Taking Action to Stop Migrant Family Separations

For the last several weeks, the United States has been enforcing new policies regarding immigration across the border with Mexico.  The results of Attorney General Sessions' "zero tolerance" approach have included the suicide of a forlorn Honduran father and the traumatic separation of hundreds of small children from their parents during border crossings without concern for whether their parents have even committed a crime or might actually be legal asylum seekers.  The children who, of course, have committed no offenses against anyone, are being held in temporary shelters that are overfilled and unfit to provide them appropriate care. In several cases, children in the shelters have been prohibited from hugging or being held even though they had just been traumatically separated from their caregivers.  The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics visited a facility in South Texas and then warned that the separations are causing "toxic stress" and doing "irreparable harm" to the children involved.
As a longtime educator and a mother of two small children, I have been left speechless since the inception of this new family separation policy.  I have felt stricken with horror, anger, and heartache.  I've been afraid to let myself hear the evolving news about this new way of treating neighbors in need for fear that I might fall to pieces under the weight of the tragedy.  But, I've been unable to avoid hearing of the unfolding atrocities, and there is no way to stand by during this alarming treatment of human children.  Irreparable harm is not something we can wait out or make up for.
For starters, we have to know what is happening and then be able to explain why it defies human morals across cultures and eras.  Today, I finally emerged from the rock where I've been hiding in fear that the next policy whim could try to rip the children from my own desperate hands and got my thoughts together enough to begin contacting my elected representatives.  I decided to share my note here in case it may help anyone else articulate their own concerns.  Please find your voice to advocate for the helpless migrant children affected by these policies.  You can find out who your elected officials are by entering your zip code in this handy tool from the League of Women Voters.
I'm writing to ask you to take immediate action to stop the separation of children from their parents during asylum related border crossings.  This new policy is reprehensible.  As the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics has noted, these separation events are likely to cause permanent harm to the children involved.  Our country and state should be horrified and ashamed.  Seeking asylum is not illegal and doesn't warrant incarceration in the first place. Going further to knowingly terrify and traumatize the children of our neighbors who are asking for assistance during extreme circumstances is appalling.  Protect innocent children!  Defend the honor of our hospitable culture!  Please speak out quickly about how Texas will repair its role in this atrocity!
If you are able, the next step is to donate to established organizations that are already working to protect migrant families.  You can give to the ACLU which is fighting family separation in court.  For more ideas about where your contributions could make a difference, check out this Refinery29 list of organizations working to protect families affected by new immigration policies.
Once you have spoken out and shared what you can, hug your children and read to them about people whose lives are different from their own.  Several beautiful new books that share immigrant stories have recently been published.
We Came To America, by Faith Ringgold, explores the many reasons and circumstances in which families have moved to the United States over time.

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates illustrates the unlimited nature of inclusivity as a resource through a metaphor about an expansive umbrella.

Find more recommendations in this list from last year: Stories of Refugees and Immigration.


Bubble Fun + the Best Bubble Books

We recently held our annual Texas Reader's Club bubble day at school.  The celebration is for children who read widely across genres throughout the year.  This long-standing tradition is a favorite end-of-year activity, because BUBBLES!  Bubbles are so much fun with kids of all ages.  At our party, students travel in groups through several bubble stations.  After several years of hosting the bubble-themed party, I have refined our activities based on what works best and gets the most bubble bang with the least back-breaking effort.  Here are some of our favorites including the tools that we love most.

Big Bubbles
An easy activity that kids always enjoy is the big bubble station.  Students line up behind four tubs of bubble solution and take turns blowing gigantic bubbles.  The only special tools for this activity, other than the plastic tubs that we use for almost everything, are the giant bubble wands.  We have collected several plastic and metal versions over the years.  They all seem to work great as long as they have a nice long handle, so the kids can reach the bubble solution without ending up with their arms in the bucket.

Bubble Art
Bubble art is a super fun station that ends with a beautiful product.  Before students arrive, we set up four large pieces of paper by taping down the corners onto picnic tables or the ground using masking tape.  Any large, white paper will work as long as it has a rough-textured side that can absorb liquid. Next we prepare about four different colors of bubble solutions for each table by mixing several drops of food coloring or a packet of Kool-Aid Unsweetened Drink Mix into a cup of regular bubble solution.  Students use regular, small bubble wands to dip into the colored solution and then blow colored bubbles toward the big paper. We have collected wands over the years by saving them from regular-size bubble bottles.  The results are stunning, and the kids have lots of fun.  We have used these giant pieces of artwork to create posters to advertise the event in future years (as seen at the top of this post.)

A few things to keep in mind:
1. Yellow solution doesn't usually show up on the paper, so it's best to use other colors.
2. Red food coloring / Kool-Aid can stain clothes, so use your best judgement about the age group and temperament of your students when deciding whether you need smocks or if you just want to skip this color.
3. If you want to write a message on the poster, you can write with black crayon before students begin adding their bubble art.

Bubble Boogie / Bubble Swat
If you've ever spent time around kids and bubbles, you know that a favorite activity is just chasing and popping bubbles.  To turn this into an organized activity that doesn't require an adult to pass out from blowing billions of bubble to chase, get a bubble machine!  I especially like the Blitz Bubble Fantasia Machine.  Over the years, I have tried out several bubble machines with mixed results.  I believed, for a long time, that most bubble machines just couldn't stand up to the workload I demand (about 2 hours of non-stop use).  But this year, I made an important discovery: the type of bubble solution you use really matters!  The Blitz Bubble Machine had no trouble putting out huge clouds of bubbles for as long as we needed as long as we kept using the Blitz bubble solution that came with it.  When we tried to fill it up with other solutions, it just fizzled.  The 35 oz. bottle of solution that came with the machine was more than enough for our event, but you may want to order back-up solution if you're planning to use the machine all summer long.  The Blitz brand has large bottles in fun scents like Apple and Grape.
At this station, you can play music and invite students to dance among the bubbles, or you can encourage them to swat the bubbles seeing how many they can pop.  Children can swat the bubbles with long bubbles wands (these come in the larger bottles of bubble solution), fly swatters, or just use their hands.  As you set up this area, notice which direction the wind is blowing.  Kids will want to chase the bubbles, so make sure they have some space to run in the direction the bubbles will fly without running into anything.  Avoid areas with anthills, storm drains, or other obstacles to prevent injuries, since children will be looking up at the bubbles as they run.

Bubble Books
At this station, kids get to cool down and read books about bubbles.  When preparing this station, look through your personal book collection as well as your neighborhood public library for anything about bubbles, baths, soap, or bubblegum.  
Some of our favorite bubble-related books include
Bubble Bubble by Mercer Mayer

What are your favorite bubble activities and bubble books?


Plant Power: Resources to Teach Kids about the Healing Powers of Plants

Listening to the potential side-effects listed in pharmaceutical commercials is enough to make you want to swear off prescription medicines for your whole family.  Of course, many pharmaceutical products can be helpful and even life-saving if used correctly.  But, many ailments can actually be treated with plants that are readily available if we know what to look for and how to use them.  These two qualifications keep most of us from trying simple, traditional healing methods, because we are afraid of doing it wrong.
You and your family can begin learning how to use healing herbs and plants with the help of resources from LearningHerbs.com.  The site offers several products for adults and children that can increase familiarity and comfort with identifying and using plants with healing properties to support the health of your family.  I am especially excited about their kid's book series, Herb Fairies.  Each book in the 13-story series uses a fantastical adventure to introduce many plants and their healing capabilities to young readers.  You can download book one for FREE to try it out with your children before ordering the boxed set.  The individual books are also available from Amazon.  The site also developed a learning board game called Wildcraft that teaches players 25 plants and their first-aid uses.
Additionally, you can print a FREE 7-page, full-color set of Home Apothecary cards that teach users about 16 healing plants and offer many recipes and ideas to use them.

 Kids may also enjoy Lesley Tierra's A Kid's Herb Book which uses coloring and activities to teach readers recipes, remedies, and other ways to use plants.

 To reinforce all the new learning, kids can use the Medicinal Plants Coloring Book to relax while reviewing the appearances of important healing plants.


Ideas for Using Your Instant Camera

I've always enjoyed taking pictures, so I was thrilled to receive a new Instax instant camera last December! I have lots of sweet childhood memories of eagerly waiting for the image to materialize on a Polaroid.  But, in the modern era of digital cameras, it takes a bit of a mentality shift in order to find the right occasions to break out your hip new instant camera and shake it like...well you know.
Check out these ideas that will get you using your real-film camera right away!

1. Fun photo display.

A quick Pinterest or Instagram search will yield tons of ideas for creating a beautiful photo display in your home or learning space using instant photos and other simple items.  Clip some photos onto a string of twinkle lights using small clothespins or arrange some photos on the wall in a grid using washi tape.  When the small photos are arranged neatly together, they will create a big visual impact and give you the opportunity to change out the images frequently for an ever-fresh look.
2. Party favors.
The next time you host a birthday party, you can use instant photos of guests with the birthday child as party favors.  Attendees will get to take home a memory of the party instead of a cheapy toy that will likely break almost immediately.  You can use special films like the pretty pastel Instax Macaron Film that match your party theme.  Another option is for party-goers to create their own frames as a party activity.  Offer a variety of stickers, washi tapes, or small objects like buttons or shells for guests to adhere around the edges of the photo.
3. Gift tags.
Make gifts extra special with instant photo gift tags using this idea from Polaroid.
4. Hostess gift.
When you are the guest at a party or other occasion, you can surprise your host by breaking out your instant camera to take a photo you can leave behind as a thank you.  Since tangible printed photos have become relatively scarce, a photo in hand has become a special treat.  My girls and I recently visited a new baby cousin in our family on her first day home from the hospital.  Before leaving, we took a photo of the new baby with her big sister and mommy.  This special memory took very little preparation on our part (just remember to bring the camera), but it was a unique momento for the newly expanded family.
5. Travel journal.
An instant camera can be a super fun journaling tool.  Adding instant shots of your vacation to a blank book can be fun way to remember the journey.  The opportunity to use the camera will motivate kids to get busy writing about their experiences and will keep little hands and minds busy during long road or plane trips.


Love Stories for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is fast approaching!  I have recently discovered some lovely new read-alouds to share during this celebration of sweetness.

Love, by Matt de la PeƱa, is a beautiful picture book that describes love through metaphors such as "love, too, is the smell of crashing waves."  This story is a fantastic example of figurative language that students can use to inspire their own writing about abstract concepts like emotions.

Diane Adams' book, Love Is, uses metaphors to illustrate the complex feeling of love.  In this book, the touching text describes many of the sacrifices made in the name of love.  The illustrations indicate that the story is about a young girl and her relationship with her pet duckling, but adult readers will feel the emotional parallels with their own relationships with the children in their lives.

Even the littlest listeners can explore metaphorical descriptions of love through Amy Novesky's Love Is a Truck and Love Is a Tutu which compare the complicated feeling to play experiences familiar to young children.

After reading some of these stories, ask students to think of and write about what love is to them.


Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics will begin in Pyeongchang, South Korea just over a week.  This international sports competition provides exciting, multidisciplinary opportunities for learning. Starting with a story is an engaging way to introduce the topic.

Elympics, by X.J. Kennedy is a fun book of poems about both the Summer and Winter Olympics.  Sharing the winter-sport poems with my warm-climate students helped them understand what happens in several of the unfamiliar events.  Other fiction stories that can also work to introduce your Olympic learning theme include Tacky and the Winter Games by Helen Lester and Snowman Paul at the Winter Olympics by Yossi Lapid.

Students will also enjoy perusing a pile of non-fiction books about Olympics, Olympians, and Olympic events.  A few good titles to share are A Kid's Guide to the 2018 Winter Games by Jack L. Roberts, Z Is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet by Matt Napier, Freeze Frame: A Photographic History of the Winter Olympics by Sue Macy or the latest issue of Sports Illustrated Kids magazine.  Students may also be interested in reading Paralympic Sports Events by Robin Johnson to learn how athletes with disabilities are involved in the Olympics.

To get your own copy of the world flags I used in the book display shown above, visit Mr. Printables.  Print two sets, and you'll have a beautiful flag matching game that can be used even when the Olympic season has passed.  Older students can enjoy the more challenging activity of sorting the flags by continent.  The flags can also be used in a large bar graph where students can tally the medals earned by each country.

For science, students can simulate ramps used in sports such as luge, skiing, snowboarding, and bobsledding using classroom supplies and toy cars or figurines.  Learners will have fun observing races using diffent ramp heights and textures as variables.

The official Olympics webpage offers many additional educational materials that may be helpful in your classroom or learning environment.  Useful items include Healthy Body Image videos, The Olympic Journey (an interactive tool that traces the Olympics from its ancient roots to its modern incarnation), and Time and Sport (a multimedia timeline of Olympic history).