Posted on Leave a comment

February: Brimming with Opportunities

Although February is our shortest month, it’s brimming with opportunities. Special observances invite us to expand our knowledge of American history, celebrate love and friendship, and commit ourselves to random acts of kindness, not only to others but also to birds. Leap year gives us a bonus day.

President’s Day always falls on the third Monday of the month. This year that’s February 15. What better time to dust off our history books and learn more about our two most prominent presidents, George Washington, the father of our country, and Abraham Lincoln, whose leadership kept the country together despite secession and the bloody Civil War?

The pivotal moment in his presidency came on January 1, 1863, the date the president issued the Emancipation Proclamation that granted freedom to slaves.

February is also Black History Month, and a perfect time to explore the role of the Underground Railroad that brought many slaves to freedom. For children, consider Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, about Harriet Tubman who lead 19 trips that brought hundreds of slaves from the south to freedom in the north or Follow the Drinking Gourd, a tale about following the Big Dipper north to escape slavery. Both books are recommended for children ages five and up.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, tells the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who shipped himself to freedom in the north in a wooden crate. To learn how quilts helped slaves find their way to freedom, read Under the Quilt of Night.

Older readers, those 12 and up, can learn from Nightjohn of the bravery of a former slave who returned to the south to teach others to read, an act punishable by dismemberment.

Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel The Last Runaway provides a compelling account of the Underground Railroad and the people, both slaves and bounty hunters, abolitionists and ordinary citizens, whose lives were impacted by slavery.

February wouldn’t be February without Valentine’s Day. While thinking of ways to show affection, consider that Random Acts of Kindness Week begins on Valentine’s Day this year. The idea is that by expressing kindness we’ll inspire others to be kind. Random Acts of Kindness Foundation reports on research showing how “kindness breeds kindness” and acts of kindness reduce stress. I think they’re on to something. I appreciate the kindnesses of others and feel better when I’m being mindful about showing kindness.

Their website is bursting with information and ideas. One simple act of kindness is smiling at strangers. Plato is quoted as saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” My mother used to remind us that we needed to be kind because we have no way of knowing what struggles another person might be having. I’ve found that to be true.

In our city a homeless woman has staked out a street corner in the business district and stands with a placard that reads, “Even a smile helps.” And she herself smiles at everyone who passes by. Her spirit touches me deeply.

February is also National Bird Feeding Month. So here’s the deal for kiddos and adults alike. Embrace kindness. Practice random acts of kindness everyday. Feed the wild birds. Winter is long and food hard to find. Buying a feeder and keeping it filled is one way to go. Another, if time allows and you like crafting, is making birdseed ornaments or balls to hang in trees. Melissa Mayntz, a birding and wild bird expert, offers easy to follow, step-by-step illustrated instructions. I’m thinking this could be a lovely way to spend time on a cold, winter.

Another idea is crafting simple, easy-to-create glitter hearts for use as Valentines and extras to give away as acts of kindness. Think about the neighbors. Newcomers? Elders? Shut-ins? Someone who’s been ill? How about folks who make a difference in your life. Perhaps a crossing guard at school? Mail carrier? Cashier at the market? Everyone likes being appreciated. And making someone else’s day has a way of brightening our own.

Here’s an idea for making those sparkly hearts:

Cut hearts from card stock. One way is to trace around a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
Punch a hole in the top.
Lay hearts on wax paper.
Using slightly thinned white glue, cover hearts with glue.
Sprinkle with fine grain red glitter.
Let dry thoroughly.
Flip hearts over, apply glue and glitter, and let dry.
Thread a piece of ribbon through the hole and tie.
Finish by placing each heart in a cellophane box.
Either tie with ribbon or fold top of bag to the back and seal.
I like the clear round “mailing seals” available at office supply stores because that keeps the focus on the contents, but any tape or stickers should do the job.
If the hearts are to be Valentines, add a label to each bag.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on Leave a comment

Thoughts on February

February, our shortest month, brims with opportunities to learn about astronomy, enhance our understanding of American history, be creative, and renew our commitment to being more appreciative, kind, and loving.

This year we have a bonus day, Leap Day, on 29 February, designed to keep our calendar, the Gregorian calendar, in alignment with the tropical year, the time required for our planet to circle the sun once. Astronomers define circling the sun as increasing the mean longitude of the sun by 360 degrees. That takes more or less 365.242 days, requiring the quadrennial addition of one day that gives us Leap Year.

Does that solve the problem? Not completely: 4 x .242 does not equal one, and the length of the tropical year is decreasing. By 3200, our calendar will be almost a day behind the tropical year. Maybe that will be the first Double Leap Year.

Our two most famous presidents were born in February. Our first on February 22, 1732; our 16th on February 12, 1809. George Washington, hailed as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” became known as the father of our country. Abraham Lincoln preserved that Union and abolished slavery. Can you imagine our country without these two men? Talk about making a difference! What better time than now to reacquaint ourselves with these men of courage, integrity, and principle?

Valentine’s Day invites creative fun. Let’s get out our arts and crafts supplies and get busy. In our blog Easy Party Favor Idea, Peg Ackerman shared an idea for making a star shaped ornament/party favor. Substituting a heart and red glitter transforms that project into a “little something special” for anyone we want to be our Valentine.

Random Acts of Kindness Week runs from 13 February through 19 February, this year. The RAK Foundation seeks to inspire people worldwide “to practice kindness and pass it on to others.” Their Extreme Kindness Challenge asks participants to commit to a daily act of kindness. Now that’s an idea we all can support.

Join us in observing all the special days of February. Let us know which day means the most to you and why. Likely it’s not one of these, as significant as each one is, but something closer to your heart. For me, 10 February is the most notable. That’s the day I became a mother.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on Leave a comment

Random Acts of Kindness

Valentine’s Day often finds us expressing our love for family and friends by presenting cards and gifts, and that’s a lovely tradition. When I was in elementary school, the idea was to exchange Valentines with our classmates, and the rule was that each child had to bring a Valentine for each and everyone in the class. No exceptions. Likely that’s why old fashioned Valentines came in cellophane wrapped boxes of more than enough for a class full of kiddos. I recall complaining about having to give cards to everyone, even those I was sure I did not like and definitely would not want “to be my Valentine.” My mother, of course, agreed with the teacher and made sure I had a Valentine for every classmate.

That was an early lesson in being kind. Did you know that Random Acts of Kindness Week begins on Valentine’s Day? That strikes me as perfect timing. What better day to launch a week – that hopefully begins a life time – of practicing acts of kindness? What better time to talk to our children about kindness and how being kind makes our world a better one for all of us?

Let’s explore with our children what being kind means and how we can be warm hearted, friendly, and generous-spirited, considerate, and sympathetic to the needs of others. A smile, a greeting, a compliment, pausing to hold the door for someone are all acts of kindness easily incorporated into our busy lives.

Talk with your children and together decide what acts of kindness each of you can do, then go out and “walk the talk.” Later gather for dinner and share your adventures of walking in kindness. The discussion will likely be lively, and everyone will likely agree that a day practicing random acts of kindness feels so much better than a day spent being grumpy and rude.

We’d like to hear your stories. Let us know your experiences in sharing Random Acts of Kindness Week with your family.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play