Rebel with a Cause: How to Guide the Middle School Activist

By Judge Tom Jacobs and Natalie Jacobs, coauthors of Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice, from Student Elections to the Supreme Court

Rebel with a Cause: How to Guide the Middle School Activist“People love what other people are passionate about.”
—Mia (played by Emma Stone) in La La Land

Tomorrow, July 25, marks the 57th anniversary of a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement—the date when Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, became desegregated. It was months earlier, in February 1960, that four African-American college students were refused service at the lunch counter. They peaceably protested by staging a sit-in and refusing to leave the lunch counter. Their civil activism helped spur a youth-led movement resulting in months of peaceful protests and marches, which ultimately resulted in the desegregation of that store’s lunch counter.

Fast-forward to 2017, and a similar issue has been brewing in communities throughout the country. The case has made its way through the judicial system and reached the United States Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case next term. Instead of racial discrimination, this time the Court is addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation and freedom of religion/expression.

The case started when a Colorado baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The two men challenged the baker’s refusal of service as a discriminatory act and a violation of the state’s public accommodations law. They won their case in the lower courts, which resulted in the baker petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Whether you’re fighting for equality and justice in court or at a lunch counter, there are many ways one voice or one act can effect change. Educating middle schoolers about historical events and relating those events to current social justice issues may help trigger a yearning to learn more and become engaged. Here are a number of action points for students to let their voices be heard and become active members of their communities.

  • Volunteer for a partisan organization. Students can volunteer for the state’s Democratic Party, Republican Party, or the political organization of their choice. Young students can help their political party’s local chapter by stuffing envelopes, helping register voters, and canvassing neighborhoods (with other adult members of the group). Volunteering for a candidate’s campaign (local or state) is another option for student activists.
  • Volunteer for a nonpartisan organization. Countless grassroots organizations are in need of supporters and volunteers. See the listed resources and links below.
  • Educate family, friends, and peers. Young activists can discuss issues that are important to them with family and friends. The more these issues are discussed, the more people will become educated and engaged and ultimately care about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., and beyond.
  • Participate in a peaceful rally, demonstration, or march. The Women’s March that occurred in January of this year involved more than 3 million people around the world supporting change through love and acceptance. Today, women are donning red cloaks and white bonnets ala The Handmaid’s Tale and standing in silent solidarity at demonstrations across the country to protest gender discrimination and the infringement of women’s reproductive rights. The protestors’ silence and eye-catching costumes have been effective in gaining attention for their cause. Many of the marches and demonstrations this past year included participants of all ages. Students can encourage their friends, peers, and teachers to participate through a sign-making party and to march or rally together.
  • Go to a town hall meeting. Show up and speak up. All voices are equal, no matter the person’s age. Find a meeting near you at
  • Mobilize through social media. Tech-savvy students have a myriad of social media techniques to spread information about their causes and gain support. Starting a Facebook group is a quick and easy way to get the message out. The Women’s March founders organized via a Facebook group and started a movement that inspired millions. Young students can do this, too.
  • Make a phone call, send an email, or write a letter. Our legislators work for us, the constituents, and they care a great deal about what we think. State and federal lawmakers normally hear from a small percentage of the people they represent. If this number dramatically increases, they will be forced to take their constituents’ thoughts and actions into consideration. The earlier teens begin writing, emailing, or calling their senators and other lawmakers, the more likely they will be to continue to express their voices in the future.
  • Hold a mock election. Students can bring a mock election to their school, with the help of other students and teachers, to educate peers about the electoral process and the need for voter participation in a healthy democracy.

Here are some great resources that list organizations to volunteer with and/or that provide ideas specific to the causes a student may be interested in, such as the environment, education, and human rights:

Middle schoolers and young teens who already have the fire to fight for justice or a cause they are passionate about should not be stifled in any way. Encourage these young activists to stand up for what they believe in and to use their voices.

Judge Tom Jacobs, Free Spirit Publishing AuthorThomas A. Jacobs, J.D., was an Arizona assistant attorney general from 1972–1985 where he practiced criminal and child welfare law. He was appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court in 1985 where he served as a judge pro tem and commissioner in the juvenile and family courts until his retirement in 2008. He also taught juvenile law for ten years as an adjunct professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work. He continues to write for teens, lawyers, and judges. Visit Judge Jacobs’s website for free interactive educational tools that provide current information regarding laws, court decisions, and national news affecting teens.

Author Natalie JacobsA former criminal defense attorney, Natalie Jacobs works with her father, Judge Tom, on the teen rights website, helping teens and their parents become better informed about youth rights and the laws affecting minors. She has volunteered with the Arizona Innocence Project, which investigates claims of innocence and works to exonerate those wrongfully convicted. Natalie lives in Arizona.

Tom and Natalie are coauthors of Every Vote Matters. Tom is also the author of What Are My Rights?, They Broke the Law—You Be the Judge, and Teen Cyberbullying Investigated.

Every vote mattersWhat Are My Rights from Free Spirit Publishingthey broke the law Teen Cyberbullying Investigated from Free Spirit Publishing

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Empower Gifted Learners to Advocate for Themselves

By Deb Douglas, author of The Power of Self-Advocacy for Gifted Learners: Teaching the Four Essential Steps to Success (Grades 5–12)

Empower Gifted Learners to Advocate for ThemselvesAs the days of summer passed, eleven-year-old Carmen grew more and more anxious about the start of another school year.

Sixth grade hadn’t been all she’d hoped it would be, and she was pretty sure that seventh grade would be more of the same. Her biggest worry was language arts. It wasn’t that Carmen didn’t like reading and writing—in fact, she loved them and excelled at both. She was reading Good Night Moon aloud at age two and The Giving Tree at three. By the time she was six, she had consumed the Little House series and composed a short opera about her dog, Daisy. On the final day of elementary school, she gave copies of her self-published poetry book to her classmates. She couldn’t wait for middle school and “real” language arts classes.

But her first year in middle school was a disappointment. Even with individual goals in reading and writing workshops, Carmen never felt challenged. There was no one else who wanted to discuss Antigone or Jane Eyre. No other student understood the nuance of her writing or saw the humor in her poetry. And from what she saw around her each day, Carmen knew that seventh grade wasn’t going to be much better.

No More Same Old, Same Old
For many gifted kids like Carmen, getting ready for the new school year means more than buying a new backpack. It is a time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. To find ways to make the coming year even better than the one before.

But not all students understand that they have a right to learn something new every day, to work hard, and to make school what they want it to be. And many don’t know where to begin to make changes. That’s where we, as parents and educators, can make a difference. We can ask, listen, and act. When we ask the right questions, listen perceptively, and act together with our children, they can self-advocate to create the educational options they crave.

The first step is simply talking with our children about their formal education. Finding the right time to begin a dialogue may not always be easy, but it doesn’t have to be a formal strategy meeting. Keep it casual using those in-between moments like car time, meals, or star-gazing on a clear summer night.

Sometimes just a simple question can get the ball rolling: “I know school isn’t always exactly what you’d like it to be. Is there anything about last year that you would change?” Other leading questions include:

  • What things do you really like about school?
  • What things are you really good at?
  • What do you struggle with? Why?
  • What bugs you? What frustrates you?
  • What needs improvement?

This part can be tough. It’s fairly common for us to react quickly to our children’s first responses rather than letting them expand on their thoughts. In order to really listen, we should refrain from

  • rushing to explain why things are the way they are
  • denying their feelings
  • minimizing their concerns
  • assessing their strengths and weaknesses as we see them
  • providing our own answers or solutions

Instead we can reassure children that there are no right or wrong answers. We want their straight, heartfelt, unfiltered responses. We also can ask follow-up questions that help children dig deeper, reflect openly, and ponder more critically.

After asking and listening, it’s time to encourage our children to take actions that will change their gripes and frustrations into great possibilities. We can help them select a goal and create an action plan to achieve it. Most gifted students’ goals fall into one of four categories:

  • find a greater challenge
  • explore an interest
  • spend more time with like-ability peers
  • adjust school or home to accommodate personal needs

The steps that Carmen took below are a good example of how other gifted learners could begin self-advocating.

Carmen’s Self-Advocacy Strategy
After reflecting on the last school year, Carmen chose one thing she wanted to change: “I’d like a greater challenge in my language arts classes.” To get there, she used the classic problem-solving process below (her comments are in italics). Her parents served as guides on the side, helping her gather information and providing feedback at each stage.

  1. Define the Problem.
    The book choices are always too easy, and with all the required writing for test preparation, we never got to do creative writing at all last year. I’m afraid 7th and 8th grade are going to be the same.
  2. Identify Alternative Solutions.
    1. I could read different books than the rest of the class and write essays about them.
    2. I could find other kids who want to read more difficult books, and we could work together.
    3. I could do an online advanced English class instead of 7th grade language arts.
    4. I could skip 7th and 8th grade language arts and take a literature class at the high school.
  3. Evaluate and Choose an Alternative.
    1. If I did the first alternative, I’d be reading alone at my own pace, but I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to about the books.
    2. Other kids might not be as motivated as I am or want to read the same books.
    3. An online class could be self-paced, but I’d rather discuss things face-to-face.
    4. The high school classes sound really interesting, but I don’t know how to get permission.

After thinking about this seriously and discussing it with my parents, I’ve decided that I want to skip 7th- and 8th-grade language arts and take the American literature class at the high school.

4. Implement the Decision

Carmen devised the following step-by-step plan:

  1. Get support from last year’s teacher.
  2. Explain my plan to my principal and my counselor.
  3. Get permission to take a high school class.
  4. Meet with the high school teacher to show that I’m motivated and can do the work.

5. Monitor and Control Decision Outcomes

Carmen asked for help from several people.

  • My parents can let me know if I’m spending too much time on American lit and not enough on my other classes.
  • My high school teacher can let me know how I’m doing, especially in the first few weeks.
  • My counselor can help me develop a long-term plan for the coming years.

With the assistance of her parents and other caring adults, Carmen changed her route through the educational system and found the challenges she wanted.

Ask. Listen. Act . . . And Then Celebrate
The ongoing support of parents and other adults is key to gifted students’ self-advocacy. We can help students sort through the issues, provide a sympathetic ear, encourage them when the going gets rough, and celebrate their successes. When future needs arise, our children will be able to choose new goals and begin the process again and again, each time taking on more and more responsibility.

Self-advocacy is a skill that will serve them well—in school, in college, in work, and in life.

Deb Douglas Deb Douglas consults and advocates for gifted students, specializing in workshops that help students take charge of their education. She is a frequent presenter at state and national conferences, and her original research on empowering gifted students to self-advocate has been published in The Roeper Review and Parenting for High Potential. Previously, she was the gifted education coordinator for the Manitowoc Public School District and president of the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Follow Deb on Twitter: @debdouglas52

Power of Self-Advocacy for Gifted LearnersDeb Douglas is the author of The Power of Self-Advocacy for Gifted Learners: Teaching the Four Essential Steps to Success (Grades 5–12)

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Enter to win five In a Jar® products of your choice!

July 2017 GiveawayThis month’s giveaway winner will get to choose any five In a Jar® products! With unique, engaging topics for all ages, our go-anywhere and easy-to-use jars make learning fun, portable, and spontaneous. The games and cards can be enjoyed alone or with others at home, at school, at childcare, in the office, while traveling, at parties, in youth groups, and at camp.

To Enter: Leave a comment below describing how you make learning fun.

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

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, July 28, 2017.

The winners will be contacted via email on or around July 31, 2017, 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. 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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5 Tips for Supporting Young Gifted Children

By Ellen I. Honeck, Ph.D., coauthor of Teaching Gifted Children in Today’s Preschool and Primary Classrooms: Identifying, Nurturing, and Challenging Children Ages 4–9

5 Tips for Supporting Young Gifted ChildrenAll gifted children are unique (including young gifted children), and as such, there are many ways to support a young gifted child. But some general strategies apply to most children. Here are five that can be helpful at school or at home.

1. Know your child.
This may seem obvious, but you’ll want to really dive in deep and understand your gifted child’s characteristics. Focus on her strengths—what is she good at doing, what objects draw her attention, what activities does she participate in, what are her favorite books and/or objects, and what is she doing when she is truly happy or content? It is important to recognize what your child is telling you, both in words and actions. When you understand your child’s strengths, it becomes easier to support her interests.

2. Provide a wide variety of opportunities.
Young gifted children have a passion to explore and are often not intimidated by trying new things. Children need to be exposed to a wide range of experiences and opportunities. They may not know they are interested in something if they have never had the opportunity to try it out. Children should get to explore nature (taking hikes and walks, visiting creeks and parks, and so on); visit various places (such as museums, gardens, zoos, and more); try a variety of games (board games and physical games); be exposed to many types of books (nonfiction, fiction, fairy tales, picture books with illustrations and photographs); as well as a plethora of other ideas. If your child is intimidated, move slowly and provide a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar.

3. Promote creative thinking activities.
Creative thinking can be promoted through discussion and questions, as well as through hands-on activities. Gifted children have a natural curiosity, which often leads to a ton of questions. Adults can get worn out from the constant barrage of questions, but try to treat questions as opportunities to promote higher-level critical and creative thinking. Engage in dialogue by asking open-ended questions that ask gifted children to think of items and things. Use question stems such as

  • What did you see?
  • What did you notice?
  • What did you find?
  • What picture does it create in your mind?
  • Why do you think this might happen?
  • What patterns do you see?
  • What would happen if . . . ?”

Creative thinking activities should also include hands-on, open-ended exploration with new materials. These materials do not need to be expensive toys. They can be recyclable items such as cardboard boxes, plastic lids, and jars; objects from nature such as pinecones, flowers, and rocks; old electronic items to take apart and explore such as computers and stereo components; art supplies such as chalk, finger paints, and collage materials; and anything else that promotes imagination. The opportunities should promote open-ended creative and imaginative play, allowing the child to design without a predetermined physical model.

4. Understand asynchrony.
Gifted children are not necessarily gifted across all areas. And physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development do not always keep pace with one another. You could be having a very high-level conversation about a science concept with a gifted child, and the next moment, the same child is crying because he didn’t get his way. It is important to recognize that the gifted child is still a child.

5. Support social-emotional needs.
One of the many ways to support gifted children’s social-emotional learning needs is to teach them coping strategies. Help them tolerate stress and anxiety with relaxation and mindfulness techniques. You can find many techniques online and in apps and books such as Feeling Worried! by Kay Barnham.

Another great technique for kids is positive self-talk—instilling optimism using a growth mindset. Help children focus on seeing the positive aspects of what is happening around them.

Bibliotherapy is the act of sharing books that have characters who are dealing with the same struggles as the child. This is a great way to talk through needs and issues that affect the social-emotional well being of children. Bibliotherapy is a nonthreatening way to address the needs of gifted children, since they can discuss the character and the story. Search online bookstores for titles relating to your child’s issue, or ask a librarian for recommendations.

It is important to support young gifted children in a wide variety of ways. Many resources are available to help you understand the various needs of your child and explore the strategies that work best for him or her. But these five guidelines above are a good place to start.

Ellen I. Honeck, Ph.D., has been involved in gifted education as a classroom teacher, administrator, gifted specialist, curriculum developer, consultant, adjunct professor, and associate director of a gifted education institute. She is actively involved with NAGC’s Early Childhood and Special Schools and Programs Networks, presents at national and international conferences, and received the 2016 President’s Award from NAGC. Ellen is the dean of the Gifted and Talented Academy at Laurel Springs School and director of curriculum and instruction at the Knox School of Santa Barbara. She lives in Centennial, Colorado.

Teaching Gifted Preschool Primary

Ellen I. Honeck is coauthor of Teaching Gifted Children in Today’s Preschool and Primary Classrooms: Identifying, Nurturing, and Challenging Children Ages 4–9

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Mindfulness Strategies for Kids with ADHD

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Mindfulness Strategies for Kids with ADHDIf you’ve been a caregiver for any amount of time, you may be familiar with the characteristics of a child diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), whether it be inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, or a combination of both. The child may be impulsive, hyperactive, disorganized, easily overwhelmed, anxious or edgy, or moody. He or she may blow up easily or have a poor sense of time, trouble focusing, difficulty with transitions, inconsistent work habits, or sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, and textures. And while it may seem like children with these challenges are acting out or behaving badly, nothing could be further from the truth. They aren’t being bad; they just need help managing and coping.

Kids and teens diagnosed with ADHD will have individual treatment plans—which may involve medicine and/or other coping mechanisms established in partnership with their doctor—and the suggestions in this blog are not meant to replace these plans. However, everyone, particularly people with ADHD, can benefit from mindfulness—the practice of being aware of the present while calmly acknowledging and savoring the cognitive, affective, and behavioral sensations of each moment as it comes. In short, mindfulness means getting in touch with and paying attention to one’s senses in order to make sense of what’s happening right now.

Ask your students to design a Calming Corner in your room, and try these mindfulness suggestions to help soothe their heads, hearts, and hands.

So free, easy, and automatic that we don’t often give it much thought, breathing is an important part of becoming aware of the present and focusing on it, really getting in tune with each deep and intentional inhale and exhale. Teach the square breathing technique, which prompts us to breathe in deeply through our noses for four counts, hold our breath for four counts, exhale slowly through our mouths for four counts, and hold for another four counts. Doing four to six of these deep breaths is a great way to clear kids’ brains of the clutter and chaos that might keep those troublesome transitions from going smoothly.

For your little learners, belly breathing is a fun deep-breathing alternative. Show the Sesame Street video about it. Or ask students to lie flat on their backs and put a stuffed animal on their bellies so that, as they breathe, they can actually see their bellies rise and fall. This makes something intangible like breathing much more concrete. Practice this calming technique throughout the day until it becomes a part of students’ routine.

Bonus: Encourage students to practice deep breathing outside and to take advantage of the fresh air while they enjoy the warmth of the sunshine on their skin and soak up some vitamin D.

An optional addition to deep breathing is introducing a soothing scent to the ritual. Scented plug-ins or reed diffusers can put out calming aromas like lavender, ginger, eucalyptus, spearmint, peppermint, lemon, lime, orange, or cinnamon. Aromatherapy has long been used for its ability to reduce stress, lighten moods, improve clarity, and boost motivation, among other effects, or, try using essential oils to scent rice. Then hide river rocks in a bin of the scented rice; students find it very calming to run their fingers through the rice as they dig for the hidden treasures. Keeping fresh flowers in your room provides an additional opportunity to practice mindfulness with the natural scents of the carnation or the rose.

Bonus: Put scented Epsom salts in a zipper baggie to achieve the same scent-sational results.

There are so many calming colors. Which one is most soothing to you? More importantly, which one is comforting for your students with ADHD? Often, these students become overwhelmed because their brains go into overdrive, taking in information and trying to process it at a fast and furious pace. Being able to decrease that load, even for a little bit, can provide great relief.

Let’s say a student chooses blue. Provide something blue that the student can look at, meditate with, and focus on. Maybe it’s a weighted blanket or a calm-down bottle with blue-colored water, blue glitter, or blue jelly beads. Meditative coloring also provides therapeutic stress reduction and relaxation to help kids with ADHD stay in the moment. Provide the colors that are soothing to the student and encourage him or her not to hurry or rush, but rather to stay calm while coloring. This strategy will also connect with students’ hearts if they’re able to color a picture of something that makes them happy, like a rainbow, flowers, or animals.

Bonus: A kaleidoscope can provide an incredible burst of colorful mindfulness.

Another suggestion for effective mindfulness with students who have ADHD is to let them de-stress and refocus with instrumental music. Music artist Gary Lamb, for example, creates music that aligns with our natural biorhythms for optimal relaxation and joy. George Winston, Doug Smith, and David Lanz are excellent pianists whose music can soothe, comfort, and restore. Encourage your students to practice square or belly breathing as they listen to calming music, and you’ll have a feel-good recipe for mindfulness they won’t soon forget.

If you’re strapped for time and can’t lead a relaxation exercise, don’t stress. Give your students the opportunity to earn two minutes of computerized relaxation at the Do Nothing for Two Minutes website. Or schedule it proactively, just because.

Bonus: Students can make their own music with a Zenergy Chime.

When students with ADHD are struggling to focus or challenged with big, uncomfortable, and out-of-control emotions, try giving them something tangible to help stretch their self-awareness. Using the pointer and the middle fingers together, students can pat themselves up and down their arms and legs. Add a mantra like “Peace begins with me” to harness the power of the mini-massage.

Need another idea? Dare I say Rubik’s Cube or—gasp!—fidget spinners? These two handheld devices are wildly popular with the majority of my students, but especially with those children who are diagnosed with ADHD. The good thing is, students don’t need to play for very long to get tactile benefit from these gadgets, which heighten students’ sense of touch and help them get back in touch with the here and now. Chunk work into bite-sized morsels and set a kitchen timer for scheduled five-minute mindfulness breaks and watch the extra energy ooze out of students as they fidget with these spinners or attempt to solve that colorful cube.

Bonus: Get some yarn and scissors and let your students make and manipulate warm fuzzies.

For more mindfulness information, research, and integration ideas, check out my collection on Pinterest.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

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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