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."