Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Our office will be closed today and tomorrow for the holiday as we take time to remember all we are thankful for.

We would also like to express our gratitude for you, the educators, parents, and caregivers who share our mission to give children the tools they need to grow and learn. Thank you for your dedication and for all you do in your work with young people. We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!


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)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Gratitude Is Good for the Heart: Teaching Kids the Value of Giving Thanks

This post was originally published November 21, 2016.

By Barbara A. Lewis, author of The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” (A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh)

Gratitude Is Good for the Heart: Teaching Kids the Value of Giving ThanksToday I read a letter that came in the mail from one of our granddaughters. She thanked us for attending a special occasion for her birthday. As I looked at the scrawled handwriting and the misshapen hearts at the side, it brought a smile to my face and a tug in my chest. And did I ever feel gratitude for her? Absolutely! Strange as it might sound, I felt a stronger bond with her as well.

So what is so great about an attitude of gratitude? Well for one thing, our granddaughter’s gratitude increased a sense of gratitude in me. I promptly sent a thank- you text message back to her parents for teaching their kids to be grateful.

Many kids are taught about being grateful. An example of expressing service and gratitude happened when 2,500 kids from around the world drew cutouts of their hands and wrote what kind things they had done for a grateful person. They flooded Friend magazine’s mailbags with their paper hands. It started a wave of gratitude and service that spread.

Gratitude is the twin of service. They are intimately connected at the heart. You would think that the person who receives the service or gift is the one who benefits most. Not so fast. The giver receives the biggest boost of satisfaction.

According to Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, gratitude is good for us. Research has proven that showing gratitude releases a naturally occurring hormone called oxytocin. Often called the “love drug,” oxytocin encourages bonding, maternal instinct, friendship, marriage, and love. Wow!

We just feel good when we show gratitude. It is good for our health and our relationships. If that is not enough, studies also show that people who express gratitude feel more peaceful, have less stress, and even have stronger immune systems. What a bargain for a little gratitude!

So how can we help children, students, ourselves, and others around us develop greater gratitude and enjoy the loving boost of oxytocin?

For one thing, we can resist the urge to flood children with presents and opportunities to receive everything they want. To increase their gratitude and a feeling of self-confidence, we can require children to do chores for some of the things they want.

Richard Rende, a developmental psychologist, coauthored a book entitled Raising Can-Do Kids. He discusses data showing that children perform better academically, emotionally, and professionally if they do chores in their homes. It helps to correct the “gimme-gimme” syndrome. We can let kids see that privileges don’t just “poof” out of the air. Privileges require work. We can teach children to be grateful for all those brave people—both in our country and in our families—who worked hard before us and provided us with many blessings and benefits.

A defining example of gratitude comes from the family of 14-year-old Katelyn Zimmerman from Inverness, Florida, who was hit and killed by a drunk driver while riding her bike. Katelyn’s grandmother, Charlene Sweigart, knew of her granddaughter’s great love for life and gratitude for all she had. Charlene also heard Katelyn’s last words. Three hours before the accident, Katelyn had told her grandmother that she wanted to be an organ donor.

Ironically, that came true as her heart was rushed to a young boy named Alj. Alj and his family had almost given up hope that he would ever receive a heart. But the match fit. Later, the families met. Katelyn’s heart lived on inside another teenager. Alj shared a letter of gratitude that he had written to his unknown benefactor: “Thank you for a second chance at life. There were times when I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t walk without breath. I needed a miracle.” He wrote: “Katelyn, thank you for being my miracle.”

Nothing appears to improve gratitude more than helping someone else. It doesn’t have to be formal volunteering or donating an organ—but simply helping those in need in our families and communities. It also involves thanking those around us who assist us. It will help our hearts hold a “rather large amount of gratitude,” and it has been rumored to increase their sizes as well.

Yes, gratitude can be taught! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Set an example of gratitude for those around you. Say “thank you” to everyone who serves you—in the market, at work, at school, at home, wherever. Recognize the good that people do. It can snowball.
  • As the holidays approach, make wish lists of items to give to other people instead of gifts for ourselves. Teach children and teens to be grateful for their heritage, freedom, family, food, shelter, and those who came before them who secured their blessings.
  • Encourage kids to write down the good things that happen to them each day. Keep a gratitude jar in your home or classroom. Discuss grateful moments around the dinner table or at school and discuss experiences in expressing gratitude.
  • Send thank-you messages. Write to people to thank them for simple acts of kindness. To thank those who are not nearby, especially young children, use Skype or FaceTime. Or how about making a selfie thank-you message?
  • Make cookies or other treats and take them to someone to thank him or her.
  • Decorate the house, classroom, or office with sticky notes thanking others for their good services and kind actions. Keep plenty of sticky note pads around for kids to add their own. (Of course this kind of experience requires some clean-up time.)
  • Volunteer. Nothing improves gratitude more than helping someone else.

Most importantly, let’s all remember to thank those around us—children and adults—who offer their love, service, help, and forgiveness.

Author Barbara LewisBarbara A. Lewis is an author and educator who teaches kids how to think and solve real problems. Her elementary school students initiated the cleanup of hazardous waste, improved sidewalks, planted thousands of trees, and even instigated and pushed through several state laws and an amendment to a national law. She has been featured in many national newspapers and magazines and on news programs, and her books have won Parenting’s Reading Magic Award and have been named “Best of the Best for Children” by the American Library Association, among other honors.

Free Spirit books by Barbara A. Lewis:

What Do You Stand For? For Kids What Do You Stand For? For Teens   Kids Guide To Service Projects The Teen Guide to Global ActionSocial Emotional Stories by Barbara A. Lewis


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)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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How to Motivate Students to Stand Up to Bullying

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

How to Motivate Students to Stand Up to BullyingAs I watched my four-year-old daughter march off to school, dressed in orange to bring attention to National Anti-Bullying Day, I couldn’t help but think of how much we as a society have learned since I sent my first child to preschool 15 years ago. Back then, they didn’t wear orange or hand out hero bracelets or read books on bullying such as Zach Stands Up. In fact, it wasn’t until 2005 that the government started collecting any data on bullying. Since that time, we have learned the harmful impact bullying has on children of all ages.

We know that one out of every five students reports being bullied. These numbers rise significantly for students with disabilities, students of color, and students who are or are perceived to be LGBTQ. We know that students who experience bullying have an increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, lower academic achievement, and dropping out of school. They also report more headaches and more stomachaches and are at increased risk for suicide.

As with so many things in society, progress has been made, but we much left to do if we are to dramatically move the needle toward zero bullying. One of the questions I often hear from teachers is “How do I motivate my students to stand up to bullying?” The answer to this question is complex, given the dynamics of bullying. But with a combination of awareness and empathy, and a focus on research, we can make a dramatic difference in motivating students to stand up and speak out when they see bullying happen.

One of the first steps in motivating students is knowing and accepting that bullying is an ongoing problem. It’s important to also acknowledge the good news—that school programs on anti-bullying decrease bullying by 25 percent. In other words, your work as a proponent in ending bullying is essential. You really do make a difference! If it seems like I’m trying to motivate you, that’s because I am.

I know that many teachers struggle to fit social emotional learning (SEL) and anti-bullying programming into the already crowded day, but it is essential to include these lessons. One of the great things about SEL is that it focuses on what I like to call the “positive opposite” of bullying. Often we are tempted to focus mainly on the problem we need to fix: “These kids are bullying each other. We need to get rid of it.” I am not denying the truth of that statement. But I think that to better motivate students, we need to ask ourselves, “What do we want to create?” instead.

In my mind, the answer goes something like this: “We want to create classrooms and school environments of empathy, solidarity, support for each other, and, even if not friends, friendliness. We know that these types of environments foster meaningful relationships and unity, help students feel safe, and make for exemplary learning.”

When you know the final result you want to create—empathy, solidarity, support, meaningful relationships, safety, exemplary learning—you, as a teacher, are better able to focus on the process of building that vision rather than trying to stop bullying.

This visualization is an essential mindset to take for many things in life, but it’s especially useful for combatting something as dynamic and power-based as bullying. Students who experience bullying are often isolated and feel scared and lonely. Some of the most helpful things for students who experience bullying—in other words, what makes it better—include telling adults at school, telling adults at home, and telling friends. Perhaps a follow-up question we should be asking is: “What do we want to create that will motivate students to stand up to bullying that really makes a difference?” Or, “How can we motivate students to stand up to bullying by coming to talk to a teacher, other students, and their parents or caregivers at home?”

Your students will be much more motivated to talk to you, family, and friends when they are supported in an empathetic, unifying, and safe environment where reinforcement and rewards for showing empathy, being friendly, and supporting unity flow purposefully. This purposeful reinforcement starts on day one of your career and does not end until you retire. Why? Because students know what it feels like to learn in an environment of support and empathy, and they know what it is like not to be in such an environment. Students talk, news travels, and your presence, whether negative or positive, is felt and shared. To this day, my high schoolers sit around the kitchen table and commiserate about the unsupportive teacher they had in third grade—the teacher that made fun of my son’s name and criticized my daughter for not knowing the difference between coins.

It’s nearly impossible to motivate students in this type of environment to stand up to bullying when they feel the adult in the room is unsafe to approach. But no matter what has come before—remember, the best time to set up a classroom supported by unity and empathy was six months ago—you can always start improving your classroom environment.

Okay, so now that you’ve decided what you wanted to create, you need to make sure the message resonates on all levels of learning and all throughout your students’ daily schedules. You regularly reinforce and reward the positive opposite of bullying—kindness, empathy, solidarity, and mutual support. Now you have to walk the talk.

Someone has been texting one of your sixth-grade students nasty messages and threats. Someone continues to make fun of one of your first graders’ clothes and appearance. Someone is spreading hurtful and mean rumors about one of your 16-year-olds.

The most helpful things a teacher can do are listen to the student, check in with them afterward to see if the bullying has stopped, and give advice. These are the moments when you get to see what you created really shine. You are the dispatcher of unity and empathy. The students know it, feel it, sense it. You’ve got their backs, no matter the circumstances.

I don’t know about you, but when I know deep down inside that someone’s got my back, I feel safe to express my feelings—including my worries, fears, and gratitude. But it’s more than this—in this type of environment, students start to understand the intrinsic reward you get from being connected to people through genuine relationships based on empathy and positive regard, not on power and manipulation.

In the book Zach Stands Up, Zach and his friends learn to stand up to bullying by using the four parts of the Stand Up to Bullying STAR method.

  1. Speak up—talk to or support the person experiencing bully behavior.
  2. Take off—get yourself or the person experiencing bullying away from the situation.
  3. Actively listen—let the person talk about what happened.
  4. Report—tell an adult what happened.

While the STAR method is extremely important to teach students, the underlying crux of the story is that Zach and his friend Sonya have a teacher who has established a safe and supportive environment where the kids understand the importance of standing up for each other and know their teacher is a safe person they can report the bullying to who will listen without being dismissive or insensitive.

When it comes down to the reality of the classroom, there truly is no catch all “secret formula” for motivating students to stand up to bullying. But in the spirit of the Zach Rules series, here is a Template to Motivate.

  1. Don’t wait. It’s never too late to make a difference.
  2. Decide what you want to create. What is your positive opposite of bullying? Make sure to involve your students in the process of creating this environment.
  3. Make sure to educate and integrate. Students need to be equipped with the tools to stand up to bullying. Practice often. The positive opposite, or the safe, supportive, unified connection between students, needs to be a part of students’ entire school day, every day.
  4. Reward and reinforce when students show positive opposite behaviors.
  5. Watch as the positive opposite grows. The idea is that this way of interacting becomes so deeply held by students that it creates meaning in their lives and they purposefully and instinctively share it with others.

It can be hard to think about our students being involved in bullying in any role. But when we focus on creating a unified and compassionate environment, we not only motivate students to stand up to bullying, we lessen the chances for bullying to occur and deepen students’ internal sense of self-efficacy to know, “I got this.”

bill-mulcahy-webWilliam Mulcahy is a licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist. He has served as a supervisor at Family Service of Waukesha and as a counselor at Stillwaters Cancer Support Center in Wisconsin, specializing in grief and cancer-related issues. He has also worked with children with special needs. Currently he works in private practice in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, and is the owner of Kids Cope Now, a program for providing books and tools to help kids in the hospital. Bill lives with his wife and family near Summit, Wisconsin.

Free Spirit books by William Mulcahy:

zachapologizes

zachgetsfrustratedzach-makes-mistakesZach Stands Up


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)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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5 Ideas for Helping Kids Cope with Anxiety and Enjoy a Meaningful Holiday Season

By Lisa L. Walsh, author of Violet the Snowgirl: A Story of Loss and Healing

5 Ideas for Helping Kids Cope with Anxiety and Enjoy a Meaningful Holiday SeasonAs we head toward the holiday season, many of us find ourselves managing a high level of unease and anxiety for ourselves and our children. If our world were a snow globe, the pandemic itself, along with its consequences and the accompanying uncertainty for the future, has really shaken things up. Our world has been turned upside-down, and the snow is far from settled. We have had losses. So have our children. There is so much that has been hard about this time.

So preparing ourselves and our children for this year’s holiday season may seem overwhelming. Let’s face it, with frayed nerves and a sense of uncertainty, we may feel as if we are steadying ourselves for the task of creating a “perfect” holiday season for our families. We’ve seen the ads: the perfectly decorated home; the adorable, always smiling, and forever stain-free and grateful children; the snow, falling from the sky but somehow not preventing travel. The story is so perfect that the expectations likely feel sky-high.

But there is no such thing as the perfect holiday. And expecting perfection will surely lead us to misery.

So what might be the recipe for a meaningful holiday?

Let’s start by applying some lessons from the past 20+ months. With that in mind, here are some tips for having a meaningful holiday season.

1. Keep It Simple

Instead of striving for perfection, give yourself permission to do less. I heard over and over again from families that, when staying safe meant cancelled events and a much slower schedule, an unexpected gift was more time with those they love the most. Cleared calendars often meant time to truly be together. So this holiday season, remember that there is no need to accept every invite that is offered. It is okay to forgo some of the festivities we typically attended in the past. It is okay to decorate less. Bake less. Shop less. Permit yourself to loosen the expectations and keep it simple.

2. Allow for Feelings

The losses that we have endured from the pandemic have been numerous. And getting through this time has been hard. When we have the ability to recognize, the vocabulary to identify, and the freedom to express our emotions as we feel them, we are able to manage difficult situations with grace. So allow space for all your feelings, and model this for children. It can help them learn to identify their own feelings and put them into words.

As parents or caregivers, protecting our children from pain is often our very understandable instinct. But some pain is necessary to grow. Acknowledging emotional pain and expressing it are part of the healing process. So, allow it. Be with your child. Let them know that you see them and that you accept them just as fully with their pain as you do when they are having a terrific day. It’s hard, but the lesson is so important. By allowing uncomfortable feelings to emerge rather than denying them or being protected from them, true healing and growth occur.

3. Prioritize Self-Care for All

What might self-care look like? Quiet time. Mindfulness. Good sleep. Eating healthy. Allowing for feelings. Asking for help when you need it. Saying no when you need to say no. These self-care activities can fill our souls.

And we can’t just insist that our children remember to take care of themselves, although that is important. We need to model self-care as well. Of course we want our children to listen to what we say, but they watch us too. So if we don’t demonstrate, in our own lives, that self-care is a priority, it will be difficult for them to learn to prioritize it.

So this holiday season, try not to fill every moment. Sink into some of the quieter ones as a family. Listen to soft music and do art together. Head outdoors for a crisp walk. When we make it a priority to take good care of ourselves as parents, everybody in the family benefits.

4. Bring Meaning to Our Connections

With the pandemic not yet over, connections may be a little different these holidays, and face-to-face interactions may still prove too risky. We can acknowledge that this stinks. Being together is often so good for us. Good for our souls. But I believe that we have learned some different, though still meaningful, ways to be together.

We can help our children think about something they love about their time with a loved one and use that to make a plan to connect. Love to read? Make and send a bookmark. Or read a favorite book together.

Is hot cocoa and snuggle time a tradition? Have a remote hot cocoa party where everyone brings a favorite mug along with a cuddly snuggle partner. Use your imagination to find new ways to be together.

5. Take Care of Each Other 

One thing that has become even more apparent over this time is that we need each other. Our behavior and choices don’t just affect us. They affect others too. What an important lesson! And when we take the time to think about someone else, it helps take the focus away from our own worries for the moment.

How can we teach our kids to be there for each other? We can let them do the dishes, even when we know it would be quicker to do them ourselves. We can help them show up when they said would show up. We can work together to surprise a neighbor who lives alone with a card, a treat, or a song.

When we get out of ourselves for a while, we can often come back with a renewed perspective.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, amid the stress, we could be present and really enjoy time together this holiday season? It is possible if we focus on simplicity and connection. If we keep our expectations simple, be intentional about what we say yes to, and put a little more focus on “being” and a little less on “buying,” then we can celebrate this year in a way that has meaning in this stressed-out world.

Lisa WalshLisa L. Walsh is a school social worker with more than 20 years of experience in counseling students from preschool to high school. She is the author of a young adult novel about a family affected by addiction and has done local TV and radio interviews as well as readings and other events. Her students inspired Violet the Snowgirl—it was a real-life discussion of loss in a classroom of eight-year-olds who were empathizing with a classmate whose father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Walsh has two adult daughters and lives in Gifford, Illinois.

Violet the SnowgirlLisa is the author of Violet the Snowgirl: A Story of Loss and Healing.


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)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Modeling Compassion in Early Childhood Education

By Molly Breen

Modeling Compassion in Early Childhood EducationWhen we teachers first decided to work in early care and education, our prevailing thought was likely, “I love being with children,” and perhaps, “I’m good with kids.” Once we began our early years of teaching, we started to learn about children’s layered developmental needs and build our skills—including classroom management, professionalism, anti-bias practices, and licensing compliance, to name a few. Amid all this, and a few years down the road, we might find that we lose sight of the presence we bring to our role as teachers and the ways in which we model how to be in the world. Sometimes, we may even lose sight of our original prevailing thought: that we love working with children. But we must challenge ourselves to remember that teaching and learning go far beyond what we do with children; I would argue that more important is how we are with them.

We are more effective as teachers when we model the behaviors we want children to embody or learn. Modeling is authentic and relational, and it allows children to come to their own understanding of how to be—for better or worse. For example, we may unintentionally model agitated behaviors during transitions if we get flustered, frustrated, and anxious. Our tone of voice may change, and our movements may become quick or abrupt. While we don’t mean to, when we behave in these ways during transitions, we signal to children that this is how they should be in a transition time. Alternatively, if we take care to model working through the frustration of switching tasks, cleaning up, or getting dressed to go outside, we can help children learn to do the same. We can stop to name the emotions we observe or feel, take a deep breath, sing a song about the transition, or use visual reminders to help us stay on track. And we can praise the process as we go, always aware that skills are built over time, through direct experiences, and in the context of relationships.

More complex emotional skills, like having compassion, are inherent traits that require developmental experiences to be expressed. Compassion is our ability to respond to the needs of others to try to alleviate their suffering. The ways in which we express it may be varied: perhaps it’s a kind word or gesture to include someone, words of encouragement to help someone along, a hug, or a more targeted effort, like a fundraiser or awareness-raising event. However we express compassion, the intention is to help others without an expectation of reward.

Our own self-awareness and ability to attune to and regulate our emotions is the starting line for any effective and authentic modeling. Authenticity cannot be manufactured or preached! Practicing compassion in our own lives is a good place to start when we want to authentically model it for children. Next, provide children opportunities to learn about efforts and organizations that help others. This is often best done through service-learning opportunities, like volunteering and community-based projects. You might be thinking that service learning is only for older kids, but I assure you that it has a place in preschool too!

Here are a few examples of compassionate service-learning projects that preschoolers can participate in:

  • Develop a Little Free Pantry or Little Free Library at your school site that the preschoolers and their families are responsible for. Discuss why it’s important to share what we have with others!
  • Partner with your local library or community center to do a group gardening day with the children and their families. Discuss how communities come together to take care of the spaces we all share.
  • Make pretty cards or paint pictures to mail to residents of a local assisted living community. Talk with the children about caring for those who are lonely.
  • Organize a personal care items and nonperishable food drive to benefit your local food pantry. Encourage your school community to choose from unopened items in their own pantries or to shop from the list of high demand items recommended by the organization you are donating to. If your own school community could benefit from a school food pantry, begin one of your own that accepts donations from the community and enrolled families.
  • Join the Compassion Project for a schoolwide effort to educate kids and families on the importance of compassion.

There are endless opportunities to model compassion for preschool children, both in direct, planned ways and in less formal, daily interactions. The key to children “learning” compassion is the direct experience, satisfaction, and fulfillment they get by helping others. A bonus is that they get to see you, their teacher, along with the other adults in their lives, do the same.

As we model these qualities and provide opportunities to experience and express them with our students, we grow down to the roots of our being—a tremendous perk for our own human development! We also help make the world a better place in the process. What could be more important than that?

Molly BreenMolly Breen, M.A., E.C.E., has worked with kids and families for nearly two decades as an educator. A believer in lifelong learning, her heart is in early childhood, where the seeds of curiosity, character, and community are planted. Through her work with children as a practitioner in the classroom, Molly has developed broad expertise in curriculum development and instruction, behavior guidance, and social and emotional learning. In her role as a program director, she has created innovative approaches to professional and program development, family engagement, and community outreach. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and three kids.


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)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Early Childhood | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment