Guest Post: Human Rights Day: A Call to Action

By Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning

Cathryn Berger Kaye, FSP AuthorHuman Rights Day on December 10 calls us to pay attention to conditions and concerns facing children and their families around the world. In particular this year, consider the right to a free education.

How marvelous that in the United States we can take this for granted. Of course you know this right is lacking in parts of the world. Across Africa, children can attend primary school for free if they can afford uniforms and school supplies, which eliminates children who are eager to learn yet lack these necessities. In other parts of the globe, girls are refused an education.

Perhaps you know of Malala Yousafzai, the brave Pakistani teenager who stood up for the right for girls to be educated. Now a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, she has emerged as a global leader, a young woman whose voice could not be silenced. On this Human Rights Day, we can join Malala and others who are saying we must stand together to protect our children and honor their desire to learn.

I Am MalaiaWhat can we do?

Take this occasion to become informed with your class as a teacher or with your family. Regarding Malala, there are videos accessible on the Internet and a book she authored, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.

Another excellent book is Deborah Ellis’s young adult novel My Name Is Parvana, the story of a girl whose mother opens a school for girls in Afghanistan. This book joins Malala’s to reveal the imperative for an education for all children and illustrates the tremendous challenges in some locales.

Other children are denied an education when they are enslaved and forced to be soldiers. The nonfiction books Iqbal by Francesco D’Adamo (for ages 8–12) and The Carpet Boy’s Gift by Pegi Deitz Shea (a picture book) describe children forced to work in rug factories in Pakistan. Both books honor a courageous boy, Iqbal, who lost his life in the cause of freeing the children. The Carpet Boy's GiftIf you can find a copy, you will be astonished by We Need to Go to School: Voices from the Rugmark Children, authored by 16-year-old Tanya Roberts-Davis, who traveled to Nepal to meet children freed from lives of slavery in carpet factories. What an amazing book! And War Brothers by Sharon McKay is a powerful graphic novel about boys in Uganda forced to be child soldiers.

The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative offers information and links to numerous organizations that serve as portals for getting involved and taking action.

How can students get involved? The process of service learning functions as a road map. As students investigate the issue, they raise questions that lead to preparation. They may discover partners already active in the cause who can provide inspiration and guidance. UN HRD 2014 logoNext, students design a plan of action. They may decide to educate their community or to engage with political leaders. They may work to provide needed resources. Through continual reflection, students consider how they are changed as they change and influence those around them. Demonstration is the stage where students give voice to what they learned and how they made a contribution.

These five stages of service learning assist young people in becoming the leaders we need, who will shape a more just world for all, including those currently inhibited from the right to education.

Have you discussed the right to an education with your students? What resources do you share about educational rights in other countries?

CompleteGuideToServiceLearning1Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., is the author of several Free Spirit Publishing titles including The Complete Guide to Service Learning and two books coauthored with environmental advocate Philippe Cousteau: Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers & Wetlands and Make a Splash! A Kid’s Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers & Wetlands. Visit Cathryn on her website for more articles and blogs and to see her global calendar for where she is presenting.


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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Thoughts on Being Inclusive—In Books and Beyond

Recently a television ad for a cleaning product depicted a dad with only one hand doing household tasks and interacting with his kids. Nothing in the ad addressed his missing left hand; it was simply about the cleaning product being used by a busy family. If you saw the ad, you might have even missed the fact that this dad was “different.” Inclusivity in ads and other media is slowly becoming more common. We are beginning to see ads move beyond reflecting racial and household diversities in our communities and including people with differing abilities.

c-lisafx-dreamstime-comFor a long time, books about people with disabilities depicted them as objects of pity, living with a blight that set them apart from society. Fortunately, with legislation that better integrated differently abled students into the public school system over three decades ago, textbook publishers have since sought to depict disabled people as part of diverse groups.

Today many books are available for kids that discuss being different physically, mentally, or dealing with mental health issues. (See Suggested Resources, below.) We have new role models in society, like scientist Stephen Hawking and surfer Bethany Hamilton. News stories cover veterans returning home with disabilities, and communities rising to support them.

Even with this progress, inclusivity in an advertisement, book, magazine, movie—or any other media—that is focused on differing ability itself remains unexpected. While inclusive textbooks and books for kids about disabilities are great starting points, moving forward with inclusivity of all types in mainstream media is important. Free Spirit and other publishers of materials for the education world strive to use inclusive illustrations and stories in books on many topics. Increasingly, fiction for kids is showing more diversity in abilities.

You can find long lists of books about people with disabilities—we even share suggestions below. But we have not yet encountered a list of books that happen to be on unrelated topics while featuring inclusive illustrations and content. Perhaps that is a good thing, if it means people are accepting depiction of differing abilities as routine. But as educators, using these materials in classrooms and assignments is a way to not put inclusivity in a box, but connect it to everyday life for all students.

What books and materials do you use with your students that reflect inclusivity in daily life?

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.

Suggested Resources – Eight great kids’ books about disabilities, friends with disabilities, or being different.

Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson (ages 3–6) (hearing issues)
Russ and the Almost Perfect Day by Janet Elizabeth Rickert (ages 3–6) (Downs syndrome)
Seal Surfer by Michael Foreman (ages 5–9) (physical disability)
Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman (ages 8–12) (physical disability)
The Great Quarterback Switch by Matt Christopher (ages 8–12) (physical disability)
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos (ages 9–13) (ADHD)
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (a novel for teens) (learning disability)
A Different Life by Lois Keith (a novel for teens) (adjusting to life in a wheelchair)

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Counselor’s Corner: Be Thankful & Show Gratitude

It can be difficult with the hustle and bustle of the holidays to pause for a moment and reflect on the people and things for which we feel thankful. Here are some ideas for giving thanks and showing gratitude to others this holiday season—and year ‘round. Every act of kindness, appreciation, or gratitude can make a huge difference in someone else’s life.

Help Students Reflect and Take Action
view-2-c-monkeybusinessimages-dreamstime_com_early-elementary-classroom-hands-raised-female-teacherSet aside time in your class, no matter what subject or area you teach, to help students reflect upon people or things for which they are thankful. There are lots of cool ideas on Pinterest for visually displaying who and what students are thankful for. Some examples include creating a Be Thankful board or a Thankful Tree. Have students brainstorm ways they could show thanks for the people and things for which they are grateful. Challenge students to perform one act of kindness or gesture of gratitude to people they are thankful for.

Team Up to Help Others
We tend to take many things in our everyday lives for granted, such as the shoes on our feet, the food on our tables, and the roofs over our heads. According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, approximately 600,000 individuals live on the street each night. There are many ways that we can help those in need around us. Contact a local homeless shelter or community aid agency and ask what items are most needed at their organization. Host a drive with your school or organization to collect high-need items for your local shelters and aid agencies. Provide information to students and staff about the organization and the population of individuals it serves to help them better understand how their contribution will make a difference. Once you have collected items, have students help deliver the items, if possible.

Pay It Forward
Even if you do not have a specific person or thing in mind for which you are thankful, you can still do something that sparks gratitude and kindness in others. Pay attention to the world around you and be on the lookout for people who could use some cheering up or help, even if you don’t know them. 800px-FEMA_-_40421_-_North_Dakota_resident_shovels_snow_off_his_sidewalkDo something out of the kindness of your heart with no expectation of being repaid or thanked. Help a neighbor shovel snow. Give an anonymous gift to a family in need. At a restaurant, pay the bill for a parent with fussy kids. Buy coffee for the person behind you at the coffee shop. Small deeds like this can create a ripple effect and inspire others to do something kind for someone else.

How do you give thanks or show gratitude?


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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Birth to Age 3: New Guidelines on Screen Time

As we all spend more time using smartphones and tablets, Zero to Three (National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families) has released a series of guidelines and tip sheets for caregivers about screen time—the amount of time a person spends viewing a television, computer, tablet, smartphone, or other screen—and how it affects children from birth to age three. Smartphone_as_Child_Toy by RogDel wikimedia commonsThe report, “Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight,” by Claire Lerner, L.C.S.W., and Rachel Barr, Ph.D., offers guidelines that reinforce the need for personal “3-D” interaction in the real world, but also finds that limited “2-D” experiences can be beneficial when combined with adult interaction.

The writers clearly understand that most parents live with these technologies as constant companions in daily life, and their children are watching their parents use them. Learning when to limit and redirect a young child is a great starting point for concerned parents, but finding ways to use screen time as a positive tool will be an asset to both the parent and the child. Parents need to consider content and context when letting their children play games or watch TV. They also need to play along with the child, using conversation to connect the screen action to the real world. When a young child spends time alone with the TV, games, or just exploring a device, they are unlikely to positively transfer that information to real life. The report discusses this transfer deficit and reviews how repetition can play a positive role in reducing the transfer deficit, stating:

“When young children first view a page of a book or an image on screen, they focus on one aspect of it; but when the book or program is repeated, they focus on different features of what they are viewing. Over time, toddlers start to build a more complete memory by piecing together information from the multiple repetitions. When a more complete memory has formed, young children are better able to use information they take in from the 2-D world and transfer it to 3-D, real-world situations.”

c-billysiew-_dreamstime_com-boy-using-ipad.jpgWhile the authors agree that setting limits, monitoring content viewed, and setting the context is important, they also share experiences that show positive interaction between children, their families, and screen time. Turning off the background TV during dinner and replacing it with conversation is important. So is sitting and reading, viewing pictures, or playing games together. Both can be positive steps in helping kids connect with the world around them.

Check out these tips and downloads, and the complete report:

  • Using Screen Media with Young Children offers a concise, one-page tip sheet with suggestions on making the connection between the screen world and the real world, watching together with your child, and playing games together, from Zero to Three.
  • Key Research Findings from Screen Sense, Setting the Record Straight offers a three-page highlight of the complete report listed below.
  • The complete ten-page report “Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight,” Claire Lerner, L.C.S.W., Zero to Three, and Rachel Barr, Ph.D., Department of Psychology and Director of Georgetown Early Learning Project at Georgetown University, is designed to serve as a tool for guiding parents and professional in making informed decisions.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Media and Children resources offer links for suggested use of media and online safety for children of all ages.

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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Kids Being Kids (i.e., Awesome)

By Eric Braun

Minneapolis writer Eric Braun on Thursday, November 20, 2013.Kids today, right? With their Minecraft and their constant singing of the Frozen soundtrack.

Actually, if you’re reading this blog, you know kids are awesome. Here are a few examples to brighten your week.

That’s Some Cabbage
When Katie Stagliano was in third grade, her teacher gave her an assignment to grow a cabbage from a single seedling. You could say Katie did okay on the homework—her cabbage grew to 40 pounds. That’s awesome, but even more awesome is what she did with it: She donated it to a food pantry in her community in South Carolina where she helped serve it with ham and rice to about 275 people. Katie's Cabbage book Inspired, Katie organized her classmates to plant a garden at her school to feed hundreds of hungry families. Soon her project grew into Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit that provides grants for gardens all over the United States. Katie has been on TV and received many recognitions, including the Clinton Global Citizen Award for fighting hunger with agricultural ingenuity. In December, her picture book, Katie’s Cabbage, will be published.

Tomato Power
How did you spend your summer vacation? Thirteen-year-old Griffin Jusko spent his hard at work—just the way he likes it. Griffin’s summer began in May when he planted his tomato garden—181 tomato plants. By mid-summer, he set up a stand at the end of his driveway and—while most kids his age were swimming or playing video games—he sold the fruits of his labor. He’s been doing this for four summers now, and he donates all his profits to charity. In 2014, he donated $2,318 to the Ronald McDonald House. In 2013, he donated over $1,000 to a children’s hospital near his Oyster Bay, NY, home.

Heating with Grease
When Cassandra Lin was 11 years old, she worried about neighbors in her Rhode Island community who were struggling to pay for heat in the winter. When she saw a science expo exhibit on turning old cooking oil into biodiesel fuel, she got an idea.Project TGIF With five friends, she formed TGIF—Turn Grease Into Fuel—and began collecting used cooking oil from restaurants. She got a refinery to convert the grease, and to date TGIF has donated 29,000 gallons of biodiesel to local charities, heating 290 homes. It’s a truly symbiotic relationship, because the restaurants don’t have to pay to dispose of the used grease. TGIF now works with 113 restaurants, collects over 4,000 gallons of grease per month, and has helped offset more than 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

Buddy Benches
It was a simple idea. In spring of 2013, first-grader Christian Bucks of York, PA, noticed that some kids at his school felt lonely at recess, and he wanted to put an end to that. He talked to his principal about installing a Buddy Bench on the playground—a bench where kids can go sit if they’re feeling lonely or want someone to play with or talk to. It would be a place for kids to “meet and play with new friends or old friends.” His principal agreed, and last fall the bench arrived at the school. Buddy BenchWhen it did, Christian gave a presentation to the school board to explain it. He also spoke in front of his school. How does the bench work? In a video posted on the Buddy Bench website, Christian suggests three ideas: “The first idea is to ask someone else to play. The second idea is to ask someone to talk and walk. The third idea is two people sitting at the bench who find each other to play or talk.”

The Huffington Post and other media picked up the story of Christian and the Buddy Bench, and word spread quickly. Six months after Christian introduced the idea at Roundtown Elementary School, more than 200 schools around the world had followed his lead. Benches have popped up all over the United States as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, Italy, and Canada.

Quick Hits

  • Middle school football team goes behind coaches’ backs to create a special moment for a special-needs student. (Don’t just read the story—watch the video, too. Tearjerker!)
  • Erek Hansen started recycling his own worn jeans at age 8 after reading how they could be made into home insulation. Now 14, he has recycled nearly 20,000 items of denim, been featured in dozens of articles, and runs EcoErek.org, a recycling resource.
  • Just for fun: Watch this all-girls’ Ghostbusters trailer remake.

Eric Braun is a Minneapolis writer, editor, and kid at heart.


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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