Happy Labor Day!

Wishes and Thanks on Labor DayThe Free Spirit Publishing staff is taking a long weekend in honor of Labor Day, and we hope that you find time during this end-of-summer break to relax and recharge, especially as we head into the new school year amidst a pandemic. We’ll be getting outside and diving into a good book (or two).

To everyone whose work supports the social, emotional, and educational needs of young people, thank you for all you do.

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)© 2020 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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Help Students Manage the Emotions of Going Back to School During the Pandemic

By Rayne Lacko, author of Dream Up Now: The Teen Journal for Creative Self-Discovery

Help Students Manage the Emotions of Going Back to School During the PandemicGoing back to school can be stressful for children in the best of times, but a global pandemic can create emotional challenges that cause young people to feel more nervous or reluctant than ever before. Here are five tips for managing the emotions—both your child’s and your own—of going back to school.

1. Help Your Child Feel More Connected to Their Classroom and Friends

Many children in the United States have not interacted in person or online with their classmates for several weeks or months. Whether your child is returning to school in person or virtually, their perceived (and real) experience of distance can create a feeling of emotional disconnection, making it challenging to return to class with a sense of belonging and inclusion. That feeling of distance may be underscored when, in person, students are expected to wear masks and maintain physical distance at all times, including during breaks and at lunch. Similarly, in online classroom platforms, many students sit in silence, answering only when the teacher calls on them.

Beginning today, I urge you to encourage your child to think about ways to bridge their feelings of distance to stay connected. Here are a few ideas:

  • Set up and monitor the safe use of online games, social media, and video chat.
  • Encourage your child to speak up, using their voice online to share their views in class. Doing this helps others gain the courage to reply, beginning a dialogue.
  • Encourage your child to support other students who bravely speak up in class by replying or adding to the conversation.
  • Reassure your child if they feel frustrated by wearing a mask, especially when playing, by pointing out how mask-wearing is the kindest and most proactive thing a young person can do to keep families safe and to take care of more vulnerable members of your community.

These thoughtful gestures help distanced learners feel heard, connected, and valued.

2. Check In Daily on How Your Child Is Coping

Children’s emotions will fluctuate, and it’s vital for them (and you) to know that this is natural and okay. Engaging in creative activities, such as movement, collage, or drawing, helps children express feelings they’re experiencing in a low-pressure and safe way. Making art helps children communicate difficult feelings, such as anger, fear, or sadness, and relieves stress. It also gives them an opportunity to accomplish something personal to them. Praising your child’s art and asking for more is a healthy way of telling your kid that their feelings are safe with you.

It’s essential to remember that children tend pick up on emotional cues from the primary adults in their lives. How you manage your emotions can significantly help your child approach theirs. Find and engage in the creative projects that bring you joy and produce a sense of wellness and calm. Giving yourself love and time for self-care positively impacts how your child assesses their own situation and reaction. Your child looks to you as a positive role model; you can offer your support by proactively managing your own fears and stress. Treat yourself as gently and compassionately as you would your child.

Together, seek out coping strategies for managing emotions, such as downtime away from screens to:

  • Do an art project
  • Listen to or play music
  • Dance or do yoga
  • Sing together
  • Cook or bake together

Creating something out of nothing using your creativity and patience can prove a highly rewarding bonding experience.

3. Accept Uncertainty

Author and journalist Gail Sheehy said, “If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” Change is the forward-moving energy of life, and change allows you to build the future you most wish to live by letting go of what used to be. While the pandemic may have instilled feelings of uncertainty, the lovely truth is that nothing in life has ever been certain.

Resilience is a personal quality that allows you to bounce back from loss, because you understand that the status quo is temporary (Allison, 2012). Once you embrace that everything is temporary, you have great power to create your very best now. Acknowledging that life offers unknowns while assuring your child that your love is unconditional and grows with them, can help you both feel more accepting of every emotion, dark and light.

If you are struggling with your own pain about uncertainty, consider who you would like to become instead. In “How to Handle Anxiety Over Back-to-School Decisions,” psychiatrist Pooja Lakshmin asks, “Five years from now, how would you like to have shown up for your family during the pandemic? How do you want your children to remember this time?” Put your energy now into what would be meaningful to you. You can do this by:

  • Taking things one day at a time and enjoying the current day
  • Helping your child envision success at school and in friendships; visualizing themselves succeeding is, for many people, the first step to achieving real success
  • Understanding that feeling good and being happy does not limit or devalue anyone who is struggling
  • Accepting that your moments of joy are just as contagious as your sadness and can help spread positivity in your family and community
  • Making a realistic plan each day to keep yourself, family, teachers, and friends safe by committing to safe practices: wearing masks, washing hands, and adequately distancing

“It’s helpful to remember that in times of chaos, the dogged search for certainty can itself lead to distress,” says Dr. Lakshmin. “It’s not the worry itself that’s the problem, it’s what you do with it.” Cultivating resilience promotes energy to sustain change, and also gain happiness.

4. Pay Attention to Grief but Look for the Positive

Grief is the natural response to being disappointed when something didn’t turn out the way you expected. Instead of dwelling on the ways in which the upcoming school year may not measure up to your expectations or focusing on disappointment over what your family has lost, you can significantly improve your child’s outlook by building resilience. Remember that life has always been filled with change, and emphasize the possibility for good, growth, and wonder to come out of the unexpected.

To help foster resilience in times of strife and loss, ask your child hope-filled questions to begin shaping a positive view of the present moment:

  • What is the best opportunity this situation could lead to?
  • What are your talents and skills that others appreciate?
  • Letting go of what used to be, what is your new hope for the future? What can you do now to make it happen?
  • What do you want to celebrate today?

5. Praise Your Child for Being Courageous

As the school year gets underway, praise your child for finding reasons for joy each day, for committing to speaking up in class, and for finding ways to bond with classmates. Let them know that their positive actions will help them enjoy the best possible outcomes at school this fall. It’s true that school will not look like it did in previous years, but that doesn’t mean wonderful moments of connection, learning, and growth aren’t possible.

When you see your child do something you know is hard for them, or is brave or caring, let them know you’ve noticed and are proud of them for their courage and positive outlook. Consider making a list of rewards for speaking up in class, reaching out to friends, setting goals for the future, and thinking of ways to create a better today. These might include:

  • Family board games or video games
  • Building a blanket fort and curling up with books (even teens appreciate this)
  • Preparing a favorite meal or dessert
  • Learning a new skill together, such as knitting or sewing, editing short videos, or painting with watercolors

Keep an eye out for signs of stress and worry in your child. Emotions can fluctuate, especially if your child is hearing more about reasons to be distressed than reasons to build resilience. It’s important to remember that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times, but like all things these feelings are temporary and will change. Your daily care and support are the constants your child can count on.

Allison, E. “The Resilient Leader.” Educational Leadership 69, no. 4 (January 2012): 79–82. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec11/vol69/num04/The-Resilient-Leader.aspx.

Lakshmin, P. “How to Handle Anxiety Over Back-to-School Decisions.” The New York Times, July 29, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/29/parenting/schools-reopening-parents-decision-kids.html.

Rayne Lacko is a Young Adult author and an advocate for the arts as a form of social and emotional well-being. A teen-writing mentor, she cohosts a youth creative workshop, an annual writing camp, and a teen arts showcase. Through her work, she inspires young people and their families to use creativity to stimulate positive change in their lives and communities. Rayne lives near Seattle, Washington, with her spouse and two boys (a pianist and a drummer), a noisy cat, and her canine best friend.

Dream Up NowRayne is the author of Dream Up Now™: The Teen Journal for Creative Self-Discovery.

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)© 2020 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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Kids Can LEAP into Action to Fight Food Insecurity

By Erik Talkin, author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster

Kids Can LEAP into Action to Fight Food Insecurity

Food insecurity (when a family doesn’t always have enough healthy food for the whole month) is a situation that can lead people to feel disempowered. When children are put in this situation, they feel even less able than adults to do something to change it. Yet, as was shown by nine-year-old hunger advocate Mia in the video below, there are things kids can do to help themselves, classmates, or friends who may be hungry. But to do so, they need to take a LEAP.

LEAP, which stands for Learn, Empathize, Act, Persist, reminds us what kids can do to take action against hunger. In this post, I want to dig a little deeper into how children and the adults in their lives can make the most of these responses.


It’s hard for a child or an adult to help with a problem if they don’t first understand a little about the issues. Children can be encouraged to ask tough questions like, Why do adults and the government allow there to be hungry kids in America, even though there’s plenty of food around? The very youngest children need to be protected from such consideration, but as children reach the age of six and beyond, they can be encouraged to look at the outside world in a more critical and constructive way.

Even though hunger is often an invisible problem, there is plenty of information available about the challenging truth of it. You can direct children to resources such as Feeding America and No Kid Hungry, national organizations with helpful websites that focus on issues and stories related to childhood hunger, or explore these sites with them. The stories are particularly important, because statistics can be meaningless for children who might struggle to place them in a personal context. But it is a good idea for young children to remember one number: one kid in seven is hungry in America. They can look around at how many people are in their classroom and imagine that.


This is really the crux of the matter. Food insecure kids need understanding almost as much as they need food. Hunger is a socially complex issue. Unlike classic medical conditions, childhood food insecurity carries a significant stigma. When kids realize that embarrassment and awkwardness create additional problems on top of the physical symptoms of hunger, that awareness, and the empathy it brings, can lead to powerful social and emotional learning.

It can help to get children to imagine times when they had a problem and someone helped them. Did they feel awkward and like they were “not enough”? Kids can also write little scenes imagining what problems they would have if they were hungry. You can introduce the concept of feeling tired or cranky when you are hungry and use kids’ understanding of those feelings to begin laying the groundwork for empathizing with someone who may have no choice but to be hungry.


This is the meat in the sandwich—the chance for children to help others. They might help their own friends or neighbors, in which case they need to act or share food in a neutral way without embarrassing the other person.

Once you’re helping the people you know, you can begin to cast a wider net to help everyone in your town.

A class can organize a food drive to collect healthy food to give to a local food bank. A garden can be started at home or at school to grow more healthy food for people. Even in the age of COVID-19, families are still volunteering at food pantries. These organizations may need help more urgently than ever right now, not only because of increased food insecurity due to the financial impact of the virus, but also because their regular volunteers are often over 60 and therefore may be keeping themselves safe at home instead of volunteering. When students volunteer like this with their parents and caregivers, it helps broaden their awareness beyond the home or classroom and offers a chance for valuable family engagement. Kids get to see the results of their action.


Persistence pays, so goes the old motto. It is certainly the only thing that will truly eradicate the underlying causes of food insecurity at the community level. We all want our children to be thoughtful and caring members of society, but we don’t need to wait for them to grow up. There are lots of things kids can do now. I’m always inspired by this quote attributed to Anne Frank, a girl who had a lot to contend with but still found the strength to issue this rallying cry:

“Hunger is not a problem. It is an obscenity. How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

For more information on how to empower kids around food insecurity, please refer to A Leader’s Guide to Lulu and the Hunger Monster, available as a download from the Free Spirit website.

Erik TalkinErik Talkin is also a writer and filmmaker and has served as a principal in two production companies. His short film The Gallery, starring Helena Bonham Carter, was selected for the London Film Festival. He has won an International Television Association Award for writing and directing educational drama, and his theatrical work has been produced on the London Fringe. Erik lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Lulu and the Hunger MonsterErik is the author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster. To support Hunger Action Month, 5 percent of book proceeds in September 2020 will be donated to Feeding America.

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)© 2020 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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The Year of the Empowered Student

By Patti Drapeau, author of Inspiring Student Empowerment: Moving Beyond Engagement, Refining Differentiation

The Year of the Empowered Student

Remember when we all looked forward to going back to school? We actually mourned the loss of the summer, and we looked forward to the new school year and the promise of a new group of students. There was always an excitement about the return to school; however, this year is different from all other years. We are anxious about what the new normal will look like and how we will navigate the waters. We may be feeling stressed, maybe even overwhelmed. As an educator, you are not alone. It is likely your students feel the same way.

From students’ perspective, they may have experienced frustration, disillusionment, and disappointment about learning online and not seeing their friends. Some have had to endure less-than-desirable home environments where they have had to fend for themselves. Now, with the new school year on the horizon, students, too, are realizing that their hope of returning to normalcy is not going to happen.

Right now, students need an approach to learning that will validate their opinions, ignite their commitment to learning, and help them feel that they can accomplish their learning goals. Students need a can-do attitude. They need to feel uplifted.

Student empowerment is one way to accomplish this. When students are empowered, they are excited, enthusiastic, and energized because they believe that what they are doing matters. How do we know what empowers students? The obvious answer is to ask them. In a survey of high schoolers, students were asked what empowered them. They responded that they like the ability to choose. They feel empowered when they are independent. Students also said that they feel empowered when teachers are passionate about what students are doing. If you talk about what empowerment means and provide examples of what empowers you, your students will be better able to tell you what empowers them.

Students say they feel empowered when they know that teachers care about them. When teachers know their students’ hopes and dreams, students know their teachers care. Do you know your students’ goals and aspirations? There are many surveys about student strengths and preferences that can help you ascertain information about what your students like. Since not all surveys are alike, find or modify one that gives you the information you’re looking for. Some surveys include questions about whether students like to learn facts and details or if they prefer to learn about issues and problems. Other surveys ask students whether they like to think about unusual ideas and different ways of doing things or prefer to analyze and evaluate information. Do you know if your students prefer to work alone, with a partner, or with a group?

Teachers empower students when they give them choices. You can give your students choice in a variety of ways. You can give them choices about topics or subtopics they want to learn about. You can give them choices about how they prefer to think about what they know. For example, you can ask students to describe the main character in a story or to compare the main character to themselves. Each prompt directs students to think about the main character, but one asks for a description while the other asks for a comparison. You can ask students to choose between different product forms, such as to sharing their responses in a discussion, a reading response journal, or a recording. Offering choices is a great way to empower students, but you also want them to make good, logical choices, not impulsive, emotional ones. Before students make a choice, make sure they know how they learn best and to what degree they need to learn content. If students know their own interests and strengths, they can make better decisions.

According to Russell Quaglia, “When students have voice, they are seven times more likely to be motivated to learn and four times more likely to experience self-worth in school” (Namahoe, 2017). Student voice is an important tool for communication and student leadership. Teachers encourage student voice when they ask students for their opinions, point of view, suggestions, and thoughts. You empower students when you communicate with them and when you encourage them to use their voice.

Empowerment depends upon on the relationship between the teacher and the student. The two form a team, and both assume the attitude that we are in this together. When students feel this sense of commitment from the teacher, they feel empowered. The teacher works with the students rather than imposing instruction on the students. The students begin to feel more in control of their own learning. You can empower your students by making connections with them, respecting them, and building a relationship with them.

When we empower students, we reduce their dependency on the teacher and increase their independence. Encourage your students to become active participants in the learning process by involving them in voice, choice, and logical decision-making. Remember, your students may be hesitant about returning to school in whatever format your school has chosen—face-to-face, hybrid, or online. Independence helps them feel confident and capable of accomplishing learning tasks in a variety of learning environments.

Here’s a letter to your students that you could use at the start of school. The intent of the letter is to reassure students that this year may be different, but different does not have to be bad. Inspire your students by making it known that you intend to be there for them. Feel free to personalize the letter to fit your situation.

Dear Student,
This spring was different from all other springs. The COVID-19 virus changed our learning situation and our home lives in many ways. Now, as we return to school this fall, our learning routines remain anything but routine.

I’m writing this letter to let you know that there will be changes in the way we do things this year, and it is okay. I am here to help you navigate the waters as we all struggle to learn in different, and maybe even difficult, situations.

First, here is what I need from you: I need you to pay attention to what you are learning and share your thoughts with me. Is the information interesting? Or are you doing your work just to get it done? I need you to tell me how you feel about what you are learning. Are you curious about the topic? Are you excited about it? Are you inspired to learn more?

Finally, I want you to tell me what you need to feel more comfortable in your learning situation. Do you need more help? Can I offer you more choice? Are you having difficulty making connections between what you are learning and why you are learning it?

Here is what I promise you: I promise to listen to what you are saying. I promise to try my best to understand your feelings. I promise to do everything I can to change a situation or make adjustments so that your learning needs are met. I am not perfect, but I promise to do all I can to help you. I want you to feel empowered and energized.

Let’s make a pact. Let’s make this year the year of the empowered you. Let’s make this year a great year, together.

Best wishes,
Your Teacher

Bonus! Click here to download a free student empowerment questionnaire.

References and Resources
Drapeau, Patti. Inspiring Student Empowerment: Moving Beyond Engagement, Refining Differentiation. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2020.

Namahoe, Kanoe. “Cultivating Student Voice.” SmartBrief, March 25, 2017. smartbrief.com/original/2017/03/cultivating-student-voice.

Quaglia, Russell J., and Michael J. Corso. Student Voice: The Instrument of Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2014.

Patti DrapeauPatti Drapeau (pattidrapeau.com) is an internationally active educational consultant, author, and presenter, with more than 25 years of classroom experience. Patti conducts keynote sessions as well as short- and long-term workshops in the United States and abroad. She commonly presents on the following topics: differentiation, creativity, engagement, gifted education, student empowerment, and personalized learning.

Patti is the founder of Patti Drapeau Educational Consulting Services and has received the New England Region Gifted and Talented award for outstanding contributions in gifted education and the Maine Educators of the Gifted and Talented award for exemplary service. Patti coached programs such as Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solving, Explorer Vision, and math teams. She also developed a curriculum model for the regular classroom called “Affective Perspectives: Combining Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, and Affect,” and authored a variety of articles for the Maine Exchange, Teaching Matters, and Understanding Our Gifted. Her other books include Sparking Student Creativity: Practical Ways to Promote Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving, Differentiating with Graphic Organizers: Tools to Foster Critical and Creative Thinking, Differentiated Instruction: Making It Work, and Great Teaching with Graphic Organizers.

Patti currently works as a consultant and she is a part-time faculty member at the University of Southern Maine. She lives in Freeport, Maine.

Inspiring Student EmpwermentPatti is the author of Inspiring Student Empowerment: Moving Beyond Engagement, Refining Differentiation.

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)© 2020 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 Ways to Help Kids Cope with Uncertainty

By Deborah Serani, Psy.D., author of Sometimes When I’m Sad

5 Ways to Help Kids Cope with Uncertainty

The world has a lot of moving parts, with people, places, and predicaments bearing down on us. Uncertainty can occur in global, local, and personal ways, all of which affect us and our children. Given that life is an ever-changing experience, you’d think we’d be better at dealing with uncertainty. But the truth is that humans crave stability even though life is anything but predictable.

When it comes to dealing with uncertainty, it’s helpful to use strategies to adapt to such stressful events. This is called coping. These strategies come easily to some, while others have to learn how to use them. Essentially, coping is an active process where you stop for a moment, appraise the situation you’re faced with, target the problem, and then choose a set of interventions to manage the uncertain event.

How to Cope Well

I like to teach the children and parents I work with not only how to cope, but how to cope well. By following the list below, you’ll learn how to survive AND thrive in uncertain times.

1. Stay grounded.

Make sure you create a space that shows your child that home is safe. While the world may feel unpredictable, you can structure your home so that you and your family feel grounded. Reduce the sadness and stress of uncertainty by keeping TV or news media off. Don’t talk openly about sensational stories, avoid being on your phone or computer when you can, and create a more present, interactive connection with your kids. Think of your home as not just a safe haven, but a nurturing sanctuary from the uncertainty of life.

2. Rely on routines.

Keep scheduled routines for eating meals at the same time, having a set bedtime, and doing daily chores. If school resumes online, in person, or a combination of both, carve out regularly scheduled times for academics. Keep a routine for your own adult self too—be it for work, relaxation, or chores.

Routines show your child that while life may feel stressful and overwhelming, home has a steady rhythm. Research shows that when you and your child are aware of the organized aspects of the day, you have a greater tolerance for unpredictability.

3. Be smart about your information sources.

During uncertain times, getting to the truth about stories, situations, or statistics can be exhausting. Trusting what you learn can also feel elusive. When it comes to COVID-19, be smart about where you’re getting your information. Be guardedly curious, and try not to accept sensational stories as factual.

My rule of thumb when disaster or uncertainty strikes is that I ground myself in science and look to my local and state government resources for information. Be mindful not to share unfounded information with children. This can create deeper feelings of helplessness than they may already be experiencing.

4. Embrace uncertainty.

Living with uncertainty means being able to not know what tomorrow brings. Teaching your child about hope and possibility should also include helping them endure the timelessness before a good change arrives. Instead of focusing on how uncertainty can create sadness or anxiety, what if you shifted the focus to how uncertainty could create wonder? Or curiosity? “I don’t know when we’ll be back at school, but what kinds of ways can you think of that could work?”

Confronting what we don’t know can trigger creative thinking. It can summon out-of-the-box problem-solving. “Let’s think about a way we can do a virtual sleepover with your friends.” It can spark conversation that looks at empowerment in the face of the unpredictable. “What do you think ancient Egyptian kids did for fun at night? I wonder if there’s an ancient game they played that we can learn?”

5. Practice gratitude.

When uncertainty arises, many of us focus on managing the crisis. And once we stabilize the situation, our next thought is usually about preparing for the next thing that might go wrong. Our brains are programmed to scan for the next spot of trouble. This evolutionary neural wiring helped keep us safe back in the day. But you can offset this instinct to worry by practicing gratitude.

Studies show that when you name people you appreciate or things you feel grateful for, a boost of the feel-good neurochemicals serotonin and dopamine in your brain reduce worry. Teach your children to notice and reflect on meaningful things and people in their lives—and model this behavior yourself.

Deborah SeraniDeborah Serani, Psy.D., is an award-winning author and psychologist in practice for 30 years. She is also a professor at Adelphi University, and her writing on the subjects of depression and trauma has been published in academic journals. Dr. Serani is a go-to expert for psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio programs at CBS and NPR, among others. She is also a TEDx speaker and has worked as a technical advisor for the NBC television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She lives in New York City.

Sometimes When I'm SadDeborah is the author of Sometimes When I’m Sad.

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)© 2020 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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