Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Stuttering Support

cc photo: Kate Ter Haar
Sometimes the kids who most powerfully help other kids are characters in books. In the case of Vince Vawry's semi-autobiographical Paperboy, the 11-year-old protagonist struggles with a significant stutter against the backdrop of segregated Memphis in the late '50s. Lauded by both book critics who compare it to To Kill a Mockingbird and by disability groups like the Stuttering Foundation of America, this would make an especially great Christmas gift for middle schoolers who stutter. Or a great read-aloud choice for teachers with a student who does.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Roll Models

photo: Oli Oldham cc
As we nibble our way toward the full-on Season of Eating, I just had to give a quick shout-out to those incredible MasterChef Junior contestants for inspiring other kids to try new foods. This would be accomplishment enough, but chances are they've inspired many peers to pick up a whisk as well. Here's to many more passionate kid cooks in the new year!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Holiday Plans

photo: US Embassy Sweden, cc
With frost on the proverbial pumpkin not far away, it's a good time to think about ways children and teens can embrace the upcoming season of gratitude & giving. Three easy ways to put a kids-helping-kids spin on this time of year:
  • Take your child(ren) shopping for a child in need, then to drop the gift at a collection site for Toys for Tots, a church's or other organization's wish tree, etc. Even more meaningful if kids contribute toward the gift from their allowance or savings and (if instructed to do so by the collection site) help wrap the gift. 
  • If your family does its charitable giving around the holidays, have your child(ren) select a children's charity to donate to this year.
  • Have your child(ren) pick out a family holiday card this year that features art by kids to benefit kids. Check out the annual Kids Helping Kids holiday card line from MAC Cosmetics, with art done by and for HIV/AIDS affected kids. Featuring art done by and for young cancer patients, this line of holiday cards from the M.D. Anderson Center Children's Art Project helps fund college scholarships to prepare for life after cancer. And don't miss our family shop's offerings, KKG winter holiday (stamps too!) featuring kids' art & benefitting Save the Children.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Party Heart-y

cc photo: woodleywonderworks
It never ceases to amaze, the pricetag attached to a few pieces of colorful synthetic fabric once they're packaged as a Halloween costume. For middle class or more comfortable families, this price gouging is an annoyance; for lower incomes it's a real impediment. Yes, homemade costumes can save money, but they're not always feasible for busy working parents of kids too young to put together their own ensembles.

One easy way for kids to help kids this Halloween might be a costume drive -- like the urban-suburban clothing drive our local school district runs every year, but specifically focused on gently used Halloween costumes kids have already worn and are unlikely to use again. A whole school or district could undertake such a collection without too much trouble, passing on donations quickly to a higher-need school in the area. Or this could be a great charitable component for a class Halloween party. Kids would simply need to bring in their old costume(s) the day of the party.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Untie the Knot

(photo credit eivindw via photopin cc)
How young is too young for marriage? 21? 18? Certainly most would agree that 12 is way, way too young. Yet it's not all that rare for a preteen or early teen girl to be forced into marriage in Malawi, where nearly half of all girls in Malawi are wed by 18, and less than quarter finish elementary school.

Far away in Chicago's north suburbs, teen girl basketball players from the elite Full Package team decided to do their part to chip away at the situation, setting a fundraising goal of $30,000 to fight teen marriage in Malawi through the UN's GirlUp program. For a quick but personal look at the problem and how teens--and others--can be part of the solution, check out this video.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tutoring Without Tears

image: earl53
Parent tears, that is. With the cost of a professional tutor ranging in most areas from $30 to $100 an hour, getting help for a struggling young student can be financially painful -- as well as logistically challenging, if you need to get your kid to the tutor's office. Instead, try pairing your child with an older student who can help with homework in your home and won't charge an arm & a leg. Bright, patient high schoolers can be a perfect match for K through 8th graders, while college students can make great helpers and role models for high schoolers. Teen and young-adult students may not have the specialized expertise of a hardcore pro tutor, but they can ease HW anxiety at a much more modest price, usually $15-$25 an hour. Because they're fresher from the experience of whatever grade your kid is in, they can be more empathetic too, which goes a long way. And with college costs skyrocketing, employing students is a truly win-win kids-helping-kids arrangement.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


(photo: phi1317  cc)
Next month my twins start freshman year at a massive (4,000+) high school. Nervous? Probably me more than them. Something that helps, based on my older son's experience, is the school's student advisory program, which pairs each group of 25 or so teens with a teacher who can guide them through the transition to high school. They meet every day with that teacher, but the secret weapon is an upperclassman -- a "senior helper" -- who comes in regularly to answer the newbies' questions based on personal knowledge of the school's challenges and opportunities.

Another way to go is linking each freshman or new-to-the-district student with a peer mentor who can show them the ropes. DoSomething has some nice tips for taking this on as a leadership program.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brothers & Sisters

photo: Holly Lawrence
With summer comes more together time for kids, even my 3 busy teens. I get to see the (mostly) good and (occasional) bad & ugly of this on a daily basis, but one thing that strikes me is how seeing sibling closeness in action becomes even more powerful and gratifying as they--and I-- get older and they inch ever closer to independent adult life. Because we can't live forever, knowing our kids will be there for each other is at the top of a parent's wish list, or at least mine. Some of this is out of our control (see that "independent life" part), but the basic patterns of caring for each other can be nurtured in sibs, starting very young. Here's a nice post from vlogger/social media consultant Danielle Smith on how she uses one key question to nudge her kids into respecting, protecting & encouraging each other: "Am I being kind?"

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

One(sie) of a Kind

Customized onesies are always a fun gift, but they're especially sweet for a 1st Mother's Day. Kids made the heart cutouts for this little T for baby girls or boys, and half the design proceeds help kids through Save the Children.

Not Mom's first rodeo? Try a "peace, love & mom" theme for Mother's Day with this cool T for older kids, also featuring children's artwork and benefitting Save the Children. Happy Mother's Day to all!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pedal Power

photo: gabriel.jorby 
My most memorable childhood Christmas gift was probably an emerald-green 10-speed bike my parents had to special-order. It wasn't ready in time for Christmas, but the picture they pasted onto red construction paper was enough to set off fits of anticipation. I couldn't wait for the freedom and fun those wheels would provide.

But some kids have to wait a long time for their first bike -- or never get one at all. For those kids, Wilmette (Ill.) teen Nicole Basil started a bike-drive organization at the tender age of 8 called Pedal Power, now in its 6th year. Each fall she collects more than 100 outgrown bikes to give to Chicago Public Schools honor students in grades K through 8. A local bike shop donates tuneup services before the bikes find their new homes, and any seriously challenged two-wheelers are passed on to a school where special needs kids can learn bike repair skills. Let the good times roll!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Kindness Pays

(photo credit: T1m0thy77 via photopin cc)
In the fraught world of playground politics, think nice guys finish last? Guess again. A 4-week study found kind kids are happier and better liked by peers. Working with 400 9- to 11-year-olds, the universities conducting the study assigned half the group three simple positive acts per week. At the end of the study period, not only did the kids who performed those acts score higher on happiness measures (which, researchers say, aligns with research on the effect of positive behavior on adult states-of-mind), but they were also chosen by more peers for collaborative classroom activities. Sounds like following the golden rule may be a golden ticket to happier school years.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Heartbreak Hotel

(photo: Sontra via photopin cc)
While this Valentine's Day will be heart-filled & happy for many teens, it's a sad fact of life that for some, the timing will be awful. February is indeed the cruelest month for a romantic breakup. But just like being a good friend is the top way kids can help kids in day to day life, being a caring, respectful boyfriend or girlfriend can turn any teen into an everyday hero -- especially when it's time to end a relationship. Here's some good advice for breakups, culled from

  • Be honest about why you're breaking up with your guy or girl, but not brutally so. Use tact.
  • Think through all the ways the person might react, and try to prepare yourself. 
  • Break up in person! Would you want someone to break up with you via Facebook or text?
  • Rush the conversation. Take some time to consider your reasons and how you'll handle this.
  • Tell others beforehand that you're planning to break up with your GF or BF. They might blab.
  • Badmouth or gossip about your ex after you've broken up. Golden Rule, karma, whatever you call it -- it's just not smart.
Teens who find themselves guiding a friend through splitsville may want to show him or her this online "mending a broken heart" quiz from WebMD. Answering it together is a fun distraction, and you'll both learn something in the process.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Free the Children

As a 12-year-old in Canada, Craig Kielburger read about a child slave in Pakistan who escaped but was murdered after speaking out against child servitude. Moved to act, Kielburger rounded up 11 friends in his living room, with no money or well-heeled benefactors, to try and fight child labor.

Two decades later, Free the Children is the "world's largest network of kids helping kids," says Kielburger. Engaging 2 million volunteers a year -- almost all under 18 -- it's evolved into a diverse relief and development organization, as leaders have followed logical pathways of problem solving, Watch Kielburger's brother Marc, for instance, talk about why building schools isn't enough to get girls to school in Africa.

Kid volunteers are recruited through schools -- organizing bakes sales, car washes & other fundraisers -- and at celeb-studded "We Days" that gather stadiums full of young students. Some 2,400 a year end up getting so involved that they travel abroad on service projects.

But even something as simple as donating birthday money, a piggy bank's contents, or mere pocket change has an impact.  "That adds up to millions and millions of dollars ...for our projects," Kielburger told "60 Minutes" in November. It's a reminder that kids need not start a charity -- or even a fundraising project -- to help other kids.

"A penny is almost like a kid," he added. "People walk past pennies all the time and ignore them ... Can they really make a difference? But when you bring enough young people, enough kids together, then suddenly those kids can change the world."