Enter to Win a Set of Count on Me: Sports Books and a Skype Visit with Brad Herzog!

This month we’re giving away a complete set of our Count on Me: Sports series and a thirty-minute Skype Q&A with author Brad Herzog! To learn more about bringing Brad to your school, check out his website and watch a four-minute video synopsis of his program at this link.

Count on Me Sports SeriesInspiring Stories of Sportsmanship
Powerful Stories of Perseverance in Sports
Remarkable Stories of Teamwork in Sports
Awesome Stories of Generosity in Sports
Incredible Stories of Courage in Sports



To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us how you help kids build character in the classroom, at home, or on the field!

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

giveaway button © by Free Spirit Publishing lg

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, May 22, 2015.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around May 29, 2015, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a U.S. resident, 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)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Character Education | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

Ten Ways to Use the Character in Sports Jar

By Eric Braun

Minneapolis writer Eric Braun on with Character of Sports in a JarFree Spirit’s Character in Sports jar includes three kinds of cards: “Words of Character” cards have quotes about character by athletes; “Make a Difference” cards give ideas for building and showing your good character; and “Great Character” cards tell true anecdotes about athletes displaying great character. The cards are a fun and easy way to get kids from ages 8 to 13 thinking, talking, and even writing about being your best on and off the field.

Here are ten ideas. Add your own ideas in the comments section.

  1. WordsofCharacter © Free Spirit PublishingBreak the ice at your first sports team or club meeting by having everyone choose a “Words of Character” card, read it to the group, and talk briefly about what the quote means to them.
  2. One great thing about Free Spirit’s In a Jar® products is that they’re so portable. Take Character in Sports on the bus when your team is traveling to a game and read a few to the group.
  3. Put students or youth group members in pairs or small groups and hand out “Great Character” cards. Give them a few minutes to plan a skit, then have them act out the scene on their card for the class.
  4. GreatCharacter_© Free Spirit PublishingStart each practice or class meeting with a card you choose to be a Thought of the Day.
  5. Use a card as a prompt for free writing or an essay.
  6. Assign each student a “Words of Character” card and have them research the speaker on their cards. Did that person live her or his life in a way that supports the quote?
  7. Read a few “Make a Difference” cards to your group, then have everyone write one of their own. How do they show good character in sports?
  8. Read a few “Great Character” cards to your group, then have everyone do research and write about a similar story of great character in sports.
  9. MakeaDifference_© Free Spirit PublishingHand out the cards as bookmarks.
  10. Many of the “Make a Difference” cards present dilemmas, or “what would you do” scenarios. Read one with your students or athletes and have a group discussion about everyone’s response.

The cards can be used for a five-minute activity or discussion during a transition time, or they can become a deeper assignment.

Eric Braun is a Minneapolis writer and editor doing his best to raise his two sports-playing sons to have character.

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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Cash in on Learning: Breathe! 6 Strategies to Reduce Stress During Testing Season

Richard Cash EdD, FSP AuthorIt’s that time of year again: TESTING! With the sun shining outside and the warm weather approaching, our kids are just itching to get outside. But, we have the monumental task of getting them to pay attention to extremely important and often times stressful assessments.

Since the implementation of the NCLB legislation (2001), our schools have seen more standardized testing than ever before in American education. While the assessment of our children has values, the toll it takes on the time spent teaching and learning—and the social-emotional impact on our children—is enormous.

I’d like to offer suggestions for helping your students through the pressures and stressors of the testing season. We want our kids at their very best when being assessed on their acquisition of knowledge, but test anxiety, stress, exhaustion, and even depression can have a massive effect on our students’ performance. Also, testing season can increase our students’ feelings of inadequacy, highlight their fixed mindset, or increase their contempt for school. Below are six strategies to use with your students during testing to increase their motivation, reduce their anxiety, and help them perform better on the tests.

  1. Learn to Breathe: Deep breathing is an essential component for reducing stress, relieving anxiety, and ensuring better health. Throughout our day, most people breathe relatively shallow in nature, meaning we take short breaths without expanding our diaphragm (stomach area muscles) or lungs. Deep breathing is accomplished when we take a deep inhalation of air through the nose, hold it for up to three seconds, and then exhale slowly through the mouth. Mundare_Alberta clouds by Mykola Swarnyk wikimedia commonsHave students practice this at least three times throughout the day, and most importantly, at the beginning of the test, during the test, and at the end of the test. To extend this action, you can add in spreading your arms like a bird, raising them up on the inhale and lowering them down on the exhale.
  2. Visual Imagery: Imagination has a powerful effect on how we feel about stressful situations. Visual imagery is a way for students to picture themselves successful at the assessment. Have your students sit quietly in a comfortable position at their desks, up against a wall, or even on the floor (it’s important for the child’s back to be supported). Have them close their eyes and think about a time when they were happy or relaxed, such as when they were flying a kite or playing on a beach. Then have them focus on that feeling and project it into the future when the testing is complete. Encourage the students to smile throughout the visualization—the act of smiling can have a tremendous effect on helping us feel better. Have them imagine themselves at the end of the test, feeling good about what they did and relaxed after it’s all over. Avoid using any negative terms, such as fear, tension, stress, etc., because these may cause the child to focus on the negatives rather than the positive imagery.
  3. Peer Sharing: Giving students a chance to talk about their fears, anxiety, or stressors before, during, and after testing can help them understand that they are not alone in how they feel. It can also help them feel useful to their friends. Partner students with someone they like or value, and give each partner the letter A or B. The first two minutes, student A gets to talk while student B listens. The A students should talk about how they feel about the testing, what scares or challenges them, or any concerns they have with the assessments. At the end of the two minutes, the B students spend up to one minute reflecting back to the A students what they heard and any ideas of how to feel better or what might help make the situation better. Repeat the round now with the B students talking for two minutes and the A students reflecting back. You may want to model the activity for your students first, giving them ideas for how to listen well, reflect, and offer ideas or suggestions.
  4. Silly Charades: Sometimes, the best way to reduce stress is just to have fun! Most people know the game charades. This take on the game is to inspire humor and laughter. Create or have students contribute silly phrases, names, or topics on small pieces of paper, such as “don’t get your underwear in a knot” (phrase), Harry Butts (name), snot algae (topic). Ask a volunteer to come up, pick a slip, and proceed to act out what’s on the slip. You can give students signals to use to indicate each of the categories. For a phrase, have the volunteers put two fingers on their lips and extend their hand away from the lips. For names, have the volunteers point to their chest (as in noting themselves). And for topics, have the volunteer use an opening of a book motion. Play a few rounds to recharge and reenergize your students.
  5. Silent Ball You Tube vidoe by Alan Strange youtube com ZUhcuEwy8scSilent Ball: Another way to get your students physically active during the stressful time of testing is to have them play a game of silent ball. Students toss a soft, light ball like a Nerf ball to one another in the room. However, there is no talking or making of any sounds. Have students stand at their desks or in a circle around the room. Explain to the students that the teacher is the only referee and has the final say in all “outs.” Ways to get out are: poor tosses to other students (over their head or beyond their reach); missing a catch of a good toss; and making a sound or talking. When a student is out they must sit quietly at their desk until the game is over. Getting physical is a great way to have fun and reduce anxiety.
  6. Relaxing Through Music: Using relaxing classical music (Brahms, Palestrina, Schumann, and Mendelssohn, to name a few) or music created for relaxation, do a similar activity to that of Visual Imagery. Have students listen carefully to the music, noting all the nuances in the orchestration, or finding the different instruments used or the repeated patterns within the music. Another idea is to have students create a scenario in their imagination that goes along with the music. Add in the deep breathing to enhance the experience. Also, keep students focused on smiling throughout the listening and relaxing.

No one really likes being tested. However, in education it’s unavoidable. The more tools we can offer our students in reducing testing anxiety and stress, the more likely they will be to perform to their potential on the tests. Also, keeping your room environment comfortable, safe, welcoming, quiet, well lit, free of odors, and visually appealing can also improve students’ focus during the time of testing.

What other ideas do you have that you use in your classroom to help students relax? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Post them to the comments.

DifferentiationForGiftedLearners from FSPRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally. His most recent book is Differentiation for Gifted Learners, coauthored with Diane Heacox, Ed.D. He is also author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.

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)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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April Giveaway Winner Announced

Stress Giveaway2Congratulations to MJ Wirtanen, winner of our April giveaway of Stress Management Resources!

MJ was selected by a random drawing, and wrote:

I’m at a therapeutic school, we greet the students as they get off the bus so if there is a home issue they’d like to talk about it can be addressed so they have a better chance of moving on with their day. We work hard at building relationships with the kids so that they are willing to let us help them. We work with them to understand how to handle their responses to their emotions in positive ways.

Another giveaway is coming up soon, watch for more information!

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)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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The Free Spirits Reflect on Their Favorite Teachers

Teacher Appreciation week courtesy PTAThis year, to mark Teacher Appreciation Week, which will be celebrated in schools across the country May 4–8, 2015, we at Free Spirit wanted to pay tribute to some of the educators who made big impacts in our lives. We may no longer be students, but we’ll always be grateful for the educators who stuck up for us, introduced us to wild new ideas, encouraged us to pursue our passions, developed our strengths, and helped us work through challenges. Thank you for inspiring our work and for making it possible!

“A standout teacher in my life was my high school Shakespeare teacher, Mrs. Hutchinson. When I entered her class I hadn’t yet read a single work by Shakespeare. I foolishly assumed I wouldn’t like his works, but she proved me wrong. I recall Mrs. Hutchinson starting most classes (maybe every class) by saying, ‘There’s nothing new under the sun.’ Then, she’d proceed to prove that premise by comparing current day events with passages from Shakespeare. It was amazing. Mrs. Hutchinson had high expectations of everyone in her class, and you didn’t dare come to class unprepared. I recall having to memorize long passages from Shakespeare’s works and thinking that I’d never remember all that! Mrs. Hutchinson had a way of suggesting that of course you can do it. As Shakespeare said, ‘It’s Greek to me.’ But it wasn’t after being in her class.”
Judy Galbraith, president & founder

“I tried to choose just one teacher, but realized I had to give credit to an entire quartet of amazing teachers I had in grade school. As a second grader, I was a long way from home. My family had moved from Minnesota to Italy, and I was shy, homesick, and culture shocked. Fortunately, my teacher that year was Mrs. Opal. Cheerful and nurturing, she gave comfort and encouragement in abundance. The following year, Mrs. Prideaux provided a calm and supportive third-grade classroom. She also advocated for her students, seeing their strengths and needs. (In my case, she saw I loved to write and placed me in a gifted class in which I wrote a surely award-worthy story about a skiing squirrel.) respectThen, in fourth grade, I had one of my all-time favorite teachers, Ms. Russo. She was tough, funny, and fair. Most important, she treated her students with the same respect she would a peer. In turn, we strove to be worthy of that respect. I worked hard, and toughened up a bit. And through all three of these years, my history teacher was Mrs. Fabris, a vibrant force who taught for 40 years and was a legend at the school. With vast knowledge, boundless enthusiasm, and high expectations, she made ancient history come alive—no small feat when teaching The Iliad to nine-year-olds! Together, these four very different teachers gave me some of my most memorable and rewarding school years. I didn’t always appreciate their unique gifts at the time. Looking back, I wish I could thank them all in person.”
Alison Behnke, editor

“I benefited from many amazing teachers, but two standouts were my high school English instructors, Mr. Lundquist and Mrs. Schlicht. I attended a very small school in northern Minnesota, but their recommended reading—in and out of the classroom—showed me worlds unknown! Whether we were discussing racism in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama, or feminism in Victorian England, our talks on the foreign and familiar in literature bolstered my love of books and helped lead me to a career in publishing. Of course, I should probably also give a nod to my mom (a school speech pathologist) and dad (a sixth-grade science teacher)—they had a pretty big impact on how I turned out, too.”
Anastasia Scott, publicist

“I have so much appreciation for my 11th-grade English teacher, Mrs. Olson. On our school trip to the UK, she brought Shakespeare and The Canterbury Tales to life with her passion. She made us understand that literature is ‘alive’ and encouraged us to seek it out every day.”
Lindsey LaBore, sales & marketing specialist

“I’ve been so fortunate to have many amazing teachers throughout my life. My parents, both educators by profession, were of course my first and best teachers. critical eyeIn the school setting, one of my most memorable teachers was Mr. Eicher, who taught high school social studies. His 10th-grade history class was one of the first courses in which we were taught to question everything that we’d learned before, debate each other in addition to the instructor, and really think for ourselves. I sought out his class for 11th-grade history as well, and that course was equally transformative. He’s one of the main reasons I pursued history in college, and he taught me to approach the subject—and the world—with a critical eye.”
Michelle Lee Lagerroos, designer

“My high school friends used to tell me that I would grow up to be just like Madame Plante. The similarities between my 10th-grade self and our French teacher were already beginning to show: tall, interested in the piano, fond of vintage Antartex coats. My friends intended it as a joke, but I always secretly hoped they would be right. Ann Marie Plante, cosmopolitan polyglot, doctorate-holding pianist, and community volunteer, was the kind of teacher and role model every student hopes to have. In her classroom, students learned more than just French vocabulary and grammar. Thanks to her high expectations and personal example, she taught us all how to strive for excellence for the sake of learning (instead of for a perfect GPA) and how to conduct our lives—academic, professional, and personal—with curiosity, courtesy, and integrity.”
Lauren Ernt, publishing administrative associate

“My high school English teacher, Mr. Dougherty, has long stayed in my mind. He was quite a bit older and slower moving than the other teachers, but he had them all beat when it came to passion and character. I’ll never forget walking into class one morning and the room was pitch black with what sounded like a haunted house record playing in the background. When we were all seated and giggling, Mr. Dougherty walked up the center aisle enacting the three apparitions scene from Macbeth. He even wore a black cloak and cackled! It thrilled me to see a teacher be so bold and unafraid of what his students thought of him. Some probably thought he was a silly/crazy/boring old man, but I adored him for being anything but.”
Meg Bratsch, acquisitions manager

“My favorite teacher was actually my grade school principal, Mrs. Flack. It was the mid 1960s and she understood that all kids didn’t learn the same. She was way ahead of her time.

“As a young student, I was bored in class and would simply get up and go do something else. Even as early as kindergarten, I had difficulty in class. I once told my kindergarten teacher that I didn’t come to school to sing her silly songs and play her silly games, I came to learn to read and write. Mrs. Kidd, if you’re out there, you probably remember me! Obviously, this didn’t go over very well with my teachers as it interrupted the classroom. Therefore, teachers would just put me and my desk out in the hallway for a period of time—even a couple of hours. It wasn’t helpful to me but probably worked well for them. There were a few of us out there in that hallway from time to time, and not surprisingly, we were mostly the same kids.

“When Mrs. Flack came to William Penn Elementary, I was in second grade. She requested that teachers send kids to her office rather than to the hallway. I know that sounds like trouble—being sent to the principal’s office—but it wasn’t. It was positive, and it made a difference. She spent time getting to know me and the other students who were considered behavior issues. She would put me to work in her office for an hour or so making copies on the mimeograph machine (the precursor to the copy machine, and possibly the beginning of my printing career), running papers to teachers, and other tasks or errands. but it workedWhen I returned to my classroom, I was able to do better. I don’t know what she knew, but it worked. The following year, she instituted a ‘split class,’ which was a classroom where she put a few third graders, in a fourth-grade classroom. I was one of those students, and it made all the difference in my interest level and my success in school. I believe that she changed my life by recognizing I needed more challenge.

“There were other students with other problems. Some had learning issues or problems at home, or, like me, were just bored in class. This was a time before the mainstream recognized ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, or other learning or behavior issues, but I think Mrs. Flack did. She took the time to get to know these kids and really find out what worked for them, and, depending on the student and the issue, she would find a way to help them succeed. She really cared about every student.

“She made a huge difference in my life, and I am sure in many other lives in her long career. We stayed close, and she was at my high school graduation.”
Kim Hurley, production manager

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)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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