Tips and a free activity to help kids Grow Strong!

By Cheri J. Meiners, author of the Learning to Get Along® and Being the Best Me! series
Helping Children Grow StrongChildren, though young and small, have within them everything they need to grow to adulthood. As children learn to love and appreciate their amazing bodies, they will likely find motivation to develop healthy habits for building and maintaining wellness. Some of these key habits are eating healthy foods, especially those from plants; drinking clean water; moving and exercising in the fresh air and sunshine; and getting plenty of sleep. Establishing patterns of good eating, exercise, and sleep requires self-discipline, which will aid children in building strong muscles and bones, making friends, learning well, and feeling a greater sense of control over their lives.
Here are some important, common-sense principles that children can begin to incorporate into their routines now. At the end of this post, there is an activity to do with kids to help reinforce these healthy concepts.
Healthy Eating
Establish regular mealtimes. Dinnertime is typically a great opportunity for the family to gather and bond through eating, relaxing, and talking together. Regular meals and snacks also help children learn to recognize their hunger signals to avoid overeating and the mood swings that can come with erratic eating patterns. You might choose to make healthy snacks easily accessible but limit snacking on junk food.
Choose healthy foods. Encourage children to include a fruit or vegetable with every meal and snack for a daily average of five servings of fruits and vegetables. Also, serve plenty of satiating foods like whole, unprocessed grains (rice, oats, and pasta) and non-starchy vegetables high in fiber (greens, squash, broccoli). Beans and lentils (legumes) are another healthy food group that is high in protein and fiber.
The Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine, using recent scientific studies, recommends that lunch and dinner plates consist of these four food groups: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. The current 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines say, “On average, current dietary patterns are too low in vegetables, fruit, whole grains . . . and too high in refined grains, saturated fat [meat, dairy, eggs], added sugars, and sodium.” The foods, then, that we are encouraged to limit or avoid are those high in saturated fat and cholesterol (which are found almost exclusively in meat, eggs, and dairy), as well as foods containing salt and added sugars.
Encourage your fussy eater. Try to serve a variety of foods, including those that you know your child will enjoy. Don’t force a child to eat, and don’t offer other choices if a food is refused. Give a child several opportunities to try a new food because it often takes several attempts for a palate to adjust to something new. Act neutrally when your child doesn’t eat a food, but give praise for trying something new. Serve children small portions, and let them ask for more if they are still hungry. Don’t require them to finish everything on a plate. Find ways other than food to convey praise and rewards. Eating habits are developed over time and through example and consistency.
Exercise and Movement
Spend time with your child outdoors. Not only is exercise invigorating, but fresh air and sunshine are also important physically. Exposure to sunlight helps the body produce important chemicals and vitamins like nitric oxide and vitamin D. Sunshine and being outdoors are also mood enhancers, especially when your child also spends time with you. Children need about 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Consider family activities such as biking, hiking, skating, or visiting a park, zoo, or pool. Household chores, such as washing a car, weeding a garden, housecleaning, and yard work, are also ways to get physical activity while accomplishing a task together. You might also consider gifts that emphasize physical activity or participating in community sports, where feasible.
A Good Night’s Sleep
Children need more sleep than adults. Ten to twelve hours is the average sleep requirement for children ages four to eight. Plan an appropriate bedtime together based on when your child needs to get up. Help your child develop a comforting nightly ritual that might include brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a story together, and reviewing the highlights of the day. Bedtime may be when your child is willing to talk and share with you if the process isn’t too rushed. Tuck your child into bed, perhaps with a favorite toy, book, or nightlight. Children will settle in and fall asleep more quickly if they feel safe and secure. If a child gets up after that, limit attention and conversation so it isn’t too rewarding (or too punishing) for them to be up after their bedtime.
A Balanced Child
Proper nourishment, movement, and sleep can give children the energy they need to accomplish what they want to do. Their confidence will also increase as they become more aware of their own unique bodies and abilities. Besides a growing body, children have growing minds, consciences, and personalities. Each of these aspects can be enhanced by a healthy, disciplined body. All children, no matter their physical strengths or limitations, can benefit from healthy physical, mental, emotional, and social habits. You play a key role in helping your child grow strong in every way!
Consider the following activity to help your children build appreciation for their bodies.
“Our Healthy Habits” Poster
Materials: copy paper, construction paper, and poster paper for each child; crayons and markers; magazines; glue sticks; scissors
Directions: Help children learn about healthy habits by connecting each habit to an element of nature: earth, water, sun, air, and moon. First ask children to draw pictures of the five elements on construction paper and cut them out. Print a copy of the sentences below for each child and have them cut out each sentence onto a separate strip. Then have children attach the sentences and elements to their poster. Lastly, have them draw or attach pictures of children eating, sleeping, and playing.
Variation: Put children into groups of five and let each child in the group be responsible for one habit and element.
I eat plants that come from the EARTH.
I drink pure WATER.
I feel warm and happy when I play in the SUN.
I like to breathe fresh AIR and run like the wind.
The MOON ‘keeps a light on’ while I sleep.
Meiners_Cheri2 FSP AuthorCheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband David have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in Laurel, Maryland.
Free Spirit books by Cheri J. Meiners:
Grow Strong BeingTheBestMe-RGB learning-to-get-along-WEB

Grow Strong! A book about Healthy Habits

Grow Strong! A Book about healthy habits is now available  It focuses on habits that will help kids grow strong physically, mentally and emotionally.  As my last book of this series, I hope this will teach and motivate children to eat a healthy diet, get exercise  and take care of themselves.

Helping kids 'Dream on!'

Guiding Dreams: 6 Activities to Help Young Children Set and Achieve Goals

By Cheri J. Meiners, author of the Learning to Get Along® and Being the Best Me! series
Guiding Dreams: 6 Activities to Help Young Children Set and Achieve GoalsI was recently introduced to a study by Walter Mischel that was conducted at Stanford in the 1960s. In a controlled environment, children ages four through six were given a treat such as a marshmallow. They were told that they could eat it immediately or choose to wait in the room (for up to twenty minutes) until the researcher returned, at which time they would be given a reward of two marshmallows.
Some children were able to delay gratification by resisting a present desire in exchange for achieving and receiving something better in the future. Self-control is a vital, learned skill that can be a valuable asset in attaining goals. In fact, a correlation was found between children’s level of self-discipline in the study and their abilities and attributes years later in areas such as academic success, IQ, social functioning, and even body mass index.
Another interesting aspect of the study applies to goals. Children were introduced to various mental devices that could strengthen their self-control and help them achieve their goal.
For instance, children were encouraged to close their eyes or cover the treat. Some were encouraged to imagine the food as if it had a frame around it and consider it an inedible picture. These various strategies, which influenced children’s perception of the task, demonstrate the importance of visualization and clear mental focus in imagining and reaching one’s goals.
With these concepts in mind, here are a few tips for helping your child dream big and look purposefully toward the future.
1. Talk About Dreams
Talk with children about what is important to them and what they would like to be able to do and become. Goal setting is most effective when children are involved. Discuss the internal and external rewards of reaching a goal.
Use a few of the following conversation starters to begin a discussion with your child about aspirations:
  • Tell me about something you are good at.
  • What did you do to become good at it?
  • How long did it take?
  • What is something you would like to be better at?
  • Why is this goal important to you?
Try your own version of the marshmallow experiment to assess your child’s current level of self-control. Then, talk about the child’s dreams and how self-regulation and effort might help your child meet a chosen goal.
Ask your child to choose a goal and mentally picture it as already accomplished. Help your child draw or cut out and paste a picture of the completed goal. Label the goal with a title. Discuss what the goal might look, sound, and feel like when it is reached. Write the child’s narrative of the dream or goal on the back of the picture.
2. Make Plans
Once the child has a clear goal in mind, listen and talk about strategies for achieving the goal. Discuss small, manageable steps, and then make a plan together to implement them. Talk about resources that are available as well as people who might be willing to assist the child. You may wish to set a time frame together and a deadline for when the goal might be completed. This is for motivation and accountability. If the deadline is not met, help the child understand that obstacles are part of the process. Adjust plans and expectations with the child to avoid discouragement.
Using the child’s picture from Activity #3 as a reference, make a chart on a separate paper that lists up to five steps or micro-goals for achieving the goal. For each step, write a completion date and draw several boxes that can be checked as progress is made. The child could also draw simple pictures to help imagine and remember the micro-goals. Help the child imagine and visualize each step as if performing it. Then, ask the child to verbalize the entire plan.
3. Encourage Effort and Progress
A variation of the marshmallow test was later conducted. In this experiment, an adult came into the room with the child and offered to return with a treat in the next few minutes. In some cases, the adult did return with a treat. In others, the adult broke the promise to return with a treat. Then, the original marshmallow experiment was performed with all the children. In the group where the adult delivered on the promise of a treat in the first part of the experiment, the children did a better job of waiting for two marshmallows.
This second study points to the significant influence of parents and teachers who are consistent and reliable. When we demonstrate that we can be trusted, we have an increased ability to encourage and direct children toward positive outcomes.
Using the goal chart in Activity #4, talk about the rewards for completion of the goal. Offer the child stickers to place on the chart as goals are met. Give lots of sincere “warm fuzzies” on a consistent basis. As children see and hear positive feedback about themselves and their good choices, they become motivated to internalize the skills.
4. Celebrate Accomplishments!
Children will be excited when they reach their goals, and they will want to share that enthusiasm with you and others. Praise and acknowledgment will solidify the importance of the accomplishment in their minds and spur them to future achievement. (This type of positive feedback is not to be confused with bribery, which is offered when a child is noncompliant.)
Children are also motivated by rewards for progress. When achievement does not appear to be within a child’s control, we can wisely reward effort and encourage keeping a positive outlook, which are within the child’s power and our influence.
Celebrate the child’s success by ceremoniously awarding the predetermined reward, which could be a small item or game, a special trip or activity, a special treat or dessert, an outing with a friend, or anything that is rewarding to the child, when the goal is met. You might also include an achievement certificate, balloons, a slideshow or picture of the child, or a Skype call to share with other relatives. At any time and for any reason, you could also surprise your child with an “Unbirthday” party to let the child know of your unconditional support.
Setting and achieving goals involves more than just following a formula of steps and charts. To a large degree, children’s growth and progress is influenced by their own perception of themselves in relation to their goals. We have an unrivaled role in nurturing and shaping internal traits like attitude, self-concept, confidence, and self-control as we help guide children toward their dreams.
Meiners_Cheri2 FSP AuthorCheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband David have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in Laurel, Maryland.
Cheri’s many books include:
Listen and LearnBounce Back! A book about resilienceDream On! A book about possibilities

Tribute to my Dad

My latest book, Dream On! A book about Possibilities, is in part a tribute to my father who passed away in 2013.  On his last visit in 2012, we saw the Space Museum, part of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C.  We viewed the actual planes, rockets and spacecraft that had been in space on various missions.

As a mechanical engineer my Dad had developed several parts for various crafts through the years that impacted many space missions.    In fact, NASA invited him to Atlanta to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for his several contributions to America's space program.

At the museum, my Dad explained to me how he invented a valve that released cabin temperatures in under three seconds as astronauts approached reentry to earth.  Internal temperatures were extremely during reentry to the Earth's gravity as they approached the ocean for their landing. Astronauts on previous missions had to eject prematurely because of the heat.  His valve helped release cabin heat safely.  Many people are involved in each mission, and I'm proud of my Dad's contributions to our space exploration.

This newest book is for girls and boys who are at an age when almost anything they dream is possible,  The images of stars, spacecraft, and astronauts are part of the dreams of many children, but are also symbolic of the wide open possibilities of the dreams of all children.  I hope that this book helps you as a parent or teacher to nurture the dreams of your children.

Why Character Education is Important

Why Character Education Is Important for Young Children

By Cheri J. Meiners, author of the Learning to Get Along® and Being the Best Me! series
Meiners_Cheri2 FSP Author
Cheri Meiners
“Character is like a tree and reputation is like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” —Abraham Lincoln
President Lincoln is one of my all-time heroes. I respect his deeply rooted character, and that he didn’t sway or compromise his principles. According to Lincoln’s own observation, character is the real thing—it is the essence of who we are. His metaphor of a tree reminds us that teaching our children time-honored principles can help them stay grounded and rooted so that they can stand tall and live with integrity when winds of challenge blow. Others are also positively affected when children offer fruits of kindness, responsibility, and respect.
Character is an aggregate of all our traits and includes all of our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Our children’s character is molded by their decisions and affects every aspect of their current and future life. As parents and teachers, we’re responsible for their upbringing, and we play a vital role in helping children develop their full potential. With the many varied messages children see in the media and in their associations, we can’t expect them to merely observe and adopt the character traits and maturity that we’d like them to develop. A consistent and thorough teaching of ethical behavior is critical to shaping character. Here are some reasons why:
FeelConfident detail copyright FreeSpirit Publishng
1. Character development is the basis for personal growth. As children practice skills that promote character development, they build a reservoir of strength that they can draw on throughout their lives. Self-esteem, confidence, courage, resilience, integrity, and forgiveness are examples of traits that can sustain children at home, at school, and in the community.
2. Character development is the foundation for lifelong learning.Schools that teach character education report increased academic performance and attendance. They also report decreases in disciplinary problems. Children appreciate the safe environment that occurs when their peers are also learning about respect, honesty, and compassion. Teachers also find it easier to teach when children are learning to exhibit habits of patience, diligence, and self-control in the classroom.
3. Character is the bedrock that solid relationships are built on. Our children will be happier, more caring, more forgiving, and more responsible as they are taught to think about the needs of others.
Share and Take Turns copyright Free Spirit Publishing
Take Turns!
Cooperation, tolerance, and teamwork are examples of social skills that can be experienced firsthand when children are given the tools and opportunities. Schools and homes are ideal settings for children to practice communicating, sharing, and getting along. Speaking of how relationships and character are intertwined, Woodrow Wilson said, “If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself.”
4. Character shapes us as neighbors and citizens. Our character is a holistic language we daily communicate to others. We constantly affect one another. Beyond our homes and schools, our children’s character will also affect all of us in the workplace and in our communities as they grow to be our employees, neighbors, and leaders. When young people have not been taught principles of character that can anchor them, and if they don’t feel strong ties to faith, family, or community that nurture them, they may feel adrift and hopeless. They may not be attuned to the consequences of their actions, or to the needs of others. Delinquency, gangs, and violence are sadly visible in our culture and are a reminder that we have an awesome responsibility to exhibit strong character ourselves as we raise and influence the next generation.
Developing a respectful and responsible character is a skill every child needs in order to thrive, find fulfillment, and be an influence for good in society. On the importance of character education to prepare children for learning and for life, Dr. Kevin Ryan (founder of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility) emphatically stated, “Character education is not one more thing to add to your plate. It is the plate!”

Tips for Helping Children Cool Down

Teaching Children to Cool Down and Work Through Anger

By Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., author of the Learning to Get Along® and Being the Best Me! series
Meiners_Cheri2 FSP Author
Cheri Meiners

Children, like all of us, are frequently bombarded with situations that are unexpected, frustrating, or hurtful. Anger is a natural secondary emotion when children feel out of control. They may feel threatened when their belongings or personal space is being invaded, when they are not being respected, when they can’t have something they want, or when things just aren’t going the way they would like. As teachers and parents, we can help children work through anger appropriately by teaching them to recognize, defuse, process, and resolve their angry feelings.
Help Children Recognize Anger  In quiet moments, children can be taught to become aware of the physical changes they feel when they start to feel angry. Explain that it’s normal for people to experience an increased heart rate or breathing, or an urge to speak loudly or lash out physically. Though natural, it is, of course, important for children to understand that hurting themselves or someone else or damaging property are not acceptable or tolerable displays of their anger. Talk with them about situations that might trigger their anger to help them become aware of their own natural responses.
Help Children Defuse Anger  Children can be taught ways to calm themselves and defuse their anger. When they relax physically and mentally, children can create some space between the stimulus that annoyed them and their response. Children may then process and respond to the problem logically and rationally rather than in ways they may regret later. There are many techniques you might suggest to children. Some favorites that require no materials or location are:
  1. Count to ten.
  2. Take big breaths as if filling a balloon.
  3. Walk away until you feel calm.
  4. Sing a favorite song to yourself.
  5. Think about a happy time.
  6. Talk to an adult.
Help Children Resolve Anger  A more difficult and often overlooked part of teaching kids about anger is helping them learn to process their anger by discovering what triggered it, and helping them develop skills to work through the problem—or decide to let it go. Here are a few ideas:
1. Be an example to your child. Remain calm yourself when a child acts out. Remember your own struggles and the vulnerabilities you felt as a child. With that empathy, respect children’s feelings, and give them space to comply without forcing them. Take time to listen before disciplining. Your calm example and listening ear can strengthen the trust they feel in you, and help them feel confident in coming to you when working through their problems.
2. Teach children to accept things they can’t change. Children may be frustrated by their own limitations or rules they are asked to follow. For those things that can’t be changed, help children understand why things are as they are, and then help them find something else to focus on so they can let it go.
3. Practice good communication skills. Talking and listening to other children can also help children resolve differences. Practice these skills together through role play and discussion, such as at mealtime. Teach children how to apologize and accept apologies. Although it isn’t easy, learning to consider the viewpoints of others will help them respect others and empathize with them, which can help dissipate anger.
4. Help children view the situation in a new way. Because our emotions are tied to our thoughts, it’s possible to change the way we feel by changing the way we view a problem. Finding positive ways to look at situations is an essential skill to happiness and to getting along with others.
5. Let children know that they have control over their emotions. Connected to the idea that we can change our thoughts is the understanding that we can decide to be happy by choosing our own thoughts and actionsCoolDown_spread_sm c Free Spirit Publishing. Let children know that they are not victims of other people’s decisions and actions. Even when children are faced with situations beyond their control, they can choose how they will respond to the situation. Sometimes they may decide to accept something and move on. At other times, the child may find a way to talk with the person or do something that can make things better.
At all times, let children know that you are their advocate—that you believe in them and want them to be happy. Help them understand that having strong feelings such as anger is natural, and that they can learn to recognize, defuse, and process that energy in positive ways to address problems, understand someone else better, and feel happier.
What are some ways you help kids cope with angry feelings?

New International Editions

Four of the Learning to Get Along books are now out in Slovak, and ten titles are soon anticipated in Vietnamese!

Share and Take Turns-- New Bilingual Edition

Share and Take Turns/Comparte y turna

Here's the blurb from Free Spirit Publishing on the new bilingual edition of Share and Take Turns:
"Sharing is a social skill all children need to learn. This book presents sharing as a positive choice and offers concrete examples to help children practice taking turns and realize the benefits of sharing. The English-Spanish editions from the popular Learning to Get Along series help children learn, understand, and practice basic social and emotional skills. Real-life situations and lots of diversity make these read-aloud books appropriate for homes, childcare settings, and primary and special education classrooms. Presented in a social story format, each bilingual book includes a special section for adults, with discussion questions, games, activities, and tips that reinforce improving social skills."

The Bill and Melinda GATES FOUNDATION recognizes 'Reach Out and Give'

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
 has recognized 'Reach Out and Give' among 18 children's books that they recommend for children.    This book also won the 'Carol D. Reiser Children's Book Award', and contains several activities in the back pages to reinforce children's learning about service and volunteering.

Guest Post: A New Review of BE POSITIVE!

5.0 out of 5 stars Positive Thinking for Kids January 13, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Be Positive! (Being the Best Me Series)
By Cheri J Meiners, M. Ed, Illustrations by Elizabeth Allen
Free Spirit Publishing, 2013
Review by Debra Louise Scott

Be Positive! is one of a new four-book series from Free Spirit Publishing called “Being the Best Me”. The other books in the series are: Feel Confident!, Have Courage! , and Bounce Back! Be Positive! takes a comprehensive look at ways to have a good attitude about not only things you like, but even things that you might not like so much.

Be Positive! starts out with waking up, and expecting to have a ‘great new day’, then shows how our attitudes are a choice we make about everyday things that can make a difference not only for ourselves, but for those around us. It then shows children engaged in activities by themselves and with others, learning new things, and trying their best at hard things. One of the sentences I liked was, “I can do important things with my head and hands, and with my heart.” This is a very wonderful aspect of having a positive attitude. It is not just doing something you always do, it is about thinking about what you are doing and caring about it as well.

This book also moves a child from self-centered activity to understanding how actions involve others. “Doing something nice for someone can help me feel happy faster than anything else.” Another difficult concept for children happens when bad things happen, or when things don’t go their way. I am glad the author didn’t go overboard on this, as so many very bad things do sometimes happen. Instead, she uses normal things nearly every child can relate to, like bad weather or going to the dentist. This leaves the very difficult questions for another book, more targeted to the issue.

This is a delightful addition to the series. It is clear and well written, with real life situations that children encounter all the time. The book ends with a dress up party and encourages the child to think positively of what they might want to be when they grow up and then reinforces the notion that being positive and happy is a choice, “I can choose to be positive and happy, and expect the best. I have the power to be the very best me.”

After the story, there is a teacher/parent guide to the book with tips on how to discuss and reinforce the issues presented. There is a list of keywords and additional questions separated nicely by page grouping for a more in depth discussion.

The vocabulary of the story is suitable for young readers to sound out by themselves, but not the included instructions which are intended solely for the adult. The illustrations are expressive and simple so that it is easy to see how each character feels about what is happening.
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'Being the Best Me' Series now available!

Being the Best Me--a new series for children ages 4-8 is now available.  You'll find it a great companion to the Learning to Get Along series.  While the first series helps children develop social skills, Being the Best Me helps children develop important inner characteristics that will help them blossom into the type of strong, positive, caring individuals that they are meant to be.    Find them here!

Be Positive! (hardcover)
Being the Best Me! Series
Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., and illustrated by Elizabeth Allen 
A sense of optimism is a key ingredient to success in life. Guide young children to develop a positive attitude and discover how the choices they make can lead to feeling happy and capable. This friendly, encouraging book on having a positive attitude introduces preschool and primary-age children to ways of thinking and acting that will help them feel good about themselves and their lives, stay on course when things don’t go their way, and contribute to other people’s happiness, too.

Feel Confident! (hardcover) 
Being the Best Me! Series 
Empower children to recognize their individual worth and develop self-confidence, as well as confidence in their abilities and the choices they make. Children learn that they can speak up, expect and show respect, try new things, and believe in themselves. Confidence-building skills of accepting yourself, asking for what you need, making decisions, solving problems, and communicating are also discussed. Young children will respond to the true-to-life situations and colorful illustrations.
Being the Best Me! is a one-of-a-kind character-development series. Each book in the series helps children learn, understand, and develop attitudes and character traits that strengthen self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Children will relate to the engaging illustrations, real-life situations, and easy-to-understand examples. Each book focuses on specific attitudes or character traits—such as optimism, courage, resilience, imagination, personal power, decision-making, or work ethics. Also included are discussion questions, games, activities, and additional information adults can use to reinforce the concepts children are learning. Filled with diversity, these read-aloud books will be welcome in school, home, and childcare settings.

Being the Best Me! is a one-of-a-kind character-development series. Each book in the series helps children learn, understand, and develop attitudes and character traits that strengthen self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Children will relate to the engaging illustrations, real-life situations, and easy-to-understand examples. Each book focuses on specific attitudes or character traits—such as optimism, courage, resilience, imagination, personal power, decision-making, or work ethics. Also included are discussion questions, games, activities, and additional information adults can use to reinforce the concepts children are learning. Filled with diversity, these read-aloud books will be welcome in school, home, and childcare settings.

Guest Review: A Resource for Children with Autism

"Our seven year old son has mild Autism, we have struggled to help him understand the simple mechanics of how to make friends. This is the first book we have come across where we feel he has gained something useful. It is very straight forward, and written in such a simple, clear way that he was talking about the book for several days after purchasing it- and requests it every night at bedtime. Today, after I picked him up from school, he related using some of the book's principles, and they worked! We are looking into getting more from the series, I highly recommend this book to anyone with shy children, and/ or a child on the spectrum. Thank you to the author!" --Book review of 'Join in and Play' on


The motto for Howard County, Maryland, where I live, is Choose Civility.  You can find bumper stickers and high school reading assignments with that topic.  I was pleased to see that, in addition to offering my books to children,  Howard County Library is carrying some of my books as part of a Choose Civility collection for local readers.  For adults or children, choosing civility just makes sense, and improves all of our lives.   Click to see my book listed at the library.

Guest Post: Review of 'Reach Out and Give'

“The World is beautiful. There’s so much to notice and be grateful for.”
Reach out and Give is a short, easy-to-read children’s book that is uplifting, positive, and a useful tool in teaching children how they can be generous and reach out to their community. At only thirty pages with bright and cheerful illustration, follows one young boy in his journey throughout his community where he learns how hecan give his time and talent to those in need. Moreover, Reach Out and Givehighlights how good it can feel inside yourself when you help others and are generous.
The message conveyed in this book is one that every child should understand, and while the story itself is a useful learning tool, so is the four pages of resources for parents and teachers located in the back of the book. This section of resources begins by defining important words that a young child might not yet understand, but will be essential to know when learning about giving: generous, grateful, relief, service, talents, and volunteer. There are questions provided that can help stimulate a conversation about generosity between a parent and/or teacher and their young child. Lastly, there are a number of games that are highlighted to utilize during “teachable moments” related to generosity.
One great idea the author has is for children to create a “We’re Grateful for” Journal. She writes what the teacher will need to prepare this journal and what kind of materials are necessary, and then she writes how to effectively use this teaching tool: “Talk with children about what it means to be grateful, using discussion questions for pages 1-3. Explain that you will be keeping a journal-a daily record- of things everyone is grateful for. Each day, you and the children can each draw a picture or write a journal entry of something you saw, something that happened, or something you realized you are thankful for. Invite children to date their entries and add them to the book each day. Continue over several weeks, noticing from time to time how full the journal is growing and how much there is to be grateful for.”
Whether you are a parent, teacher, or religious educator in your congregation, this book is extremely useful in helping a child to understand the importance of generosity. To learn more about the author and the text, you can visit Free Spirit Publishing for details.

'Be Polite and Kind' used in Baltimore Schools

Baltimore Public Schools are using Be Polite and Kind as part of their first grade curriculum on Self-Respect. I'm happy to see that neighboring children have access to this book!

Review of Newest book: Feel Confident!

Guest Post: Feel Confident! A Book That Empowers Students and Teachers

by Livy Traczyk
Livy TraczykFor years, teachers have lined their bookshelves with children’s stories that spotlight uniqueness—picture books that help kids understand their innate specialness. Such books are essential in talking about the gifts and talents that make children different from one another and instilling in them the pride of being exactly who they are.

Cheri J. Meiners’s newest book, Feel Confident! (available September 2013), makes a refreshing contribution to this category of books by empowering both children and adult readers.
As all educators know, a good lesson-based reading requires more than engaging illustrations (and by the way, one of my favorite parts of this book is the ethnically balanced portrayal of lively adults and happy children), it also requires knowing what you are going to say and when you are going to say it. This is often easier said than done.

When I was in my first year of teaching, I took books home to prepare for the next day’s storytime. I’d pencil in notes on each page to remind myself of the teachable moments I wanted to “organically” employ, knowing that in the heat of the moment—when Johnny pulls Susie’s hair in the back of the classroom while she interrupts to tell the entire class she needs to go to the bathroom—I would likely forget to slow down and actually teach the words I was reading.
©  Iofoto  Dreamstime.comAs I became more confident in my abilities, I made fewer notes, but I still struggled to come up with innovative activities to relate to the books. I wish I had then what Free Spirit offers now: books with four pages of discussion topics, activities, games, and tips that reinforce the lessons from the book, especially when the book is like Feel Confident!, which seems deceptively simple but contains ten explicit confidence skills that are ripe for discussion.

The book opens with a young girl talking to her dad folding laundry on the couch. She tells the reader, “At every age, each person is important and has something to say,” which she learned from the man holding her clean T-shirt, who says, “You were special. And you still are!” Easy enough, right?

But the key here, the back of the book reminds us, is to reiterate to children that while all people have feelings and ideas, they might not verbally express them like the characters did in the book. When I had a discussion with students who thought their younger siblings weren’t communicating because they couldn’t yet talk, I taught them that even babies have feelings and ideas, and that a hug meant they loved you. In just three sentences, Meiners created the space for a class to talk about how others respond or interact in a variety of ways.
FeelConfident from Free Spirit
I was most interested in how the book dealt with the concept of making decisions for oneself. The protagonist says, “I’m able to think and decide for myself. When I make good choices, I can feel proud of myself.” I wasn’t sure how I would enact this in my classroom, but then I read one of the suggested activities, “‘Journey of Confidence’ Virtual Vacation,” in which the students act out a trip to an exotic place of their choosing.

Throughout the imaginary journey, the teacher gives opportunities for students to disengage from the trip if they are no longer finding it fun and/or are nervous about it. At the end, the students who chose to sit out get to talk about whether they wished they could’ve rejoined later when they realized that the journey ended up being really, really fun. The lesson? As we become more confident in ourselves, we become more eager to try new things, like riding a bike, and in turn we don’t miss out on having fun.

Building confidence is not for the faint of heart; it is an undertaking all teachers do naturally and sometimes as a byproduct of other lessons. But, tools like Free Spirit’s Feel Confident! allow educators to be confident themselves as they lay the foundation of individual worth for their students.

What confidence-building books do you use in your classroom? What activities do you use to build students’ confidence?

Livy Traczyk is an author, an illustrator, and a literacy tutor residing in Minneapolis, MN. She holds a bachelor of arts in English literature and creative writing from St. Norbert College. She has published two children’s books with AppleTree Early Learning Institute, where she also taught preK to at-risk children. Livy is currently collaborating with a social worker to create a series of multicultural books based on difficult home life issues, with the goal of providing language, understanding, imagery, and comfort to kids who are often unseen in children’s literature.