Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book of the Week-Be A Friend

This weeks book recommendation is one of my all time favorite children's books and one that I have previously blogged about.  I truly believe that this book should be in every preschool and early school age classroom.   Be A Friend by Salina Yoon is a beautiful book about what it means to be a friend...especially to someone who is different than you.  While many children can just roll with it, other children can become nervous or anxious by children who are not just like them. 

The basic premise of the book is simple:  Everyone Needs Someone.  In this case, that someone is a little boy named Dennis who doesn't speak but has a wild imagination and shares his thoughts and ideas through his actions.  Not many of the kids who are near him can be bothered by his behaviors but one day a little girl named Joy decides to take the brave step to get to know Dennis a bit more.  With time, they develop a beautiful friendship that relies on accepting and embracing someone who might be different.  In the end, the other children in Joy and Dennis' class saw what fun they had together and ended up joining in on their imaginative play.  There are so many wonderful lessons that this book teaches, most importantly that not everyone is the same and being different is okay.  Being a good friend means thinking outside of the box sometimes and learning something new from a friend. 

This book not only tells a beautiful story about friendship, it has some of the most beautiful illustrations I have seen in a children's book.  Kids are drawn into the story because of the stories the pictures tell.

Below, you will find some questions and activities you can do with in conjunction with reading Be A Friend:
~sometimes kids need help identifying what characteristics make a good friend.  After you finish reading the book, you can talk about what made Joy a good friend to Dennis and then extend that conversation to have them think about things they have done that make them a good friend or what someone can do for them that shows them they are a good friend. 
~this is a great book to read to a classroom/group of kids in the beginning of the school year as everyone is getting to know each other.  After reading it to the group, you can come up with a list of things that makes them a good friend.  You can try and expand this by not only discussing characteristics that make them good friends but talk about things they can do that shows someone who might be different that they are a good friend. 
~for older children you can have a conversation about what kinds of things they have in common with their friends and also have them identify what makes them different than their friends.  Being able to recognize that it is normal to not always have the same interests as your friends....being different is normal and what makes us each unique.
~have the kids pretend to be mimes and have them act different things out.  You can start with having them mime different feelings and emotions and eventually move onto having them act out activities they like.  This could be a great way for kids to get to know each other better and discover what kinds of things they have in common with their friends.

When I find a book like Be A Friend, I feel like I have to share it with everyone.  I work with so many kids who feel different from their peers and I think it is important for them to know they are not alone.  I once heard that it's more important to have one good friend than to have lots of acquaintances and this book shows just that.

Be sure to check back next week to see what book I will be sharing with you all.  If you have any book suggestions, I would love to hear them!  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.   

Monday, January 22, 2018

Book of the Week-The Most Magnificent Thing

At the end of last summer, I sat down with my friend Maggie at Stories Bookshop in Park Slope who helped me find lots of books that I could use with my kids at The Meetinghouse during the school year.  One of the reasons I partnered with Maggie on this year long blog project is that she is not only a book expert, she has two school-aged children so I knew she would help me identify some great books.  We talked about some of the themes that children struggle with and one that we both identified with with our own children is the idea of making mistakes and having to be perfect.  It's amazing how many books are out there that cover this.

My pick for week number is The Most Magnificent Thing written by Ashley Spires.  Over the last few weeks at TMH, our focus has been working on helping kids deal with making mistakes and understanding that perfection is not the most important thing.  I spend lots of time talking to parents and other professionals working with children, and this is something that they see quite often.  While wanting to do well is a great thing, sometimes what happens is that kids have this need to be perfect and if something isn't perfect, they aren't good enough.  When wanting to do well interferes with a child's success in school or socially, then it becomes a problem. 

In The Most Magnificent Thing, we follow a little girl and her best friend, her puppy, as they set out to make the most magnificent thing.  Nobody knows what this magnificent thing but the little girl knows just what it is and exactly how it will look.  She collects all kinds of bits and pieces and begins putting it together.  Her first attempt doesn't go as she had planned and while she becomes upset, she tries again and again.  After a few times she becomes so angry and wants to give up on her idea.  Her dog convinces her to take a walk which gives her time to calm down and rethink her magnificent thing.  She comes back to see all of her attempts laying out and it gives it another go.  In the end, she is able to finally make exactly what she set out to....it just took not giving up.

In addition to focusing on the theme of making mistakes, this book is also great for teaching kids about the following:
perseverance-not giving up, even when things aren't going just the way you want.  Sometimes you have to keep going despite the obstacles you may face along the way
feelings and emotions-in this book, the little girl experiences a whole range of feelings and emotions.  When I read this book to my group, I have them pay attention to the illustrations and look at the little girl's face and how her feelings are changing as the story progresses.  I think it's extremely important for kids to learn how to read another person's expressions and be able to identify how they may be feeling.
coping skills-it's easy to just get angry and give up.  However, the more upset one becomes, the harder it is for them to focus on the task at hand.  In The Most Magnificent Thing, the little girl is convinced by her dog to take a walk which gives her time to calm down and think about her project.  Taking that break allowed her the time to think about things and not be so angry.
team work-it took the little girl's dog telling her to take a break that allowed her time to cool off and come back with a new attitude.  In the end, he helped her accomplish exactly what she wanted to!

Below, you will find some questions and activities you can do with your children:
~ask your child to name some of their most magnificent ideas.  You can talk about what they would need to make their idea, how they would go about it and what they would do if something doesn't go just right.  Being able to problem solve on how they would go about to make their creation is important, but discussing strategies they could use when things don't go just right is equally as or possibly more important.

~be sure to have your children analyze the little girls face throughout the story.  This is a great opportunity for kids to work on being able to work on identifying a variety of thoughts and feelings.  You can discuss what triggered these feelings in the little girl and what she could do to deal with some of the bigger feelings and emotions.

~if you have a group of children, provide them with materials (such as wooden building blocksMagna-Tiles, Popoids and Straws and Connectors Building Set are a few of my favorites) and have them decide as a group on something to build.  If they are old enough, you can encourage them to draw out what they want beforehand and then they must work together to build their most magnificent thing.

~check out a bunch more activities from the folks at The Core Coaches.  They have a lot of great ideas to teach school age children about growth mindset and character development if you want to use this as part of your curriculum.

Be sure to check back next Monday to see what book I'll be sharing.  As always, if you have any wonderful ideas or have any questions, please reach out ot me.  I am always a click away and love hearing from all of you!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Book of the Week-The Color Monster!

Starting this week, I will be partnering with my favorite Park Slope children's bookstore, Stories Bookshop, to share a book of the week.  Each book will offer some kind of social emotional lesson that will help in increasing children's social intelligence and awareness.  In my work at The Meeting House, I have found just how valuable a tool children's books can be in helping children become more aware of a variety of social challenges.  It's difficult for younger children to be able to identify the difficulties they may be having and how that is impacting their social success.  However, they are often able to

This weeks book is The Color Monster:  A Pop-Up Book  of Feelings written by Anna Llenas.  This has been a staple of my social skills groups for the last two years and a crowd favorite every time it is read.  While this book was originally intended for younger children, I have found it to be an incredibly fun book to help preschool and school-age children learn about feelings and emotions.  So many kids have a hard time identifying feelings and emotions and what I love about The Color Monster is that it gives a color to match to each feeling making it easier for kids to learn about the feelings.  The author does a great job of describing and giving examples of each emotion making it clear that they are not good or bad just that they are things we all feel at times.  Being able to identify feelings and emotions is not only important for personal growth and improved self-esteem in children, it helps them form relationships with their peers.

Below, you will find a few questions and activities that you can do in conjunction with reading The Color Monster:
~for each feeling and color, have your children tell you one thing that makes them feel that way.  If they are struggling, you may tell them what makes you feel that way which may help in triggering an answer on their end.

~use this as an opportunity to talk about some coping strategies the monster could use to help them through some of the bigger emotions like anger and sadness.  Providing kids with coping strategies allows them to be more in control of their feelings and emotions in a variety of environments.  By talking about them and practicing them at home, kids will have a better chance of being able to generalize their skills later on.

~at The Meeting House, we had the kids make a feelings chart with each of the colors.  On a long piece of paper, we drew empty jars that they had to fill in with different colored objects that matched the feeling.  The OT in me had to make it as therapeutic as possible so added as much of a sensory component as I could so we used all kinds of tactile materials such as pom-poms, shredded up tissue paper, bumpy cardboard paper, etc..  We encouraged parents to hang this feelings chart up someplace that the kids had easy access to so when they were feeling upset or angry or any other feeling but can't express it they can have a visual to help them out.  Many of our parents have shared with us that this has been one of the most helpful tools not only for the children, but that parents have used it to show their children how they are feeling at different times to help them understand that EVERYONE has feelings and sometimes can't talk about them.

~whenever possible, I like to incorporate some kind of gross motor activity.  I have found that kids are able to generalize and internalize anything I am teaching if we provide multi-sensory activities.  One game that kids love is Freeze Dance.  I found this squishy toy at Duane Reade that has all different emojis on it that I have the kids roll when the music stops; they then shout out the emotion to the group and everyone has to act it out.  Not only does this help kids learn about feelings and emotions, it helps with improving modulation and regulation skills.

I am really looking forward to sharing some of my favorite children's books with you all this year.  If any of you have any books that you love, please pass them along to me and my readers!  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all with your ideas.