Enter to win the Count on Me: Sports series

CountOnMeSportsSeries_5bksThis month we’re giving away the complete set of Count on Me: Sports books to five lucky winners! The Count on Me: Sports series is a collection of dramatic tales of character in action, bringing together exciting sports history, real-life examples of sports and character building, and lively storytelling. For ages 8-13.

How to Enter: Leave a comment below telling us how you help kids build character.

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, August 22, 2014.

The five winners will be contacted via email on or about August 25, 2014, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim their prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated, administered, 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.


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Guest Post: Advice for Families Changing Schools

By William T. Mulcahy, LPC, NCC, CEAP, author of the Zach Rules series, and Melissa Mulcahy

William Mulcahy, Free Spirit AuthorFor whatever reason, you have found yourself at the doorstep of a new school. You now have the task of making this a positive transition for you and your family. Your kids will be looking for direction and support. Here are some ideas to help with this adjustment—and help you keep an optimistic outlook on your journey.

Anxiety may come from one or two sources (or both):

  1. being worried about the future
  2. holding onto the past—the love for the previous school, friends, or neighborhood (in this case, grief may also play a part along with the feelings of anxiety)

People typically move through four phases when going through a transition such as attending a new school. These phases tend to be more cyclical than linear. We like to use the acronym P/R.E.P.S.

P/R: Proactive vs. Reactive
Parents need to be proactive rather than reactive. This means prepare! How you prepare your kid is based on the kid you know. You are the expert. For instance, if your child is an introvert—or is shy or worries a lot—he may do better with a one-on-one meeting with a teacher or principal before school starts. Look into your own backyard. Connect with parents to help connect kids. This will build relationships before school starts. Many areas offer recreation clubs, camps, and parks. This is a great way to have fun and meet new people with little worry.

If your child is more of an extrovert—or is outgoing and confident—she most likely has already met the neighborhood! However, it is still a good idea to connect with parents and school personnel to build a relationship. This will come in handy for getting information about local happenings, school activities, and scheduling play dates to give parents needed breaks.

If your child has any special needs, he will most likely need more intensive preparation. Check out the school website to find pictures of staff and classrooms, listings of special activities, and daily schedules. You may need to schedule a tour (or tours) of the school to help your child become more familiar and at ease. We recommend taking pictures or recording your tour in order to “video model” your visit. School tourChatting on the computer or having a one-on-one meeting with your child’s teacher is another way to help reduce any issues of anxiety. As a reminder, schedule a meeting with staff before school starts to discuss the support your child needs, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and your child’s strengths and weaknesses.

E: Evaluate
Parents need to continue to evaluate how their kids are doing, even after school starts. Are they exhibiting out-of-the-ordinary behaviors? Is your talkative child not talking? Is your well-behaved child making trouble? Has your child regressed in any way? Try to remember that children often act out their problems rather than talk about them. You may need to help your child find the words to understand her feelings. Most teachers welcome parents to contact them if things just don’t seem right. Again, you are the expert! If more support is needed, contact the school counselor, social worker, or psychologist. 663px-Clipboard_Silhouette_wikimedia commons with preps addedMany schools provide groups that focus on making friends, changes in families, or social skills. If your child still seems to struggle, seek the support of a psychotherapist. Evaluating how your child is handling the transition will guide you in how you tweak your plan of direction and support.

P: Persevere
One of the most challenging phases is perseverance. Perseverance means to keep trying—and if one way doesn’t work, to make a new plan so you can finish what you started. Starting a new school offers the opportunity for children to persevere and learn resilience. These important life skills will be useful throughout their lives, in their careers, and with their families. It’s important for parents to encourage kids to persevere even though it may be difficult or not fun.

S: Stay Informed
Parents need to stay informed about their children’s school. Read the parent handbook. Check out the school calendar. Some schools communicate through emails, texting, or even social networking. Show up regularly at school. There is nothing worse than realizing there is no school, after you have dropped off your kid, or walking in at the end of a play that your child had the lead role in.

Remember, these phases are typically cyclical, and getting through a transition can take months. In the end, the goal is for you and your children to be prepared so that you can make it a positive transition and adapt properly when hiccups occur.

The Zach SeriesWilliam Mulcahy is a licensed professional counselor, psychotherapist, and supervisor of the Cooperative Parenting Center at Family Service in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Previously he has served as a counselor at Stillwaters Cancer Support Services in Wisconsin, specializing in grief and cancer-related issues, and worked with children with special needs. Bill’s short stories have appeared in several publications. The books in the Zach Rules series are his books for children, merging his passions for good storytelling and providing counseling-like tools to help children live healthier, happier lives. Bill lives in Summit, Wisconsin, with wife, Melissa, and his three sons, who played their own role in the creation of the Zach Rules series.


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.

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Counselor’s Corner: Summer News Recap for School Counselors

This has been a big summer for school counselors! The American School Counselor Association National Conference was held June 29–July 2 in Orlando, Florida. I learned lots of new information to relay to school counselors for the upcoming school year.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Initiatives Supporting School Counselors
One of the main highlights of the conference was a keynote address by First Lady Michelle Obama. You can watch her address here or read the transcript hereFLMObama at ASCA 2014 confMs. Obama outlined new initiatives for school counselors, including increasing relevant professional development, a White House ceremony to honor the School Counselor of the Year, a special event on college counseling at the end of July, and grant and funding programs for school counseling. Ms. Obama also spoke about her Reach Higher Initiative that encourages every student to pursue some form of post-secondary education, whether that be trade school, community college, or a four-year college or university.

Dr. Erin Mason of the School Counselor Online Professional Exchange created a photo campaign encouraging school counselors to share how they would Reach Higher to help students. School counselors from all over the country submitted pictures with their Reach Higher goal.

Reaching Higher (c) Danielle SchultzI participated in the photo campaign and shared my goal: I will #ReachHigher to decrease the number of students on my caseload with four or more absences by 10 percent. I made this my goal because of the correlation of attendance and school performance. I took the picture on the campus of Duquesne University (where I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision) overlooking the city of Pittsburgh.

School counselors can continue to make Reach Higher goals and share them using the hashtag #ReachHigher on various social media sites.

ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success: K–12 College and Career Readiness Standards for Every Student
Another big development this summer is the upcoming American School Counselor Association’s release of the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success: K–12 College and Career Readiness Standards for Every Student. The ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success are currently in draft form and will replace the ASCA Student Standards. They are based on research and best practices from a number of educational standards and will address knowledge, skills, and attitudes students need to achieve academic success, college and career readiness, and social/emotional development. They also modify the previous three ASCA Student Standard domains from academic, career, and personal/social to academic, career, and social/emotional to reflect current research and trends.

The modified ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success should be approved by the middle of August. You can view the draft form here.

Get Involved!
ASCA logoThis is a critical time for school counselors to stay up to date and involved in our profession. Much is changing in a positive way for school counselors. I encourage you to get involved at the local level with school counseling organizations in your area; join or continue membership in your state school counseling organization; and belong to ASCA, our national school counselor organization. You can interact with communities on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter using the hashtags #scchat (School Counselor Chat), #escchat (Elementary School Counselor Chat), and #sccrowd (School Counselor Crowd—an international school counselor chat).

What new information or ideas did you learn this summer about the school counseling profession?


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Guest Post: Talking to Kids About Friendships as They Return to School

By James J. Crist, Ph.D., author of The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends

Jamie Crist, FSP AuthorThe return to school is just around the corner. Many kids, despite the sadness that comes as summer ends, look forward to seeing friends they missed during the break, and perhaps even to making new friends. For other kids, however, returning to school presents challenges. What if they don’t know anyone in their new classes? Perhaps your child is changing schools, which is even harder for socially anxious kids. Fortunately, there are many ways you can help your children as they prepare to return to school.

The best time to make new friends, or rekindle old friendships, is in the first couple weeks of school. That’s because not everyone knows each other, so students are more open to meeting new classmates. Saying something as simple as, “Hi, Sophia—how was your summer?” can break the ice. For making new friends, you can encourage your child to introduce him or herself to the kids sitting close by in class or in the cafeteria. A simple “Hi, I’m Aadi—what’s your name?” is enough to get started.

One of the most important things you can do for your child is to build his or her self-confidence. This is required for your child to feel comfortable approaching others. Kids can give themselves a pep talk before going to school. Saying to themselves “I can do this!” or “I can be a good friend” helps kids muster the courage to take a chance and start a conversation.

friendly-soccer-fellows-c-godfer-dreamstime_comThink of yourself as your child’s coach or consultant. You can’t do all the work for your child, because this will not teach the skills needed to survive the social world. However, kids do need gentle guidance, a lot of encouragement, praise when they succeed, and understanding when things do not work out the way they wanted. Many kids also need instruction in specific social skills.

At the same time, be careful not to bombard your child with a bunch of suggestions on how to make friends. Instead, start the conversation by asking him or her some questions: How do you feel about going back to school? Are you hoping to make some new friends this year? Is there anyone you knew last year that you’d like to become better friends with?

Before offering suggestions, first ask what he or she thinks might work. Follow up with these questions to get your child thinking about other strategies: Have you watched how other kids in school make friends? Do you think that might give you some good ideas? What can you say to a boy or girl you haven’t met yet? How might you introduce yourself? What can you say to kids at lunch to let them know you are interested in being friends?

Encourage your child to say hello to people on a regular basis. Saying “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?” shows that you are friendly and interested in talking.

Some kids have trouble knowing what to talk about. Giving suggestions for conversation topics can be helpful. Here are a few ideas for starting a conversation. Kids can talk about

  • the weather
  • something fun they did recently
  • special events at school, such as dances or parties
  • sporting events, such as a football game they saw recently places they’ve visited
  • things they plan on doing or places they plan on going soon
  • favorite games, foods, books, TV shows, sports

800px-FEMA_-_45056_-_School_Bus_with_children FEMA from wikimedia commonsOne of the most helpful things parents can do for socially anxious kids is to role-play social situations with them. Pretend you are a new kid in class and ask your child to try to make friends with you. Praise whatever positive skills you observe your child using. Then you can play the part of your child and demonstrate methods you think might work. Using a video camera can allow your child to see how his or her behavior might come across to others. Role-playing gives your child safe opportunities to practice social skills.

Helping your child develop empathy is another important thing you can do. Kids who help other kids when they are feeling upset are more successful in making friends. Whenever possible, encourage your child to think about how others may be feeling. Then explore what he or she can do to be helpful. You can do this within the family or by discussing characters in books or movies as examples.

Children who have trouble finding other kids to make friends with might be encouraged to get involved in extracurricular or community activities. Sports are a great way to make friends, as are scouts, youth groups, religious groups, martial arts classes, dance, and volunteering. If possible, talk to the coach or activity leader ahead of time. Let him or her know of your child’s difficulty making friends and see if he or she is receptive to helping.

Remember, making and being friends is a social skill that takes practice. While some kids may be naturals, everyone can benefit from practice and improve their skills.

SGMakingBeingFriendsDr. James J. Crist is a psychologist specializing in children with ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders. He is the clinical director and a staff psychologist at the Child and Family Counseling Center in Woodbridge, Virginia, where he provides psychological testing and individual, couples, and family psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and adults. He has authored several books, including Mad: How to Deal with Your Anger and Get Respect and What to Do When You’re Cranky & Blue. His new book, The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends will be out in October. Visit his website at jamesjcrist.com.


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.

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3 Reasons to Encourage Kids to Bike to School (And How to Do It)

By Eric Braun

Minneapolis writer Eric Braun on Thursday, November 20, 2013.The end of summer may have you thinking about how to set up your child’s school routines this year to be more efficient, healthier, and happier all around. As kids get ready to return to the classroom, help them plan to ride their bikes to school at least a couple of times a week. Regardless of their grade level, almost all kids are capable of biking—or walking—to school instead of hitching a ride.

Here are three reasons they should.

1. It’s good for the body
Biking to school c Eric BraunAs we all know, exercise is good for you. Making a bike commute part of your kids’ routine is an easy way to build exercise into their day. You don’t have to pry them away from their smartphones, books, or video games with exhortations to get outside and play. Heck, we can all feel a little better about screen time if we know our kids have logged two 15-minute bike rides by the time they get home from school.

2. It’s good for the soul
Simply put, riding a bike is fun. You’re using your body to power a machine and go fast! Riding to school also fosters a sense of independence and is a way kids can accomplish something for themselves before sitting in a classroom all day. An added benefit is that kids who ride together develop a camaraderie.

3. It’s good for the brain
Studies have shown that the best way to boost brain power is to exercise. Exercise builds new neurons and helps wire them into the existing neural network. Check out this page at the Centers for Disease Control for more information about the link between physical health and improved academic performance.

To see something really cool, click here to see two composite brain scans—one taken after sitting quietly and one after a 20-minute walk.

Encouraging Kids to Ride
Bikes_at_Brickell_station by Daniel Christensen wikimedia commonsThe best way to encourage kids to bike more is to model biking. If you bike to work now and then, or if you treat biking as an important part of your family’s life, kids will pick up on it. With younger kids, nothing inspires them more than if you ride along with them.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is an organization that works to encourage biking for everyone in the city of Minneapolis, one of the most cycle-friendly in the United States. Board member Amy Brugh believes schools can (and should) do as much as parents to encourage biking. Besides supplying ample bike racks in a convenient location, Brugh suggests schools should offer free bike locks that kids can check out in the office if they don’t have one. Younger students could receive stickers or other rewards for biking or walking. One school in Minneapolis that transports students via bus from a long distance has days when kids are dropped several blocks from the school so they can walk the final stretch.

The adults at school are important role models, too. “My son’s teacher and principal rode to school every day last year,” says Brugh. “They role-modeled it, even through the winter.”

Can kids ride through the winter, too? Don’t underestimate their hardiness. Even in frigid Minnesota, kids do ride or walk a few blocks to school. “It feels good to them,” says Brugh.

However, if kids don’t have a safe route to ride or a school that makes biking easy and safe, then encouragement and hardiness won’t matter much. It’s up to cities and elected officials to make biking safer and more appealing. Safe Routes to School logoSafe Routes to School is a national organization working on just that. Go to their website to check out their initiatives, find out if you have a local chapter, and get involved. It’s a good place to start if you want to help make biking to school a priority in your community.

The most important step in starting a bike-to-school habit is to get that first ride out of the way. If you have a reluctant rider, talk to other parents about organizing days for kids to bike together. Once kids start cycling, they might never want to stop. And every day they’ll be getting healthier—body, brain, and soul.

What challenges have you faced (and overcome!) in encouraging kids to bike or walk to school?

Eric Braun is a writer and editor living in Minneapolis. If you organize a bike rodeo, he would totally go. Learn more at heyericbraun.com.


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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