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Read Across America

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! Your books have had quite an impact these past 80 years. Your wonderfully whimsical words and drawings continue to delight and inspire the young and the young at heart. You encourage us to “think and wonder, wonder and think.” We’re better off when we do.
Your message is clear, “the more that you read, the more things you will know.”
So when the National Education Association wanted to create excitement about reading, they choose your birthday for an annual event called Read Across America. Designed to motivate kids to read more, the first celebration occurred on March 2, 1998. Now, all across America, schools hold assemblies and guests visit classrooms to read aloud to the students. I’ve even heard that some principals have dyed their hair green. I’m wondering if any cafeterias serve green eggs and ham. Now that would be a scream!

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Name This Famous Person

Name an author/illustrator born on 2 March 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts .

Need a clue or two?

1. Wrote and illustrated books for adults and children, and holds the rare distinction of having been number one on The New York Times Best-Sellers List for both nonfiction and fiction.

2. First children’s book, To Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by 27 publishers before being published by Vanguard Press in 1937.

Still don’t know? 

Of course you do. 

It’s Dr. Seuss, of course.

 On the big day, eat green eggs and ham for breakfast. Unless! You can say aloud, “I do not like them Sam-I-Am. I do not like green eggs and ham.” Eat whatever you like I say. Just be sure today you choose a favorite Dr. Seuss book to READ ALOUD to someone special to you.

What better way to get ready for his birthday than by recalling important lessons he taught us in his wonderfully whimsical way?

A person’s a person, no matter how small.

 

To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.

 

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

 

Why fit in when you were born to stand out?

 

              Be who you are and say how you feel, because those who mind don’t matter,

and those who matter don’t mind.

 

Stand tall and speak up.

 

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.

 

Think and wonder, wonder and think.

 

Think left and think right and think low and think high.

Oh, the things you can think if only you try!

 

It is better to know how to learn than to know.

 

You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.

 

Oh, the things you can find if you don’t stay behind!

 

The more that you read, the more things you will know.

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

 

You have BRAINS in your HEAD.

You have FEET in your SHOES.

YOU can STEER yourself any DIRECTION you CHOOSE.

 

You’re on your own.

And you know what you know,

And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…

 

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What Creativity Looks Like

bottle tree with chandelier on top

We talk about the importance of children developing creativity and problem-solving skills. What are we saying? Being creative means thinking differently, being imaginative, inventive, innovative. Its expression relies upon persistence, problem-solving, resourcefulness. Creativity and problem-solving skills are intertwined. Whether artistic or scientific, the creative process is fraught with challenges. A mind open to possibilities, exploration, experimentation, tinkering, and plain hard work are all required for creativity to blossom.

That’s why open-ended, experiential learning and self-directed play are essential. Kids need opportunities to use their imaginations, experiment, discover what works, what doesn’t, revise their plans, and work out the kinks. Adults too benefit from taking on creative challenges. Find a craft that appeals and give yourself permission to explore its possibilities. In other words, learn to play. 4184534267_e2b4206548_z

Creativity knows no boundaries. Fanciful, playful expressions abound, many off the beaten path and well worth a detour. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, California, on old Route 66, is a magical place, a testament to the creativity of one man, Elmer Long, who built his first bottle tree in 2000. He says he doesn’t know how many he’s built. Doesn’t count them. Those who do, count over 200. Elmer says he has another 100 in his head. Building a bottle tree, he says, is easy. Only takes welding. Then he pauses and adds imagination.

From the age of six, Elmer and his father went camping in the desert, often visiting long abandoned 19th century ghost towns where they’d search the dumps, finding buried treasure, including glass bottles. Thus began his collecting of ordinary objects and bits and pieces that he uses in extraordinary ways. Besides bottles, Elmer collects old insulators and builds trees in an unbelievable array of styles.

He often incorporates objects that evoke memories. One tree topper is the Lionel train engine he received for Christmas when he was three years old. Other bottle trees feature everything from telephones and typewriters to machinery and tools. Helmets inside which birds have built nests, rifles and interesting bits and pieces, all with stories to tell.

Imagination, inventiveness, persistence, problem-solving skills, and resourcefulness combined to create the unique artistry of Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Passion fuels the process. Open-ended, self directed play fosters creative expression by developing the skills required to give original ideas their wings. Play is essential. For everyone. Everyday.

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Give Thanks and Give Back

November signals an end to daylight savings time, making our days feel shorter than they already are as we speed toward Thanksgiving and the holidays beyond. Yet Thanksgiving calls us to pause, count our blessings, and express our gratitude. Sharing Thanksgiving with family and friends deepens attachments and acknowledges our appreciation of those we cherish.

The song “Over the river and through the woods” with a horse that “knows the way” (1844) reminds us that the tradition of families gathering for Thanksgiving runs deep in our society. With families far-flung, we’re grateful for motor vehicles and airplanes.

Here’s a fun fact about “Over the River and Through the Woods”: author Lydia Maria Francis Child (1802-1880) began Juvenile Miscellany, the first monthly periodical in the United States designed especially for children in 1826. A journalist and novelist, she was also an activist for Indian rights, abolition, and women’s rights.

Getting where we want to go is stressful. Even on the best of travel days. Believe me; I know. Need confirmation? Ask any frequent flier. Keeping the kiddos and ourselves on an even keel takes luck and planning. Packing healthy, favorite snacks, and take-along toys – lightweight, compact, engaging items that fit easily into a child-size backpack or roll-aboard –  is a must. PlayopolisToys has travel toys covered.

Giving Tuesday, now in its fourth year, falls on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, and is a world-wide day celebrating giving. Just as Thanksgiving calls us to pause, reflect upon our blessings, and live with an attitude of gratitude, Giving Tuesday is also a call to action, a reminder that each of us has something to give. Giving takes many forms, and each, no matter how small, makes a difference.

Need inspiration? You need look no further than five year old Na’ama Uzan of Toronto, Canada, who created a lemonade stand fundraiser to support finding a cure for Angelman Syndrome, a rare congenital disorder that affects her older brother Nadav. She hopes “all the Angelman kids will be able to talk and not have seizures and epilepsy.” To date, her efforts have brought in $85,000.

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Inspired to Give

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An attitude of gratitude leads to generosity of spirit. Giving money. Giving of our time and using our talents to benefit others. Acts of kindness, large and small, make a difference. A simple smile can lift someone’s spirits and turn a day around. That’s powerful.

Giving Tuesday, following Thanksgiving, is a call to action, an invitation to give. Take up the challenge. Find a worthy cause, one that speaks to your values, and explore ways to support its mission. Consider what you like to do and find a way to turn your passion into action.

Looking for inspiration? Meet Na’ama Uzan, a six year old from Toronto. Her brother Nadav ignited her desire to raise money to find a cure for Angelman Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by developmental delays, minimal or no speech, lack of balance, an inability to walk, and intellectual disability. Seizures, often frequent and debilitating, are common among those with AS. Na’ama hopes that Nadav and “all the Angelman kids will be able to talk and not have seizures and epilepsy.”

And Na’ama does what she can to turn her hopes and dreams into reality. When she opened a lemonade stand in 2014 to raise money for FAST, the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics, her story went viral, creating a ripple of awareness and support worldwide. Kids in Toronto began volunteering to help run her stand and others, continents away, began opening lemonade stands of their own to support finding a cure for AS.

With her passion and a plan of action, Na’ama prompts others to get involved whether through a financial contribution, a fundraising project, or as a volunteer. She shows the power of one person to make a difference and motivate others to do so too. We salute Na’ama for her can do spirit and ability to inspire action, and challenge others to be inspired to fundraise for FAST too.

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When Snow, Rain, or Cold Keep Kids Indoors

Snow, sleet, rain, wind, and severe cold, together or separately, can force even the hardiest among us indoors. Kiddos easily become bored or screen obsessed. That’s the time to introduce engaging, creative alternatives. By keeping a cache of supplies on hand, you’ll ready.

At PlayopolisToys we’ve been busy creating Pinterest boards to share creative ideas and useful information. Here’s a sampling of what’s available on the board Creative Activities.

Challenge everyone to turn themselves into works of art, and no, we’re not advocating body piercing and tats for kids;-). We’re suggesting mask making with kraft paper shopping bags. The picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s good because the pin, “shape masks-turn yourself into an artwork,”does not include instructions. Actually none are needed.

Stickers in bright colors and multiple shapes are but one way to decorate a mask. With scissors, paper, in a variety of colors and textures, and glue everyone can draw, cut out and glue on whatever comes to mind. Think how bits of fabric, lace, ribbon, or yarn, feathers or buttons, would look. Use crayons, color pencils, and markers. The only limit is what’s available and your imagination.

Celebrate by taking pictures. Then email copies to favorite family members and friends. Bet they’ll smile. For multiple mask makers, take a group pic and invite guesses of who’s hiding behind which mask. Made more than one mask? Show off each one. And ask people to vote for their favorite. That makes the day more fun for everyone.

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Use Your Power to Create Change

Commencements dot calendars during May and June. These lively ceremonies allow graduates and their families to celebrate commitment to a goal. After awarding degrees and congratulating graduates, colleges typically issue a charge. At the May 3, 2014, commencement for Pacific Oaks College, graduates were charged to use their “power to create change in our world.”

This charge reflects the principles of the institution: valuing every human being, inclusion, and social justice. Graduates complete general education courses elsewhere before entering Pacific Oaks to study early childhood education, human development or marriage and family therapy. Many are the first person in their family to attend college. Most juggle full-time employment and family responsibilities. Many are pursuing dreams deferred or making career changes.

Aware that every mind works differently and every person brings different life experiences to the table, faculty creates a supportive environment that values each student, promotes intellectual and emotional growth, requires engagement, and insists on self-reflection. Students learn to question assumptions. Embrace differences. Celebrate diversity. Identify injustice. Get involved. Advocate. Mediate. Work for social justice. Have courage. Explore life experiences. Ponder and process. Grow.

All this requires a willingness to take risks, collaborate, reflect, and solve problems. Achieving the goal “takes a village.” At the hooding ceremony for the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy, each recipient spoke of his/her journey, expressing deep gratitude for the sacrifices of family members. Families joined their graduates in celebrating the cooperative efforts that lead to this monumental achievement.

Among those graduates were a 71 year old woman and a 60 something former contractor. My favorite was a 37 year woman beaming as she expressed unbridled joy and gratitude at having become a mental health professional, a dream she nurtured since she was a 14-year-old. As a member of “her village,” I’ve witnessed her transformation and am reminded of the words of Trina Paulus in Hope for the Flowers.

How does one become a butterfly?
You have to want to fly so much that
you’re willing to give up being a caterpillar.

The “power to create change” comes from intellectual and emotional growth. Everyone benefits when someone is willing to take the risk.

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More On Temple Grandin

Describing herself as a goof-ball who only liked art, Dr. Grandin was turned on to learning by a former NASA space scientist turned high school science teacher who challenged her with hands-on projects that caught her interest and engaged her mind. She encourages schools to seek out and hire more engineers, mathematicians, and scientists to bring real world instruction to classrooms.

In her TED Talk, The World Needs All Kinds of Minds, Dr. Grandin celebrates diversity of the brain and advocates passionately for concrete hands-on learning. The most successful way to engage minds and transform students from “goof-balls” into passionate learners is to “show kids interesting stuff.” The goal is to capture their attention, turn on their minds, and “produce real difference makers.”

Acknowledging social situations as challenging, Dr. Grandin encourages sharing leisure activities as a way of easing social apprehensions, citing her own fond memories of horseback riding with others as passionate as she about riding. She also recalls how internships and jobs as a student prepared her to successfully meet professional challenges. In cattle country. Among cowboys. Where women need not apply.

As an animal behaviorist and handling designer, she knew she had “to sell my work, not myself,” by showing detailed drawings of structures she designed and demonstrating how her designs solve long-standing problems. By thinking in pictures, as animals do, and taking a hands-on approach to research and design, Dr. Grandin introduced humane practices and revolutionized animal handling.

She also stresses the importance of manners, pointing out that when she was growing up in the fifties everyone was taught how to behave, to have good manners, to be on time. These pave the way for success in social situations and in work place. For everyone.

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Temple Grandin and Autism

What better time than National Autism Awareness Month to deepen our understanding of this broad spectrum disorder? What better way to learn than through personal accounts from someone with autism. Temple Grandin, an extraordinarily accomplished animal behaviorist and handling designer, autism activist, and author, was diagnosed with autism as a child. Her journey has been chronicled first in her books, beginning with Seeing in Pictures, and later in the movie Temple Grandin.

In presentations and books, Dr. Grandin shares life experiences and insights into how the autistic mind functions. She identifies three kinds of minds: photo realistic visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, and verbal minds, each with its own aptitudes and limitations. “Good at one thing; bad at something else.” All are sensory based thinkers challenged by social interaction.

Visual thinkers see detailed photo realistic pictures in their heads and can manipulate those images, as does Dr. Grandin. Pattern thinkers “attend to details” and gravitate to math and music while verbal thinkers absorb facts, facts, and more facts. She’s quick to point out that such traits also appear among people with learning disabilities who exhibit atypical disparities between mental gifts and deficits.

“Autism is part of who I am,” says Dr. Grandin. Processing language is difficult, thinking in pictures comes naturally and allows her to solve problems typical brains might not. “Who do you think made the first stone spears? The Asperger guy. If you were to get rid of all the autism genetics, there would be no more Silicon Valley.”

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What I Love About You

Valentine’s Day is upon us, giving us an opportunity to tell someone we love what we love so about him or her. Make a list of the person’s attributes, anything and everything that makes that person special to us. This works well for everyone you love, children and adults. No exceptions.

Maybe it’s how the person lights up a room simply by being in it. Easy rapport. Ability to put people at ease. Grace, graciousness, poise.

Generosity of spirit. An attitude of gratitude. Spirituality. Practicality. Brilliance. Common Sense.

Consider a quirky sense of humor, hearty laugh, or ready smile. Spontaneity, flexibility. Being unflappable, cool under pressure, willing to go with the flow, mellow, laid back. Think sense of adventure and delight in play.

Think dependability, reliability. Persistence, resourcefulness, willingness to take on challenges. Creativity and problem solving skills count.

Joy in shared experiences. Always being there for you. Supportiveness. Being a source of encouragement.

Perhaps it’s a passion or a talent. Something the person excels in or simply enjoys doing that delights you.

You get the idea. Now, be creative in letting the person know. One way could be to list what you love about the person, then write each lovable attribute on a slip of paper, fold into an accordion and deposit inside a Chinese take-out box. You could decorate the outside, sprinkle a touch of colorful confetti or hide trinkets, perhaps a tiny heart, inside the box among the messages. Tie a ribbon on the handle and surprise your special one.

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 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play