contributed by Amanda Marasch
March is the time of year where I start to look forward to warmer weather and spring plants. My husband and I bought my son a book when he was a baby called The Curious Gardener, written and illustrated by Peter Brown. The story reminded my husband and I of one of our favorite date spots in NYC, High-Line Park. Reading the book with my son last year, we started to explore the ideas of what our garden will look like. I was raised with a large suburban garden full of tiny peas, vibrant green beans, bright yellow squash, tiny sour strawberries, and juicy tomatoes of all sizes and shapes. Last March my son was finally old enough for us to bond through this process together. Here is our step by step process of how to create a curious garden:
Contributed by Amanda Marasch-Brinkman
In honor of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 11 was International Day of Women and Girls in Science. During the past 6 years, the acronym STEM has morphed into STEAM, an acronym acknowledging that art and design have always been integral to the fields of science and technology. This month, I went on a journey to identify some gifted women in the field of science. In learning more about their lives and accomplishments, I learned how each was inspired into their field by their connection to art. I learned from these women that there truly is an art to science and a science to their art. Here are three women in science (and the arts) that I plan to incorporate into my son’s world. If you do not know of them already, they are a great place to start.
Ele Willoughby is a marine geophysicist. She is also a highly accomplished printmaker who creates screen prints, etchings and linocut prints of science in nature. "I'm rather passionate about the history of science, particularly physics and geophysics," Willoughby says. "I am more than happy to be sharing it through art—especially underappreciated female superstars.” I highly recommend taking just a few minutes to dive into the mind of a true hybrid scientist/artist and feast your eyes upon Ele’s art on her official blog.
Mae Jemison was the first African-American astronaut and the first African-American woman in space. She entered Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship and was very involved in extracurricular activities at Stanford, including dance and theatre productions, and served as head of the Black Student Union. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the university in 1977. She spent two and a half years as a Peace Corps doctor in Africa and she fulfilled a dream of hers by playing a role on Star Trek: The Next Generation. She went on to write her first book in 2001, Find Where the Wind Goes, which was a children's book about her life. Currently, Jemison is leading the 100 Year Starship project through the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. She is an inspiration to many women and little girls. Not only because of her accomplishments with NASA but because she has, in her years after space, excelled as a highly successful tech developer, businesswoman, and role model. You can read more about Mae Jamison on the National Women’s History Museum’s website.
Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya received her master’s degree from The Pratt Institute in NYC in communication and design. This followed her prior studies at Columbia where she studied to be a neuroscientist and worked in an Alzheimer’s lab. Her accomplishments include becoming a TED talk main-stage speaker, professor and award-winning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) advocate. In addition, she founded a few companies including The Murdomo Institute, which combines STEM and design to empower young women and Atomic By Design, an after-school science club and space for girls to create. Learn more about Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya in this NBC interview which links to an engaging YouTube video to watch with your student.
Sources to Read more:
Puffles and Honey Adventures
National Women’s History Museum
by Amanda Marasch
For most of us, plans for 2020 flew out the window. For me, it meant my career was quite literally cancelled for the year. I cautiously decided to take the opportunity to home school my son, hoping it was the right choice for our family. Spending all day, every day with my son helped me gain insight into what the year had left on his plate. Here are three resolutions, for myself and my family, I plan to carry into 2021.
1. Turn Our Anxiety into Our Advocacy- 2020 definitely took a toll on my son’s confidence. The past nine months found me saying, “Don’t touch anything” and “We need to keep each other safe” on a daily basis. My husband and I noticed my three year old son’s anxiety level increasing. Some days as soon as we put his mask on, he immediately shut down and wanted to go home. We had to stop seeing most people and as the months passed, my son started yelling “Can I say goodbye?” whenever I’m on the phone with anyone. The tipping point was a full blown meltdown when he did not get to say goodbye to a telemarketer last month. After this exchange, I started letting our friends and family know that he wants to say his goodbyes. I started giving him the phone occasionally. I can hear whoever is on the other line smiling through their interaction with him. This year, we’re going to focus on the things that make him, him. I am going to make sure to remind him that there is only one of him. Instead of apologizing for him simply wanting to say goodbye, I’ll give him the tools to manage his understandable anxiety. I will advocate for his perfectly normal impulses and thank him for giving the people on the other end something small to smile about.
2. Spend Daily Hours Outside the Circus Tent- I am lucky that my son loves to learn. He asks me to start school every day. Like many parents, the pandemic found me at a casting call auditioning to fill all the roles in my son’s life. There are so many days that I have felt unfocused and incapable of being mom, teacher, friend, and advocate all at the same time. Some days I’m the star juggler in this circus. Some days, I’m dropping all the balls. Many nights I’ve laid awake at night contemplating the fact that 2020 has been the year of learning how well we can juggle the concepts of life. In 2021, I plan to remind myself daily that no one purchased a ticket to this circus, I was never trained in this kind of balancing act, and that we’re all doing our best to improvise every day. This new year, we’ll spend three hours each day (not always consecutively) focusing inside the circus tent. That’s where I fill the role of his teacher, his school, his friends, and all the roles that I did not fill before the pandemic started. I’ll keep my phone far away and silenced. This way at the end of every day, when the circus animals are all sleeping and the big top is closed, I can rest. Those three hours happened for him, instead of focusing on all the dropped balls.
3. Move It or Lose It. My son is a huge fan of his theatre and dance classes. He was the youngest in his virtual class which worried me, but he magically would hyper-focus on the screen and would live for the moment his teacher yelled “Great Job, Buddy.” He would look at me with a grin that could move mountains. His teacher used brilliant verbal and physical games that helped him focus. They made pizza dough while stretching and collected things from the house to dance with. When the beautiful summer weather hit, we all wanted to be safely outside, or with friends in our bubble. We stopped our class and therefore lost the benefits that movement provided. I realized I missed the smiles that moved mountains and through that, I also realized how much I miss moving myself. As adults, we often focus on the fact that we “should” move without remembering the “why” that was so powerful to us as kids. This year, I vow not to lose out on the benefits we get from moving and remember the boost in mood, confidence, and overall wellness that staying active provides.
I am walking into 2021 with a sense of caution and just a teeny bit more clarity. I feel like much of 2020 was standing still and staying on the defense. Now into 2021, I am very hopeful that these 3 resolutions will help to improve my families’ lives with steps forward.
STAFF PICKS - BOOKS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON
Contributed by Brian Milauskas
At Kidstock!, much of our creative curriculum is inspired by children’s literature. Our office boasts a robust collection of books to choose from and our curriculum planning conversations often are filled with admiration for the power of stories and storytelling. This year, in celebration of the holiday season, I asked each staff member to share a favorite book from their teaching life or childhood. For our nationwide classroom community, if your child is a book worm looking to connect with friends, I highly recommend looking into our Backstage Book Club. I wish you all a warm holiday season and happy reading opportunities while safe at home!
Brian recommends A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Melissa recommends Miss Twigley's Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox
Victoria recommends The BFG by Roald Dahl
Capt'n Bob recommends Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donald J Sobol
Shannon recommends Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Nicolina recommends The Dragon of Lonely Island by Rebecca Rupp
Jackie recommends Happy Birthday Samantha by Valerie Tripp
Mary recommends Junie B Jones by Barbara Park
A gift giving guide for the creative child contributed by Colleen Hourigan
With the holidays just around the corner and the weather getting colder, getting creative is a great way to keep kids busy inside! This year, we are focused on gifts that kids will use more than just once. We have compiled a list of low cost, arts oriented stocking stuffers that can be reimagined over and over in new and exciting ways! Browse the list of creative types to find which one best fits your child and get inspired by our gift giving ideas.
A simple yet extremely versatile gift is perfect for a child who best expresses themselves through words. Nothing is a better vehicle for creativity than a blank page! A whole notebook or journal of blank pages means endless possibilities for writing stories, songs, script ideas and so much more. Does your child struggle to get started? Consider this list of 55 free prompts to start each writing entry.
There are TONS of options out there for different art kits and projects, but we encourage gifting your child different basic supplies and letting their imaginations drive their creations! Building your child’s collection of materials is the gift that keeps on giving, as they can continue to think up new ways to use them to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Looking for the lowest cost option? Our most popular supplies often go on clearance at craft stores after each holiday and are a great way to stock up on projects for the next year.
Some of our crafting staples at Kidstock are
There are so many options when it comes to small puzzles for all ages, not to mention all of the variations from your average jigsaw puzzle! If your child is ready to take the next step up in puzzle solving, consider a 3D puzzle or a blank puzzle where children can create their own. Puzzles are a great low cost gift that will develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in a fun and creative way. All puzzled out? Put one of those old jigsaws to use with one of these recycled puzzle ideas!
If your child is detail oriented and loves to create their own usable items, consider gifting them with sewing materials! There are many great kits designed specifically for young creators. With one of these kits, your child can make their own accessories, costume pieces and stuffed toys safely and without adult supervision.
Puppets and dolls are a fantastic way to keep your child busy for hours indoors. Playing out different characters and stories helps kids with developing their social skills and imaginations both independently or with others. Consider steering away from the classic TV and movie characters and opt for more general dolls and puppets to encourage the creation of their own stories and characters. Some basic animal and human dolls/puppets will allow for endless possibilities when it comes to imaginative play. Having trouble thinking of new ideas? Use Scholastic’s free Story Starter’s wheel to help your child get their creative juices flowing.
Pre-designed block sets can be great for learning how to follow instructions or being used as an action figure or set piece for play, but consider giving your child an assortment of basic blocks this year. Instead of building a structure once without being able to modify what they built, children will have the opportunity to take apart their creation over and over to create something entirely new to play with to fit their narrative. Low on inspiration? Check out this pinterest collection we found with over 100 things you can make with simple, wooden blocks.
No matter the child’s age, each of these gifts give an opportunity to use their imagination. Did your child create something neat with a Kidstock-ing stuffer? We want to hear from you! Email us at email@example.com or post in the comments!
contributed by Sarajane Mullins, LMHC, NBCC
The American education system has been a hot topic since March. How we educate our children, where we educate them, and how we do right or wrong by them has made headlines in nearly every US state since the Spring. The conversation has been at best, a controversial topic and at worst, a national crisis. In the midst of all the turmoil, there has been an entire industry of arts professionals who have jumped to the helm to support children with their pursuit of learning. With the theater industry almost entirely out of work, many actors, designers, puppeteers, and visual artists have taken to the internet to teach their craft. For some, it might be the need for income. For many, it’s a much deeper personal knowledge of how theater can open up skills for that child, no matter what that child may pursue.
If you want your child to succeed with skills, the research shows that access to theater arts programming gives them a boost. Any person who has spent time in theater arts can tell you how their experience in theater shaped their entire life, even if they did not choose a career in the arts. In fact, especially if they did not choose a career in the arts.
But doesn't my kid need to focus on math? Many parents, already frustrated with school districts both public and private, are struggling to feel confident that their child will get the education they need to succeed during the COVID 19 pandemic. Why should our children access arts education if they are already limited in how they access their “regular” subjects of math, language, and science? The answer is clear: when students have access to theater arts, they do better in other academic areas. The College Entrance Examination Board examined SAT test scores in 2001 and found that students involved in drama activities outscored their peers in both language and math sections. As if that was not enough, the board continued to examine the scores in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 and consistently came to the same conclusion. The most impressive results showed that students involved in a drama performance scored 65 points higher in language and 35 points higher in math compared to their peers, who did not participate in theater arts activities (1). But, it's the exposure for students who were not interested in performing that is most compelling. Students who chose not to perform but still wanted to take classes in drama arts for the experience, still outscored their peers in language and math by 55 and 26 points respectively. Test scores are not the only evidence to suggest that the arts prime students for better learning. Enrollment in theater arts is also directly correlated with students' current ability and this is perhaps an even more powerful conclusion. In a 2014 peer reviewed study, authors determined that sixth graders achieved higher levels of literacy ability and mathematical ability if they were receiving theater arts interventions through school (2). The ability of their peers not receiving theater arts interventions was measurably lower.
So how did we develop the view that the arts should be separated from academics if the arts have been proven to help our kids excel? Part of the popular conception follows the notion that arts education falls tightly into the category of “enrichment,” a category that suggests the arts are superfluous and unnecessary. The term enrichment likely started as a positive, to imply that a life with art in school was more enriching or that an education is enriched through the arts. After school arts programs as well as daytime assemblies fall under the umbrella of enrichment for many schools. Yet, the term also implies to parents, school systems, and educators nationwide that the learning is extra, in addition to, and therefore not of primary importance to knowledge acquisition. This view is decisively disconnected from the research if we consider that a lack of engagement with theater arts is directly correlated with less knowledge and less ability. It means that when we do not offer theater arts, we possibly make the acquisition of language and math skills more difficult for that child. If we can see that students who have access to theater arts outperform those academically who do not have access, we can discern that the arts are not merely an addition to a good education but somehow a tool or pathway to helping achieve that good education. The arts are not an addition, they are a thruway.
While many agree that the arts are imperative for careers that require expression, communication, and empathy, it is easily overlooked that the arts improve our wider academic abilities. The benefits are not limited to expressive communications. The knowledge that theater can further the skills that students need in careers such as accounting, law, and nursing has the power to change the perspective of many parents. The next time you wonder how to help your future accountant prepare, consider the benefit of a drama class. Then, sit back, relax, and know that research is on your side.
by Sarajane Mullins, LMHC
This blog article originally appeared here on the Act of Wellness blog.
While the uncertainties of public and private education will undoubtedly continue into the fall and beyond, one thing is for sure: online enrichment classes and activities will remain an option for many throughout the next year.
If it now suddenly seems that everyone is teaching online, it is because it’s true. Parents who were once limited to signing up for enrichment classes within driving distance now suddenly have thousands of classes to choose from in all 50 states. If you have searched for an online enrichment class for your child recently, you’ll notice that the search results on any parent website have extended either nationally or internationally to highlight the expansive options.
With so many opportunities, there are a few key things to consider and three imperative things to look for in the coming months. Online teaching isn’t new anymore and as we head into the 5th month of the pandemic, there are three key considerations of what to expect from experienced programs at this point.
In a time where isolation and remote activities are going on far longer than any of us hoped, it’s no secret that it’s hard to be as active as we would be if we could do classes in person. Therefore, it’s important that any online class has a physical component. Last year, yoga got some good press for being widely utilized as a successful alternative to detention in schools. In fact, even before COVID-19, it was widely known that sedentary classroom setups were negatively affecting learning and working environments. We weren’t developing standing desks, bouncing chairs, and encouraging walks on lunch breaks just for the fun of it. Teachers who coach students through physical exercises and mindfulness techniques when their classroom learning is otherwise sedentary have more engaged, interactive students. Especially if the class is an academic topic that isn’t innately physically active, find out if the instructor incorporates a stretch break, some mindfulness, or anything physical.
The most experienced online teachers know that eye care is a big part of online teaching. Look for teachers who subtly work eye care into class for their students. At Kidstock! Creative Theater, instructor Mara Stewart has been leading her students of all ages through facial stretches. “I ask them to squint their eyes shut tightly, look up, look down, and right to left. These exercises are traditionally part of classical physical acting warm ups but they are even more necessary now for students who are spending hours online.” Stewart and her colleagues remind students to look other places during class besides the screen, often encouraging them to use the “whole room,” switch positions, or blink. All of these techniques are supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics as guidelines of what adults can do to help support the eye health of children.
The Device Gap
There is a huge gap between devices with platforms like Zoom. What one person sees on their Ipad can look entirely different on a Chromebook and even more so different on a laptop. While it’s important to know your own device, or your child’s device before heading into a Zoom class, teaching teams who are not aware of the device gap are significantly challenged. Before signing up for an online class, check to see if the teachers have any online policies or explanations of resources. If they do, they’ve likely thought ahead and been through this before. If not, you might be in for a rough first class with a dozen other families who are not prepared. Think of the literature that the teachers give out beforehand similar to the syllabus or the supply list that you might get before an in person class. It’s the sign of a well prepared, functional team and equates a group of families who have access to the info they need to start learning. Without this preparation, part of the first class may feel more like a frustrating group Zoom tutorial and this many months into the pandemic, that’s likely not the lesson you signed up for.
by Sarajane Mullins, LMHC
This blog article originally appeared here on the Act of Wellness blog.
3 values our children will use to adapt, thrive, and survive
In the society our nation boasted just a short time ago, there were a variety of ways we celebrated events, especially when they are meant to celebrate rites of passage like an anniversary or a birthday. How and when and with whom you celebrated varied based on family dynamic, socio-economic ability, and resources. However, if we look at how these events have evolved over centuries, history is a reminder of the values which inspired these celebrations in the first place. These values are not all based on our ability to go out, be with a gathering of people, or have financial resources. Three main values stick out as what our children can cling to during this time.
#1-Connection- This word sounds so obvious that it is easy to take the concept for granted. The heart of any event, especially if it celebrates a person or a milestone, is that we make extra efforts to connect with that specific person of focus. Why did we all dress up as aliens for Jake's birthday? Because we all know he loves outer space! Sure, most of the ways we connected with people two months ago were based on our unlimited access to the greater world outside our homes. It's okay to acknowledge that we were looking forward to an outer space themed birthday party at the Museum of Science with Jake's entire class. And, it’s possible that nothing inside one’s home can match the excitement of say, a waterpark. But, even those places and things didn’t take the place of connection before. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that our consumable media was full of messages that highlighted how impersonal, over-scheduled, and dangerously busy our lives were. Here's an article from just last summer which warns of the burn out of being busy. With places to be and things to see, we made connecting really easy for our kids. We showed up to a themed event where much of the thought process was done for us and for them. That wasn't wrong but it was a short cut to actual connection. Now, we have the opportunity to put a little more work into the connection. In many ways, the world we have now might be one where our children can connect more thoughtfully than ever before. When they have to get creative about how to connect with each other, there is a greater likelihood that the connections they establish are individualized and meaningful.
#2-Surprise- Events and celebrations almost always carry some element of surprise. Gifts and presentations, by nature, are a sort of surprise. We’re not always sure what we’re about to unwrap. While we may have gotten used to gifting things like surprise parties, concerts, or travel, the core value of surprise is not attached to those luxuries. We can still surprise people by writing them a silly poem, decorating their room with drawings of their favorite animal, or declaring an entire day dedicated to allowing them to be the leader or make the decisions. Children are excellent at this because their imagination is still widely accessible to them. In fact, you might be surprised at your child's willingness to engage with non material ideas. The chance to be in charge for a day, to make specific decisions, and to create a vision are all things our children are hard wired to see as valuable. Encourage children to use their imaginations and create surprises for others. Ask them to predict what surprises the other person might actually enjoy. Explore the joy of a long planned, and carefully thought out reveal.
#3-Tradition- This time is an opportunity to delve deep into family traditions or establish them for the first time. The beautiful thing that we often forget about traditions is that they are engineered by design to survive years of changing resources. Recently, a client told me how her family’s unusual tradition evolved when her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia. Every Thanksgiving holiday, the family had looked forward to eating Grandma’s same beautiful roasted turkey meal from the same family recipe they had been enjoying for years. That particular year, Grandma awoke that morning and announced she'd be making pizza pies, no turkey. Her dementia left her unable to remember her own fifty year tradition. This was incredibly difficult and sad for the family, as this was a moment where many of them had to accept the reality of her progressing illness. Yet, Grandma was unaware and proceeded proudly, as if it had always been her plan, to make pizzas from scratch. After the initial shock, the family found themselves with no choice but to adapt. While they were initially sad, everyone was forced to adapt that day because there was no stopping Grandma. Her pizza was ready and eventually, people started eating and their tradition evolved. They agreed from that point on, it would be their ritual that the Thanksgiving chef would not announce the family meal until Thanksgiving morning. This unusual tradition became a way to honor Grandma’s memory after she passed and has been the source for many family jokes and pranks. The designated family chef rotates annually and the surprise announcements have ranged from Indian take out to gourmet cheese boards. They always remember Grandma affectionately on Thanksgiving morning. And whenever someone brings their new significant other to Thanksgiving, everyone participates in a dramatic retelling of the morning Grandma announced, "I'm sick of turkey. I'm making pizza pies."
Out of change and loss comes the ability to adapt. We have this resilience if we allow ourselves to access it. This doesn’t mean we don’t pause to process our emotions, especially in the face of loss or disappointment. It only means that our emotions are a part of our journey in the present which moves us forward. For our children, this moment is one where they have the ability to adapt, likely much easier than we do. We may see the pain of parting with how things used to be as we watch the "new normal" emerge. Keep in mind that our children will author their own story and they aren't finished yet. Their version may include family jokes, Thanksgiving pizzas, and that one incredible year where we turned the bathroom into an alien themed waterpark for Jake's birthday.