

Nancy Carlson and Armond Isaak

After meeting in a writing class for kids—she was the instructor and he was a seven-year-old—Nancy Carlson was so impressed by Armond Isaak’s stories about life as a kid with Asperger’s syndrome that, when he contacted her a few years down the road, she agreed to help him turn those stories into one of her signature picture books. Fast-forward to the present: the pair is about to publish their new project, Armond Goes to a Party: A story about Asperger’s and friendship. Read on to learn more about this inspiring duo and their mission to help kids with autism spectrum disorders feel less alone.

Q: Let’s start with the basics: you two met when Nancy taught a writing class for kids at the Loft Literary Center. How did the two of you decide to team up to write this book?

Nancy: Armond really wanted to help other kids with Asperger’s so he wrote a book about his feelings and came to me with it. I thought it was a good idea!

Armond: When I was in the 4th grade, I was watching a news story on TV about parents who just wrote a book about how to parent a child with Asperger’s. Since all the books I’d read when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s never really connected with me, my mom asked me if I wanted to write a book about my life with Asperger’s. I thought that idea was good. I said yes right away and asked my mom to ask Nancy Carlson if she wanted to team up with me because I am one of her biggest fans and especially love her illustrations. She said yes.

Q: Why did you decide to write Armond Goes to a Party?

Nancy: When Armond wrote down his feelings he said when he gets overwhelmed with friends he needs a break. He also wrote he hates things disorganized, and I thought a birthday party would be a great place to set this book.

Armond: I actually wrote a book about my entire life with Asperger’s and going to a party is one part of my life that was really hard in elementary school. Nancy thought a book about going to birthday parties is probably tough for most kids with Asperger’s so she focused on that part of my life.

Q: What has been the best part of working on this book?

ArmondGoesToAPartyNancy: Figuring out the best way to tell Armond’s story.

Armond: Knowing that all the really hard and lonely times I had in elementary school might end up helping other kids. I didn’t fit in and knew it but thought I was the only one. Now, knowing that the book is published, I hope other young kids with Asperger’s feel connected to me and not alone and sad.

Q: Is there a book that inspired you the most as a kid?

Nancy: The Betsy Tacy series.

Armond: My big sister Emma’s favorite author in kindergarten was Nancy Carlson and she told me all about the funny books. I had my mom take me and my younger sister Mary to the library to read Nancy’s books. She was my first favorite author. I loved her characters, especially Loud Mouth George. I wanted to read every book she wrote and I think I did.

Q: Armond Goes to a Party is about a boy with Asperger’s syndrome who practices coping skills while attending a friend’s birthday party. Describe your perfect birthday celebration.

Nancy: Hiking with my kids and eating a big batch of cookies!

Armond: Helping my dad make my favorite dinner (juicy lucy’s, green bean casserole and cheesy potatoes) and eating it with my family. Eating homemade chocolate cake my sisters and mom usually make for me along with my favorite chocolate ice-cream. Then, opening my gifts and building my new Lego sets.

Q: Nancy, your many picture books are celebrated for their energetic artwork and positive tone. Where do you find the inspiration to constantly create such fantastic work?

Nancy: I doodle every day which keeps my art fresh. I also look at a lot of visual images; whether it’s design, photos or fine art, I just like to see beautiful things!

Q: Armond, do you have any advice for kids with Asperger’s syndrome? Do you have any advice for young authors?

Armond: My advice for kids with Asperger’s is to not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Everybody has something that makes them different, just know what it is for you and be happy with the way you were made. My advice for young authors is to share your stories with the world whatever way you can.

Q: Now that you’ve created this awesome book, what are you going to do next?

Nancy: Work on a book about doodling, I hope!

Armond: Get ready for high school and continue to talk to young kids with Asperger’s if it makes them feel better.

Q: And finally, our favorite question for authors: What makes you a “Free Spirit?” (Besides the fact that you published your book with us. . . )

Nancy: I am never bored and I just love people!

Armond: I am creative and excited about life.

You can find more information about Nancy on her website at nancycarlson.com. Visit our website to learn more about Armond Goes to a Party.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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