Sunday, December 12, 2010


Late on the holiday cards this year? Me too. It's not too late, though, and this year, why not play around with postage and help kids help kids? Half the design proceeds from these custom Christmas / holiday stamps, featuring kids' artwork, go to Save the Children

Karate Kat joy-to-the-world stamp  Karate Kat new year stamp  Karate Kat holiday love--to personalize stamp Karate Kat snowy trees stamp

And don't forget holiday thank-you cards...

Karate Kat holiday thanks stamp Karate Kat Graphics snowman thank-you stamp Karate Kat winter thanks stamp Karate Kat snowflake thank-you stamp

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Beauty Shot

At stores worldwide this month, M.A.C. cosmetics fans can support HIV-affected kids who are helping their peers through abstract artwork with a supercute tartan theme (exhibit A, above). The company's HIV/AIDS advocacy has impressed me for years, but for some nutty reason I only just learned about the M.A.C. AIDS Fund's Kids Helping Kids initiative, which apparently launched way back in '94. Every year, M.A.C. sends art kits to kids 3 to 15 who are affected by HIV, asking them to create designs for holiday cards, tags & bags. The items are sold at M.A.C. counters everywhere, with proceeds going to organizations focused on HIV/AIDS and children. A cause cool enough to brave those cosmetic-department perfume sprayers for...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Positive Attention: Thoughts from Rob Himburg, M.A.

I went to a parent discussion recently where the moderator talked about how kids' "sphere of influence" expands as they mature. Even through adolescence, parents remain major players in how a child sees him/herself and the world -- but peers matter more and more.

When ADHD is in the picture, this process can be tricky...but rewarding, too. I wanted to know how kids with ADHD can support each other, and Rob Himburg -- director of education at the Leelanau School in Michigan, where he also collaborates with Ned Hallowell, M.D., on a weeklong summer enrichment camp for kids with ADHD and their parents -- seemed like the perfect person to ask. Here's what he's seen: 

When brought together, kids with ADHD connect in a matter of "minutes." Himburg, who works with kids in the summer program while Dr. Hallowell engages their parents, says he can predict the affiliations instantly: "Those four boys are gonna end up building things together in the woods. Those older boys will talk about the music they're into. Those girls will draw together on our breaks."

Just being together is therapeutic for the kids (and, by extension, their parents). "Every year on about the second morning, a mom or dad comes in and says, "'It's already been worth it. My [child] is saying, I can't believe there are other kids just like me.'"

In academic situations, peer support grows from awareness of self and others. Group work, says Himburg, is "maybe one of the most difficult things we ask" of students at Leelanau, which customizes a rigorous college-prep curriculum to different learning styles. But it pays off in stronger empathy and problem solving, he says. When students know their strengths and others', it "helps create a balance" in the group. "The kids are able to decide 'okay, you take notes; you're the idea guy; and you're a great speaker, so you're definitely doing the presentation...'"

Kids with ADHD benefit from caring "typical" friends. Peers without ADHD can bring out the best in their attention-challenged friends by understanding that ADHD has "nothing to do with intelligence," says Himburg; by appreciating strengths ("maybe that friend with ADHD isn't the strongest in math class, but he's the school champion at tree climbing"); by being patient with typical ADHD behaviors like fidgeting, impulsiveness, zoning out, etc.; and, sometimes, through constructive criticism: "A good friend will learn how to say, 'You know that thing you do? People don't seem to like that.'"

Done well, support-type groups for kids with ADHD can be valuable. In his previous work at the Bay-area Charles Armstrong School, Himburg enlisted 6th through 8th grade students in mentoring 2nd through 4th graders. The kids spent lunches together doing service projects, enjoying books (with older students reading aloud), etc. When younger kids started talking about playground challenges, "the older kids asked if they could help out," says Himburg. "So we rotated them through recess, and they became like on-field 'coaches' for fun games. They also brought simple problem-solving tactics -- like the 'do-over' concept when two kids disagree -- that they could demonstrate better than adults."  

So there you go. Given the right conditions, leadership jumps onto the rich list of assets kids with ADHD can use to help other kids. Says Himburg, "Sometimes you just need to get out of their way."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Toy Drive!

image: Disney/Pixar
The folks at teen-founded Second Chance Toys have been busy since I posted about them back in April-- securing 501(c)(3) status, passing the 50,000 mark in rescued-toy donations, and expanding into new geographical areas. You and your kids can help by bringing previously owned plastic toys (clean & in good condition, please) to a dropoff location this month or next. Want to spread this kid-friendly, eco-friendly effort to your community? Hit the ground running with the organization's starter kitWoody & Buzz would be proud.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

If the Shoe Fits

Imelda Marcos has nothing on Oliva Wright, 11. Through her Tennessee H.U.G.S. organization, the Hendersonville, Tenn., girl has collected an astounding 3,000+ pairs of shoes. But unlike Marcos, Olivia won't be modeling her collection. H.U.G.S. stands for Help Us Give Shoes, and these kicks all go to kids (and adults) in need, mostly in the Appalachians.

Organizing shoe drives and soliciting donations nationwide, Olivia not only collects the goods; she goes (pardon the pun) a step further by ensuring they get cleaned, sanitized & spruced up for their next owners -- a responsibility she takes personally. "Every pair of shoes that my mom and dad buy me is more appreciated now," she told ParentDish. "I still love cute shoes, but I love knowing that someone else will enjoy them after I do. I work to keep them clean and in good shape."

This ambitious kid hopes to have H.U.G.S. in every state within 5 years -- but won't stop there: "I plan to always lead H.U.G.S., all the way through high school, college, and then let my kids help me one day."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Survival Skills

Given that it centers on a televised children's fight-to-the-death, Suzanne Collins's electrifying Hunger Games certainly pushes the envelope on the "Kids Helping Kids" theme. But the two protagonists are teens who survive by sticking together. My sons were so crazy about the book that they made me read it, and I'm glad. Commonsense Media has a good summary & discussion tips for Hunger Games, which is the first in a series of 3 (so far) and is best for ages 12+ due to violence & gore, especially toward the end.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Turn It Up

Thought-provoking documentary "Race to Nowhere," screened last week near my home, underscores how pressured many teens' lives have become, with expectations to excel in academics, athletics, arts & community service. Structured, longer-term service projects can be tough to commit to when there's so much more to juggle. That's why the second annual Generation Cures "Battle of the Bands" online music contest is so appealing. Teen musicians can do something they already do for -- gasp ;) -- fun, within a limited timeframe, and in the process raise money for Children's Hospital Boston.

Band members ages 13 to 20 are invited to post an original song on their own personalized fundraising web pages. The theme ("make it better") is loose enough for plenty of creativity. Once songs are posted, bands' family and friends can log in, vote for their favorite tunes, and support the cause with an online contribution. The winning band earns a recording session at the Real School of Music, plus their song will be featured on the Rock Band Network.

The contest -- kicked off in September by pop rockers We The Kings -- starts next month and wraps in January, so gentlemen (& ladies), start your amps.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Go Team

If losing builds character, well, my son's baseball team was oozing it last spring, with only 1 win all season. It was hard not to feel bad for the kids, who played hard and seemed confused by all the games that slipped away in the last inning or two. Still, there were highlights from a parent's perspective, and most of them involved shows of support between team members. Sportsmanship, after all, is easy when you're winning, not so much when you can't get a break.

A hunt for kid-friendly sportsmanship tips turned up this advice from

~"Show up on time to practice, work hard, and listen."

~"If you lose, don't freak out, and don't be a whiner. Don't blame it on the refs [or] your teammates. Think about what you can do to play better..."

~"If you win big, don't show off or rub the other team's face in it. It's fun to celebrate a victory, but don't overdo it."

~"Be willing to sit out so other [team members] can get a chance to play -- even if you think you're a better player. Don't whine to your coach about not playing enough while the game is still going on. [Wait until] after the game [to ask] what you can do to get some more playing time."

~"Always cheer for your teammates, even if you're losing bad. You may be able to inspire a comeback."

~"Don't argue with the ref or the ump. Even if they got the call totally wrong, don't worry about it. Bad calls are usually made against both sides, and things will even out."

Competitive sports are a learning experience, sure, but sportsmanship makes them fun. If every kid, coach & parent were to take a moment, find the most courteous kid on the field, and commit to following his or her example, everyone really would win.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Deja-Vu Hero

image: CBS
First Reese Ronceray, now Logan Hearn -- heroes under 10 who saved even younger kids from drowning.

Two-year-old Brendan Hearn might have died last month in his family's pool without the quick response of Logan, his 9-year-old brother. Mom Tabitha called 911 and started CPR, but Logan (who apparently had taken lifeguard lessons) felt she was doing it wrong and "kind of told me just to move out of the way," said Tabitha. He continued CPR "like it should be done," she said, "and it was working!"

"To have that compusure...that patience, you know, is just amazing at that age," added dad Brent Hearn in an "Early Show" interview. Amen!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Staying Power

Covering so many kids who've taken a charitable idea and run with it, I'd almost started to think all it takes is caring, creativity, and a little elbow grease. An email this weekend from two teens reminded me of one more prerequisite: perseverance.

When high schoolers Henry Dyke and Casey Karnes set out this summer to collect hygiene supplies for their homeless peers in Chicago, they started by asking upscale city hotels for donations -- soon learning these businesses "were not all that interested in helping two teens from [the suburbs]."  They cast their net wider and started phoning, faxing, emailing and visiting suburban stores, congregations, and inviduals. The result? The two met their goal and were able to deliver to the Night Ministry 199 complete hygiene packs, plus $150 in leftover monetary contributions. If at first you don't succeed...    

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Make Art, Save Art

That's a campaign kicked off this month with partners HP and AMD. Students who create and share "an awesome PC wallpaper" can win $5,000 and 5 laptops for their school art program, plus a $1,000 scholarship. Go here for details.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tech Titan

A computer-obsessed 16-year-old may not sound all that unusual, but how about one who has channeled his passion into programs that protect the planet and help kids learn? That would be Alex Lin.

Not content just with the computer donation and refurbishment program he built in his hometown of Westerly, R.I., Alex created computer centers worldwide, providing 300 computers so far to students in the United States and abroad. Under his leadership, media centers have blossomed in Sri Lanka, Mexico, Cameroon, Kenya, and the Philippines, along with the U.S.

The adage "charity begins at home" isn't lost on him, either. Alex finds time somehow to help his 11-year-old sister, Cassandra, on a project that recycles used cooking oil into biofuel, which in turn is used to provide heating assistance to low-income families.

"Computers open an entire world of opportunities," Alex told ParentDish. Kudos to him for sharing that world with peers.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yard Work

Yard sales and summer go together like ice cream & sprinkles, and what a great way for kids to earn money for their favorite child-serving organizations. That's what 11-year-old Allieanna Pierson did at her Alton, Ill., home. Piggybacking on her successful collection of coloring books and other art supplies (plus Beanie Babies -- always a hit) for young patients at St. Jude's Children's Resarch Hospital, Allieanna gathered belongings she was ready to part with and set up shop last month. Shoppers were encouraged, too, to drop off new coloring books, crayons and other supplies, along with cash donations for St. Jude's. A post-sale trip to deliver collected goods and donations with her aunt and grandmother was Allieanna's first trip to Memphis. "She did it all herself," mom Tanya McGee told the local paper. "She's always got something on her mind."

(Photo: The Telegraph)

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Case for Cartoons

"Absorbent and yellow and porous"...and educational? Arr, matey, that he is. When New Jersey 8-year-old Reese Ronceray saved a 5-year-old from drowning last month at a party for families of kids on their school bus route, he was replicating something he'd seen on "Spongebob Squarepants."

Andrew Gentile, 5, had wandered into a man-made lake and begun struggling when he discovered he couldn't touch its floor. His mom plunged in to help but panicked when she couldn't find the bottom, either. "I just knew how to react; I jumped in," Reese told the local paper. "The hardest part was when we both went under, getting us back up to the surface."

No medical attention was needed, luckily, and the school held a day in Reese's honor. "He was an angel to me," said Andrew's mom.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Saving Grace

Although I posted already this month about Save the Children, I couldn't resist this story about 12-year-old Asma'a Abdullah, a displaced girl in Sa'adah, Yemen, who--despite limited literacy--challenged herself to learn a landmine safety curriculum from Save the Children and has been training her peers on the subject ever since. Children refer to Asma'a as "their teacher, their mentor and instructor on mine risks," said the Yemen Observer. What a role model.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Give Me Shelter

Like 16-year-old Mackenzie Bearup, I found refuge in books as a young kid, wandering for hours a day in the world of words. Unlike Mackenzie, a CNN Hero, I wasn't driven to this place by intense physical pain.

Six years ago, Mackenzie was dancing to "American Idol" when her knee seemed to explode with pain. By the next day, it had swollen to grapefruit size, and within a week it would collapse when she tried to walk.

Doctors diagnosed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, an incurable condition affecting anywhere from 200,000 to 1.2 million people. When meds and other treatments failed to ease Mackenzie's pain, she found that the only thing that distracted her from it was reading.

The experience inspired her to reach out to other kids who were suffering. She began collecting books for a residential treatment center, near her Georgia home, for severely abused children. With a goal of 300 books, she gathered 3,000 -- and a passion was born.

Mackenzie has gone on to collect more than 38,000 books to date for homeless and abused children in six states. With her mom's help, she launched a nonprofit organization, Sheltering Books, in 2009.

That's a story worth a book of its own.

(ps Thanks to Generation Cures, via Twitter, for the heads-up on Mackenzie)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fair Play

Save the Children's k2kUSA is a new campaign aimed at helping kids advocate for each other, with a goal of ensuring "a fair chance in life for every kid in America." The k2kUSA council includes notable teens/tweens like Nat & Alex Wolff ("The Naked Brothers Band") and Gov's son Patrick Schwarzenegger.

Taking aim at child poverty, the campaign's website features an ultra-brief "fairness quiz" for kids. Through a partnership with Scholastic Book Clubs, a new book is automatically sent to a child in need each time the quiz is completed. The goal is 90,000 books, so get your kiddos to the keyboard, stat!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

2 Good 2B Forgotten

Long after the flowers have faded, the photos emailed, the DJ packed up for the next party...the prom dress remains. For some teens, the dress packs too much sentimental value ever to part with. For others, it represents a chance to help another girl's dream come true.

Donate My Dress organizes local dress drives in an online database that helps generous teens pass on, to financially struggling peers, the dresses they've worn for prom, sweet 16, quinceaƱera or other special occasions. 'Cause pretty is as pretty does ;)

(image: Betsey Johnson dress & accessories in Elle Girl magazine)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Birth Day

Talk about kids helping kids! Check out this story about the Sanders family from San Francisco. Jabari, 9, and his 11-year-old sister Faith brought their baby brother into the world when mom unexpectedly went into labor. Moral of the story (besides keeping a towel & string handy when you're expecting!): Stay calm under pressure. And be ready for anything.

(Sanders family photo: Anda Chu, AP/Bay Area News Group)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Go Daddy

This cool Fender guitar drawing by our 13-year-old is a great fit for Father's Day gifts that benefit Save the Children, including a personalized mug, greeting card & baby T. See much more at Karate Kat Graphics.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Buddy Can You Spare a Quarter?

That's all it takes to feed a homeless child breakfast, Denver restaurateurs Tammy and Noel Cunningham were shocked to learn 20 years ago, when they launched the Quarters for Kids campaign to mobilize young philanthropists in Denver.

Over the past few weeks, students from 33 area schools raised almost $20,000 to feed homeless children in Denver shelters. Contributors won the right to wear hats to school, listen to their iPods in study hall, chew gum in class, and other enticements dreamed up by student leaders.

The mayor declared this Monday Quarters for Kids day, and the Cunninghams opened their eatery, Strings, to participating kids for a celebratory breakfast.

In its two-decade history, Quarters for Kids has raised about half a million dollars (!) for this fantastic cause, and inspired thousands of kids to help their homeless peers. Amazing what a quarter will buy.

(photo: Kristin Morin via the Denver Post)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sibling Support

Over the past couple weeks I've been interviewing moms and dads on behalf of a local startup organization aimed at helping parents connect. Several have mentioned putting a priority on helping build relationships & support between their kids, which I just love.

One family has scaled down extracurricular activities to allow their kids enough time in the yard together. Aware that she and her husband won't always be around, this mom knows how important it is to give the sibs time now to bond, have fun, and learn to share and negotiate with one another--so that later on, if times get tough they'll have a foundation for mutual support.

Another mom re-entered full-time work last year and has four kids at home. The transition has pushed her to insist they help each other with things like homework, even implementing a policy whereby she won't assist unless they've tried more than once on their own, while she's at work, and asked a sibling for help. Depending on the kids' ages and personalities, this could be tricky, but I love the idea of making sibling support a standard operating procedure for homework.

A third parent talked about how the youngest kid in a family is often dragged around to older siblings' sports games and events, then when it's his/her turn on the field, nobody shows. In their family, the expectation is that the boys will attend as many of their brothers' events as possible. This was inspiring to me, as getting our 2 less sporty kids to their brother's ballgames has been a challenge. Something to work on.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sweet Dreams

What child doesn't love climbing into a cozy new pair of pajamas? The Pajama Program brings that pleasure to kids in shelters, group homes, orphanages and foster care -- many of whom are waiting to be adopted. And it provides a perfect way for kids to help kids through slumber parties, classroom or scout troop collections, Bar/Bat Mitzvah projects, and more. How simple (and sweet) would it be to ask sleepover party guests to bring a new pair of PJs for the Pajama Project, or a new kid's book? (The charity has distributed more than 140,000 books since 2001, along with more than 350,000 PJ sets.) See the Pajama Project's Kids Helping Kids page for examples of what kids have done.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Earth Angel

With Earth Day 2010 coming up next Thursday, April 22, many kids & families across the USA will join in neighborhood cleanups and other environmental projects. But there's a way for kids to help the planet and their disadvantaged peers in one fell swoop: Collect outgrown or underused toys for Second Chance Toys, founded by teen Sasha Lipton. The organization has donated more than 41,000 recycled toys so far and does two big drives annually, including one for Earth Week. Go here for ParentDish's feature on Sarah, or here to get involved. Sounds like an awesome school service project, too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heart and Sole

If anyone deserves a shoe sponsorship deal, it's Zach Bonner. The suburban Tampa 12-year-old has logged more miles on foot than a marathon champ and is now in the middle of a March Across America (13 million steps, he says, from Tampa to Los Angeles)--all to raise awareness and money for homeless kids.

When Hurricane Charlie hit Tampa in '04, Zach was only 7. But he took the initiative to wheel a red wagon door-to-door in his neighborhood (spared by the storm) to collect supplies for those hardest hit. He ended up with enough drinking water to fill 27 pickups, and inspiration to match.

With his mom's help, Zach set up the Little Red Wagon Foundation and began assembling backpacks for homeless kids, filled with supplies such as food, socks, and sewing kits. He's rallied teens to build awareness about their homeless peers by sleeping in cardboard boxes. He's donated supplies to underfunded schools. And he's taken 4 very long fundraising walks with his mom and big sister: Tampa to Tallahassee; Tallahassee to Atlanta; Atlanta to Washington, D.C. (this time carrying 1,000 letters about homeless children for President Obama); and the current March Across America, peppered with "projects along the route to help homeless kids."

Zach does all the legwork (figurative as well as literal!) for his foundation, says mom, from making calls and writing letters to organizing holiday parties for struggling families. Video clips reveal a poised, softly articulate but utterly "natural" seeeming youth who just happens to have found his calling early. "It's been my wish for a long time," he told Good Morning America after the second walk. "No more homeless kids, or kids who don't have the same opportunities as any other kid."

Want to join Zach for a bit of his walk, or just check on his progress? Visit the Zach Tracker or follow him on Twitter. I normally don't think 12-year-olds need to be tweeting, but this isn't a normal 12-year-old situation :-)

(photo: Time for Kids)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mighty Media: Thoughts from Michael Rich, M.D.

My kids aren't online a ton, but we've talked about internet safety and will continue to do so. At times the discussion has touched on helping friends -- by not asking for their internet passwords, for instance (this is one case where "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is right on the money), and never pushing a friend to post a photo or comment that could embarrass him/herself or somebody else. At this point they're probably sick of my reminders that once something is online, you can't control where it goes or who sees it.

Fighting the impulse to phone or text a peer when (s)he should be sleeping is also helpful. I remember a 10-year-old friend of my boys bragging gleefully that he'd awakened his cousin with a 5 a.m. text message. Yikes!

Wanting to learn more about how kids and teens can help each other be media savvy, I asked Michael Rich, M.D., for input through his wonderful "Ask the Mediatrician" feature on the Center on Media and Child Health website. Not only are kids "experts on media," he said, but they often listen to peers (especially slightly older kids) more than their parents. Some tips from Dr. Rich and his colleagues:

~Older siblings can model healthy media use for younger ones: "When an older brother turns on the TV to watch a specific show, and then turns it off when the show is over, he's teaching his little sister that media is used for a specific purpose, rather than something to passively consume."

~YouTube fans can post "behind the scenes" looks at how ads are created to their Facebook profiles to spark conversations with their friends, such as How do they make that burger look so good? or What does it take to make a regular person into a model?

~Kids can nudge each other to tune in to song lyrics: "Have you really listened to the words in this song?"

Go here for Dr. Rich's full response.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Rice & Beans, Beans & Rice

It's hard to imagine my 3 picky eaters chowing down rice and beans for 3 meals, let alone 25 dinners in a row. But that's just what 8-year-old Riley Goodfellow (pictured) did, along with a corps of kid (and adult) family members and friends, to provide clean water for children in the developing world.

On a family trip to Guatemala, Riley was saddened to learn that 5,000 kids a day die from lack of clean water and basic sanitation. To illustrate the magnitude of this tragedy, she spent days drawing 5,000 hash marks on paper. And she set a fundraising goal of $2,500 to build a well through charity: water.

Birthday and tooth fairy money went straight to The Riley Project, along with contributions from individuals, home businesses & local service clubs. Riley inspired a rash of creative giving from friends -- from a peer who collected bottles and cans for recycling and handed over the resulting cash to an adult friend who contributed prize money from her award-winning jelly. Her parents helped, too, by applying "earnings" for time she volunteered at local agencies to her campaign.

In November, Riley and her family committed to eating rice and beans every night during Advent -- and applying their grocery savings to the Riley Project. "You will not believe what happened on Christmas Day!" Riley blogged. "There was an envelope on the tree for me, and I opened it and it said that I had finished raising all of the money for the well! I was so happy because I had written at school that all I wanted to give for Christmas was a well and then my dream came true."

Ultimately, so much was raised when other families joined the Goodfellows in their dining adventure that Riley doubled her fundraising target and contributed enough for two wells. Most inspiring? "One day I'm going to live wherever my well is built," she blogged. "So I need to get used to rice and beans."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bald is Beautiful

Hair is a big deal when you're 15. But for 260 students at Palm Beach (Fla.) Central High School, helping sick kids is a bigger deal. The students shaved their heads en masse this month for St. Baldrick's Day, a worldwide campaign to raise money for childhood cancer research. With each student snagging $100 minimum in pledges from friends and family, the school turned over $75,000 in total to the St. Baldrick's Foundation. Inspired faculty members joined in, too, amid cheers and heartfelt tears.

The Palm Beach students are among more than 11,900 (wow!) kids and teens who have registered to shave their heads this year, says a St. Baldrick's Foundation staffer. Although most events took place in March, they'll continue throughout the year in different locations, with more than 100 scheduled for April.

From Bystander to "Upstander"

Once upon a time, bullying was widely considered a rite of passage that toughened kids up for adulthood. But decades of studies have taught us the truth: Bullying is truly a no-win situation. It's bad for the targets, the bullies, and the bystanders.

The good news? A schoolwide commitment can reduce bullying significantly. And while consistent adult leadership and support is a must, some schools are turning bystanders into powerful agents for change.

Most bullying happens away from adult eyes and ears. But for kids, it's a daily reality. Nine of 10 kids say they've seen someone bullied, says the Center for Social and Emotional Education. They can choose to support the bully, ignore the episode, or support the target by finding a way to intervene safely, either in the moment or at another time.

Confronting the bully outright and telling him or her to stop, while courageous, may not always be safe. Other tactics:

~Tell an adult. If scared to name names, just say "please watch the girls' bathroom at lunch...bad things are happening there."
~Pull away the kid who's being bullied, and leave the scene together. Say "I need your help on something" or "Mr. Jones needs to see you right now."
~When a peer is targeted consistently, be a friend. Invite him or her to spend recess or eat lunch together. Give genuine compliments for a job well done or a new haircut, glasses, shoes, etc. Involve him or her in a positive activity. Teach him or her a new game or skill.
~Shoot down untrue or unkind rumors, to keep them from spreading: "That's not cool."

We parents can encourage our kids to step up, too. Think: What do we prioritize and praise? Is an A on that math test more exciting than finding out our kid befriended a bullied peer? It shouldn't be.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gaming for Good

"Jumbo shrimp"..."working vacation"..."healthy videogame." All oxymorons, right? Not at Generation Cures, an online community that lets kids "game for good." Through the Caduceus adventure game, set in a fantasy world where characters work to cure a deadly virus, young gamers can seek pledges from friends and family to benefit Children's Hospital Boston. Kids unlock a chunk of the pledged gift each time they complete part of the mission toward a cure. The site's animated Zebrafish series inspires youth-led fundraisers, too, through the story of a kids' band that organizes a benefit concert when one member gets sick. Finally, videos made by kids, for kids take viewers behind the health-challenge scenes--meeting and interviewing the surgeons who helped them, for instance, or visiting a research lab. Finally, a chance to say "yes" to some extra screen time--guilt free :-)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Small Change, Big Change

Back in 1994, when Greg Mortenson of the Central Asia Institute wanted to build his first school in remote Pakistan, he had trouble bringing adult supporters on board. Kids? No problem.

Mortenson's mom, Jerene, invited him to give a slide show and speech to 600 students at Westside Elementary School in River Falls, Wisc., where she was principal. "When they saw the pictures," Mortenson wrote in his bestseller Three Cups of Tea, "they couldn't believe that there was a place where children sat outside in cold weather and tried to hold classes without teachers."

A month later, his mom sent him a check for $623.45--from the Westside kids, as a first step toward building the school in Pakistan. Her students had spontaneously launched a "Pennies for Pakistan" drive, filling two 40-gallon trashcans. "They [contributed] something that is basically worthless in our society--pennies," wrote Mortenson. "But overseas, pennies can move mountains."

Since those early days, the penny drive--now called Pennnies for Peace--has grown to include thousands of schools worldwide. Only pennies are collected so that everyone can contribute, regardless of income. Students in the developed world learn they can be philanthropists, have a positive impact on a global scale, even fight terrorism. "Teaching girls to read and write reduces the ignorance and poverty that fuel religious extremism," Mortenson wrote in a November '09 Parade magazine essay, "and lays a groundwork for prosperity and peace."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book it!

By customer request, personalized bookplates are the latest addition to our family shop, Karate Kat Graphics, which uses kids' artwork to help kids in extreme poverty through Save the Children. Choose from a variety of critters (the ladybug design shown, a dragonfly, bird, butterfly & an ocean scene) or go with flowers or a purple-hued rainbow. A sheet of 20 adhesive bookplates sets you back about 5 bucks.

Monday, March 8, 2010

School Support: Thoughts from Ross Greene, PhD

As a young mom I suffered a mild parenting-book addiction, and one of the better books I read was The Explosive Child by Ross Greene, PhD. Greene's focus is on chronically frustrated, inflexible children and teens, but his approach to behavior issues makes sense for all kinds of kids. While not a central theme of the book, peer support came up in an anecdote from The Explosive Child that stuck with me. During a classroom observation, Greene sees a student he's been working with help a peer with her math. Minutes later she turns around and helps him through a difficult transition, when he becomes upset about switching activities.

I spoke last week with Dr. Greene and asked if he's seen much of this reciprocal support during school visits over the years. "Kids support each other very frequently," he said. "Way more than they tease or bully each other." While it's only a piece of the larger puzzle for kids Greene works with -- who need a specific, strategic approach from parents and teachers -- all kids benefit, he said, when teachers are able to "create a peer culture in which collaborative problem solving is practiced and taught."

The Responsive Classroom and similar frameworks can help leverage kids' natural inclination to help each other into this type of classroom community. And everyone wins.

Dr. Greene's latest book is Lost at School. Learn more about his Collaborative Problem Solving approach at Lives in the Balance.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Labor of Love

June 12, 2010 is World Day Against Child Labour, organized by the International Labour Organization to fight "the use of children in slavery, forced labour, trafficking, debt bondage, serfdom, prostitution, pornography, forced or compulsory recruitment for armed conflict and all forms of work that are likely to harm the safety, health or morals of children." The ILO invites kids to get involved by organizing a book drive for children in another part of the world who are unable to go to school, writing letters to their local newspapers that explain World Day and the reasons for it (this definition & fact sheet can help), or making pinwheels -- World Day's symbol -- at school or through community organizations and signing petitions against child labor. Educators may want to use the event as a discussion starter, especially for older kids and teens, on the complexities of child labor, often bound tightly to dire poverty.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Flying High

Nobody knows the cracks in our health care system like critically ill kids and their families, who often buckle under the weight of endless medical bills. Sparrow Clubs USA matches groups of kids -- a school, a class, a youth group -- with peers, near or far from home, who are chronically disabled or fighting life-threatening illnesses. Through learning activities called "sparrow projects," clubs raise money to help with health care and other hardships through community-sponsored service-learning activities. More than just a charitable endeavor, "sparrows" and the kids who work on their behalf help each other in different ways. The primary goal is "to infuse compassion, courage, character and conscience into youth and school culture," says the organization. "Sparrow families should see themselves in giving roles--expressing love, dignity, courage and appreciation to the youth who learn positive life-lessons as heroic young helpers."

(image: Toxiferous)

Kindness is In the Bag

At 7, Makenzie Snyder met two foster kids at the World Children's Summit and found out, among other things, that most foster children bundle their belongings in garbage bags when moving from home to home. That didn't seem right, so she decided to do something about it. Now 16, Makenzie has sent tens of thousands of duffle bags and suitcases to foster kids, often with stuffed animals inside to provide comfort and ease transitions. With help from countless contributors including Oprah and Rosie O'Donnell, she aims to reach all 530,000 children in the U.S. foster care system through the project, which she named Children to Children.

Tic Talk

When you're a kid with neurological differences, often the most meaningful support comes from a peer dealing with the exact same thing. That's what makes Tic Talk such a valuable little book. Written at age 9 by Dylan Peters, who has Tourette syndrome, and illustrated by his friend Zachary Wendland, the book offers comfort and camaraderie for other kids with this often misunderstood condition, which (per the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health) affects 3 out of every 1,000 6- to 17-year-olds in the United States. It's a helpful tool for classroom discussions on the syndrome and on the general phenomenon of transient childhood tics, which are actually quite common, affecting 10 to 20 percent of school-age kids. Kudos to Dylan and Zach for reaching out.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Play-a-Thon for Haiti

Even preschoolers can help their Haitian peers affected by last month's devastating earthquake through Hasbro's Play-a-Thon for Haiti. Hasbro joined forces with youth service organization Youth HandsOn to create a play-a-thon toolkit for kids & families to use. It's a pretty simple concept: Have your kids invite their friends over for a play session (this would make a great birthday party--notice how old-school home/backyard parties excite kids these days, as a novel contrast to the now-dominant Chuck E. Cheese type bashes?). Provide pledge forms in advance, asking them to seek sponsors, just as one would for any other "thon" (bike, walk, dance, etc.). Little ones will need help with this, of course, but kids often are surprisingly comfortable asking for charitable donations, especially in the face of a dramatic, pressing need like Haiti's. For the play-a-thon, adults or teens set up play "stations" for children to rotate through (physical games, board games....can be tailored to age, venue, weather, etc.). The young'uns gather and enjoy, spending 15 minutes or so at each station. The hosting family or group collects pledge funds and submits them to HandsOn by March 31 to earn matching funds from Hasbro. Funds go to SOS Children's Villages for "pop-up" houses (pictured) that give Haitian children dry, secure places to live during the rebuilding process. Get everything you need for a play-a-thon here.

Oh Brother

Excessive homework really gets my goat, but if there's a silving lining this school year, it's that with 2 fifth graders and a seventh grader, I've been forced to share the support role with the kids themselves. Many teachers assert HW is a reinforcement of lessons learned in class and should need little to no parent involvement, but the truth is, in a challenging district kids often do need help. It gets stressful when two or more kids need support at the same time, in different ways and with diverse tasks. I started asking the boys to help each other, especially with test preparation. Although I feel spelling tests are mostly a waste (reading for pleasure, an unfortunate casualty of too much homework, is a much better way to learn spelling), I'll admit it's a pleasure to hear the boys quiz each other on spelling words. For social studies and science the twins will make flashcards online and lay them out upside down to play concentration together, matching terms & definitions. One thing I noticed is whereas I tend to be all business when studying with them--let's go; dinner's not making itself!--I'll hear them giggling and goofing off while they're helping each other...yet they still manage to get it done. The key has been to ask them to help each other only with clear-cut, easily defined tasks. And of course there's enough complicated, confusing work that I'm not out of a job just yet :(


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Playground Pals

The schoolyard can be a lonely place when you're 7, and shy. In Glencoe, Ill., first and second graders can volunteer as Playground Pals who help make sure everyone has someone to play with at recess. Their job? To say "yes" whenever someone asks to play, and to seek out children who look as though they might need a friend. Volunteers are trained (during one lunch/recess period) on initiating & accepting invitations to play. Then they're assigned one day a week for several months to serve as Playground Pals. What a fun way to promote caring and fight cliques.


It's still solidly hot chocolate weather here in the Midwest, but before long we'll have flowers, and sun, and kids' lemonade stands. The drinks always taste a bit better at stands giving all or part of their proceeds to charity. I'm counting on some that benefit the Red Cross this year or other organizations helping Haiti. And it's likely that at least one local kid-preneur will again set up an Alex's Lemonade Stand to help kids with cancer.

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation started in 2000, when then 4-year-old cancer patient Alexandra Scott set up a lemonade stand to help "her doctors" find a cure for cancer. Despite failing health, she repeated the practice for four years and ultimately turned it into a nationwide lemonade-stand campaign. Alex lost her battle with cancer in August 2004, but only after raising more than $1 million through her campaign. And the organization she inspired has now raised more than $30 million for childhood cancer research, treatment, and family support -- nearly half of that through lemonade stands led by kids of all incomes & ages. How sweet that is.