Diversity in the Classroom

Whether it be in your classroom or your home, it’s not always easy to start difficult conversations or clarify confusing times for children. But the best conversations can begin with a story. They are a great way to expose children to different narratives and teach them about people outside of their immediate family. Having a diverse range of books can be a powerful tool in teaching children about tolerance and acceptance, all the while celebrating uniqueness and individuality. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of books to help begin important discussions, not only about race, but also about inclusion, diversity and the differences that make us special.


Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions and the whole community gathers to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

 

 

Lily and Salma are best friends. They like doing all the same things, and they always eat lunch together. Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus-but what’s that between friends? It turns out, a lot. Before they know it, a food fight breaks out. Can Lily and Salma put aside their differences? Or will a sandwich come between them? The smallest things can pull us apart-until we learn that friendship is far more powerful than difference. 

 

Big, small, curly, straight, loud, quiet, smooth, wrinkly. Lovely explores a world of differences that all add up to the same thing: we are all lovely! The simple, minimal text shows opposites: “black”—represented by a white woman in all black, “white”—a black woman with white hair, but includes them all under the umbrella of “lovely.”

 

 

With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab, a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.

 

“Like the sun, I’m here to shine,” the rhyming text begins, and each page that follows offers an affirmation of all the strength, talent, and promise that young girls have within them. While praising their inherent strengths and virtues, the text also encourages girls to show kindness, to be fighters, and to accept their fellow female for who she is and embrace all the unique qualities that make her that way. And no matter what, to know that no matter what the world expects of her or tells her she must be, she needs only to remind herself of the truth: “I am enough.”

Skin Like Mine is a fun and creative way to address and celebrate diversity among young children. It emphasizes the importance of not only accepting others, but accepting and loving yourself. This story compares skin colors with foods instead of with other people. From brownies, cakes, and caramel, this book is a lighthearted way of breaking the barrier down when talking about different skin colors and loving the body we were given.

 

The story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language – Cree – he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again. This sensitive and warmly illustrated picture book explores the inter-generational impact of the residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families.

Nate has a tough decision to make. Purim, a Jewish holiday, celebrated in part by the wearing of costumes, is coming up, and Nate has to decide between being an alien, his all-time favorite thing, or being a superhero like the rest of the boys in his class. He wants to fit in with his friends, but he really wants to be an alien. With the help of his two dads and his sister, he comes up with a costume that works for him. One of his dads shares the story of Queen Esther to help Nate see the value in being who you really are, even if it’s different from other people. Through the support of his family, Nate decides to be both brave, like a superhero, and original, like himself, to become a “super alien.” A really nice picture book about self-expression.

Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When Daddy steps in to style it for an extra special occasion, he has a lot to learn. But he LOVES his Zuri, and he’ll do anything to make her, and her hair happy. Tender and empowering, Hair Love is an ode to loving your natural hair and a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere.

 

 

Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday — his first day of freedom.

Elliot lives in America, and Kailash lives in India. They are pen pals. By exchanging letters and pictures, they learn that they both love to climb trees, have pets, and go to school. Their worlds might look different, but they are actually similar. Same, same. But different!

 

 

A neighborhood cat observes the changes in German and Jewish families in its town during the period leading up to the Night of Broken Glass – that becomes the true beginning of the Holocaust. This cats-eye view introduces the Holocaust to children in a gentle way that can open discussion of this period.

 

The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she? Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.

These children and animals are all very different to each other. Some are big, some are small. Some are gentle, some are rough. Everyone is playful, but who’s the best at hiding? One thing’s certain: they all love a good bedtime story! The perfect picture book for little ones who are just beginning to make sense of their place in the world.

 

A timely book about how it feels to be teased and taunted, and how each of us is sweet and lovely and delicious on the inside, no matter how we look.The boy is teased for looking different than the other kids. His skin is darker, his hair curlier. He tells his mother he wishes he could be more like everyone else. And she helps him to see how beautiful he really, truly is.

 

 

Once a skinny and weak child, Gino Bartali rose to become a Tour de France champion and one of cycling’s greatest stars. But all that seemed unimportant when his country came under the grip of a brutal dictator and entered World War II on the side of Nazi Germany. Bartali might have appeared a mere bystander to the harassment and hatred directed toward Italy’s Jewish people, but secretly he accepted a role in a dangerous plan to help them. Putting his own life at risk, Bartali used his speed and endurance on a bike to deliver documents Jewish people needed to escape harm. His inspiring story reveals how one person could make a difference against violence and prejudice during the time of the Holocaust.

By the door there is an umbrella. It is big. It is so big that when it starts to rain there is room for everyone underneath. It doesn’t matter if you are tall. Or plaid. Or hairy. It doesn’t matter how many legs you have. Don’t worry that there won’t be enough room under the umbrella. Because there will always be room. A timeless picture book about acceptance.

 

Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.

Noah is different. He sees, hears, feels, and thinks in ways that other people don’t always understand, and he asks a lot of questions along the way. Noah loves science, especially the weather. His books usually provide him with the answers he needs, until one day, there’s one question they don’t answer—and that is where Noah’s windy adventure begins.This book celebrates the inquisitive nature of all children, including those on the autism spectrum, who cannot stop asking a question until an answer has been unearthed. The book contains a page of information for parents, caregivers, and educators about the importance of helping children feel good about their differences and know that being different is okay.

A young boy dreads his visits to his grandfather. They don’t share a language, so their time together is strained, awkward, and silent. Until they discover a shared love of drawing. Together, they find a common language through art. Drawn Together shows that meaningful relationships are possible even across communication barriers, and as their illustration styles start to blend together, it shows the connections they’ve made without words.

 

The Family Book celebrates the love we feel for our families and all the different varieties they come in. Whether you have two moms or two dads, a big family or a small family, a clean family or a messy one, Todd Parr assures readers that no matter what kind of family you have, every family is special in its own unique way.

 

 

The journey starts on a sunny day in New York City and ends on a beautiful San Francisco night, with stops in Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, Cape Town, Cairo, Beijing, and Tokyo. These friendly babies welcome us to their cities with delightful greetings in their original languages (with English translations) in a simple narration that will appeal to any global mini citizen.

 

Lucky Me invites readers on a journey around the world to explore life’s simplest, yet often overlooked treasures. Pages come alive with a series of evocative, gratitude-filled messages, accompanied by Thank-yous translated into various languages, emphasizing global diversity.

 

Is there anything more splendid than a baby’s skin? Cocoa-brown, cinnamon, peaches and cream. As children grow, their clever skin does, too, enjoying hugs and tickles, protecting them inside and out, and making them one of a kind. Fran Manushkin’s rollicking text and Lauren Tobia’s delicious illustrations paint a breezy and irresistible picture of the human family — and how wonderful it is to be just who you are.

 

Seven-year-old Lena is going to paint a picture of herself. She wants to use brown paint for her skin. But when she and her mother take a walk through the neighborhood, Lena learns that brown comes in many different shades. Through the eyes of a little girl who begins to see her familiar world in a new way, this book celebrates the differences and similarities that connect all people.

 

 

With its heartfelt message and colorfully whimsical illustrations, “Our Class is a Family” is a book that will help build and strengthen that class community. Kids learn that their classroom is a place where it’s safe to be themselves, it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s important to be a friend to others. When hearing this story being read aloud by their teacher, students are sure to feel like they are part of a special family.

 

 

Carl is an earthworm. He spends his days happily tunneling in the soil until a field mouse asks him a simple question that stops him short: “Why?” Carl’s quest takes him on an adventure to meet all the animals of the forest, each of whom seems to know exactly what they were put on this earth to do, unlike the curious Carl. But it’s not until the world around him has changed that Carl begins to realize everyone, no matter how small, makes a big difference just by being themselves.

Today is Pet Club day. There will be cats and dogs and fish, but strictly no elephants are allowed. The Pet Club doesn’t understand that pets come in all shapes and sizes, just like friends. Now it is time for a boy and his tiny pet elephant to show them what it means to be a true friend. A sweet story of friendship, acceptance, and inclusion.

 


Celebrating all that makes us unique and different, Skin Again offers new ways to talk about race and identity. Race matters, but only so much–what’s most important is who we are on the inside. Looking beyond skin, going straight to the heart, we find in each other the treasures stored down deep. Learning to cherish those treasures, to be all we imagine ourselves to be, makes us free.

I can’t do it – YET!

Nurturing a Growth Mindset in the Classroom

Hello everyone – happy Monday! I wanted to share my latest poem with you.

Yes, I Can! was inspired by a lot of self-defeating comments I’ve come to hear over the last 18 years teaching. Truthfully, if I had a nickel every time I heard a student say I can’t do it, I’d be off on a yacht somewhere right now (nah, maybe not – I get sea sick). Joking aside, the reality is that none of us are perfect. None of us can do everything. And sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we still don’t master various things – and that’s okay, at least we tried.

It’s when students give up before they even try that it’s NOT OKAY. That’s the point I’ve been trying to make with my students last week. Yes, some things are hard. Some tasks will challenge us. But the attitude we have toward challenges is what determines the outcome. It is this mindset, over time, that will shape and condition our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. Our mindset consists of our thoughts and attitudes toward ourselves and the world around us. These beliefs shape how we perceive and handle everyday situations. Do we look at challenges as opportunities to grow or do we fall prey to self-defeating thoughts? 

Yes, I Can! is a poem I wrote that celebrates what children can do, as well as embraces that which they cannot, yet, do. Teaching children to have a “Growth Mindset” is crucial in helping them become better learners. After all, in order to succeed at anything, we must persist and push ourselves forward, despite the challenges. Positive self-talk is what helps children persevere and not give up. Yes, I Can! encourages children to adopt positive self-talk. Instead of focusing on ‘I can’t do it!’, it re-frames their thinking, ‘I can’t do it, yet!’

Along with the poem, I created a follow-up worksheet (rehearsing high-frequency word can) and a mini-book that is co-authored with me (my students were thrilled with the idea). It invites students to fill in a missing high-frequency word, as well as add a skill or task they can complete successfully, as well another skill they aspire to learn, reminding them that their mindset is the only thing in the way.

Yes, I Can! by Lora Rozler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on work found at www.lorarozler.com

In all the excitement to teach children that our mindset is not a fixed state, I created a visual anchor for the classroom. Feel free to download a copy for your personal use by clicking on the image below.

To download a copy of the poem, Yes, I Can!  along with the follow-up activities, click on the image below. 

Wishing you a fabulous week ahead!

Lora

WORDS HURT!

Whoever said sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me surely didn’t know what they were talking about!
WORDS HURT!

Bones heal, but left unchecked, the pain caused by words can linger for years.


We can all relate, I’m sure!

A word uttered that stayed with us too long. A word spoken we wish we could take back. A word unsaid we yearned had come to life. Whether we heard it, spoke it, or wished it to be said, one thing is for sure – words, or lack thereof, have a profound impact on our well-being and the way we see ourselves in relation to the world.
Words can build and shape our self-esteem or just as easily tear us apart. The world can be seen as a loving place or the world can seem cruel.

What takes only seconds to utter can leave an imprint for a lifetime.

Over the last couple of weeks it became my goal to share this message with my students. We read many books about friendship, kindness and the power of words, beginning with my very own picture book, Words. Since its original publication in 2015, I have had the pleasure of speaking with many parents and educators who used the book to springboard discussions with children around its various themes: belonging, fitting-in, bullying, friendship, making positive choices, character education, growth mindset, building a community, empowering others, etc. This list is not exhaustive -depending on the angle and your students’ age group, Words can be used to build on many important learning skills and themes.

I’m happy to share these ideas with you in my updated Words Companion Kit,
consisting of classroom lessons and activities, as well as teaching resources.


ACTIVITIES TO TEACH THE IMPACT OF WORDS

Think Before You Speak – Prior to the lesson, cut out an outline of a person (gender-neutral). To avoid race-specific figures, you may want to steer clear
of skin colour construction paper.

Begin by introducing students to their new classmate (you may want to use a number as a name in order to avoid associations with students). Ask students to think of mean and hurtful things they may have heard before. You may want to start by giving an example (i.e., “I once heard …”). Then invite students, one at a time, to come up and direct mean statements at Eleven (i.e., “You look funny” or “I don’t like you”). 

Each time a student makes a hurtful comment, ask them to rip off a piece of Eleven’s’s body and hang onto it. Continue until Eleven is significantly torn up. Then challenge students to reflect on how Eleven must be feeling based on what transpired. Eleven is obviously really hurt. This is where I like to interject and point out phrases we often use to convey wounded feelings, such as feeling torn up, having a broken heart. The emotional context gives these words powerful meaning.

Next, encourage students to think of ways to make Eleven feel better. Certainly an apology would help. Invite the students who insulted Eleven to come up and apologize, while taping its torn limb back with a band-aid. When all the tears have been bandaged, ask students reflect on how the new student looks (better than before but still damaged, broken, hurt, wounded).

This may be a good time to decipher between physical wounds and emotional ones. Invite students to reflect on the saying, Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. What does it mean? Is it true? Can we change that statement to be reflective of the truth? You may want to collectively write up a revised saying and hang it alongside Eleven. Place Eleven in a visible place around the room as a constant reminder to always think before we speak. As a follow-up, you may want to have students write a reflection about what they learned from this activity.

TAKE-AWAY: Words cannot be unsaid. No matter how much we apologize, their damage cannot be reversed. Though band-aids help with physical ailments, they cannot be placed on a person’s heart. Hurtful words create scars inside us, and if we let them, they can last a lifetime.


Words are like a Tube of Toothpaste For this lesson, you will need a tube of toothpaste and a plate. Begin by asking students what toothpaste is used for. Brushing our teeth keeping our mouth healthy. Point out to students that toothpaste is very much like words. Invite a volunteer to squirt toothpaste onto a plate. When he or she is done, ask them to put the toothpaste back into the tube. Obviously this will not be possible. The idea is to demonstrate that much like toothpaste, our words work the same way. When we use the right words to empower others, they bring people joy – just as the right amount of toothpaste does to our teeth. However, if we are not careful with the toothpaste, and we squeeze a lot out, we can easily make a big mess. The same is true with our words – if we’re not careful and if we don’t think before we speak, we can hurt others with the things we say.

TAKE-AWAY: Once a word is spoken, it cannot be taken back no matter how much we apologize and try. While we may forget what we’ve said, the person on the receiving end will remember it for years. Invite students to share experiences and examples of this, and perhaps even share your own stories. 


Wrinkled Hearts – For this lesson, you will need to prepare a large cut-out of a heart and select a book that is driven by a character’s unfortunate interaction with others (The Rat and the Tiger, Words, Chrysanthemum). Tell students that you will read a story that shows how important it is to treat each another with respect and kindness. Hold up the heart and explain that each of us has a heart, which holds our happiness and our good feelings.
Tell students that we will pretend that this heart is the main character’s heart. As you read the story, invite students to come up and crumple the heart each time the main character experiences something hurtful. By the end of the reading, the heart will be crumbled quite a bit. This is a great way to demonstrate how our hearts feels when we get hurt by mean words and actions. Invite students to come up and say nice things to the main character, trying to smooth out its heart, a little each time. Students will quickly notice that no matter how much they apologize and flatten the heart, it will never be the same again.

TAKE-AWAY: It’s hard to fix a wrinkled heart! Mean words leave sad feelings in our hearts, which last for a long time. Bandage the heart and post it around the room as a reminder to always choose words wisely.


Words in the Classroom – There are many powerful picture books that lend themselves beautifully to teaching children about life’s many important lessons. Words is one of them. It is a simple, yet high concept picture book that strives to empower children to make positive choices in their daily interactions with others. A big part of life is, after all, based on the relationships we have with one another. In writing this book, it became very important for me to empower children, to show them how impactful they can be. With this understanding, I can only hope that they use their power for good, for creating loving relationships, through their words and actions.

Words explores universal themes of discovery, relationships and the need to belong, with an underlying message about bullying. As a lonely letter that sets off on a journey to find meaning, it encounters various letter combinations and soon discovers the power it holds. It is confronted by two distinct paths and must make an important choice. Words is an evocative tale about how letters become words and words create meaning – meaning which could ultimately build or destroy. Get your copy here.

Depending on your students’ age group and the dynamics of your class, Words can be used to teach a wide array of concepts. Below I have outlined various discussion points and lesson ideas to complement the various themes in the story. Feel free to use them as you see fit in your classroom. Please note that these are just some of the ideas included in the kit. For more lesson ideas and free templates, download the complete kit (link of the bottom of the post).

Building Literacy Concepts – letter identification, letter sounds, word formation, word meaning, sorting words

 

Making Connections: Relating to the Text – Have you ever felt alone? What did that feel like? What do you compelled Little e to set off on a journey? What was it seeking to find? Have you ever had to make a difficult choice? How did you solve your dilemma? 

Words and Emotions – What role do words play in our emotions? When is this a positive experience? When is this a negative experience? Why? How can we use this knowledge to improve communication with others?

Exploring Literary Devices – Look for examples of literary devices in the story (allegory, metaphors, personification, symbolism, foreshadowing, imagery). How do these literary devices shape the story line? How would the story go if Little e was a boy or girl?

Word Web – Choose a concept or idea that you’d like to explore with your students. They can be found in the book. See these 2 pages, for example.
Write the focus word on chart paper and invite students to brainstorm their thoughts, feelings and ideas relating to it. Example:

What does it look like? How does it feel? What is its purpose? What are its ramifications?

This activity may be used again and again with subsequent readings of the story, while focusing on a different aspect each time.

Words Depicted – Words are heard and felt. One of my favourite follow-up activities to the book involves inviting students to depict words in an art form (music, drama, dance, photography, etc). Examples include creating a collage to depict PAIN, acting out a scene relating to GREED, demonstrating SELF-ESTEEM in a visual art piece, making a diorama to show BROKEN, etc. You may want to assign various words to students or let them choose a word independently. Since words can sometimes mean different things based on their context and people’s personal experiences with them, it’s interesting to see how the same word can evoke different emotions and therefore be represented differently.

I should note that it is not my suggestion that certain words are ‘good’ while others are ‘bad’. A word could be neither. The meaning we give a word is often based on our personal experiences; changing from person to person, from situation to situation. Let’s look, for example, at the word bold. On its own, it is neither negative nor positive. However, in various contexts it can be used to implore daring, fearless, impudence; while in other contexts, it can be shaped to mean confident, straightforward, courageous. Again, neither category being straight-out good or bad. Words aims to explore the feelings and ideas that are generated by word concepts and the meaning behind them.

Classroom Book – Invite students to reflect on what it means to love, on a daily basis. How is it shown in our day-to-day interactions with others? Bind these reflective pieces into a class book that the students can enjoy throughout the year. Students love seeing their work in the classroom library.


Apple Experiment

This word experiment on apples was inspired by Dr. Masaru Emoto’s experiment on water. Dr. Masaru Emoto, was a Japanese scientist who revolutionized the idea that our thoughts and intentions impact the physical realm. For over 20 years, he studied the scientific evidence of how the molecular structure in water transforms when it is exposed to human words, thoughts, sounds and intentions.

TAKE-AWAY: Your words have the power to build a person, to empower them, to promote love. Your words also have the power to destroy a person’s spirit, to torment, to spread hate. Words are impactful – choose wisely.


ACTIVITIES THAT ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO BUILD EACH OTHER UP

Character Web – Place all your students’ names in a jar. Invite each student to draw a name and create a Character Web about their selected classmate. Depending on your students’ age, you may want to precede this activity by brainstorming adjectives and have a list of them accessible around the room. Ask students to think of as many uplifting words as they can to describe this person. Read over the webs prior to presentation and hang them around the room for esteem building and to help enforce a positive classroom climate.

Name Poems – As an alternative to the Character Web, the activity above can be modified for use as an acrostic name poem.

Praise Words – Brainstorm a list of Praise Words and hang them around the classroom. Encourage students to refer to the list throughout the day and use them as much as possible when interacting with others. Some example include: “I like the way you…” “Thank you for…” “I appreciate when you…” “You are really good at…”


To download a personal copy of Words Companion Kit,

click on the image below. 


Words can heal or hurt. They can encourage creativity or dampen a person’s spirits, they can boost self-esteem or destroy confidence, build understanding and compassion or build barriers and apathy. What comes out of our mouth can do a lot of good but conversely a lot of damage. Let’s teach our students to be compassionate, to be kind, to use our words lovingly, always to build.

I’d love to hear your lesson ideas and inspiring literature around this topic.

With love and respect,

Lora

Book signing, meet and greet and giveaways

Join me Saturday March 24th between 1-3 pm at Indigo Yorkdale for children’s activities, book signing and giveaways.

See you there!

Lora

Thoughtful Holiday Season

Lora-Mauricio - 0184It’s the most wonderful time of year, indeed.

Many of us now find ourselves singing, whistling, humming along to our favourite holiday tune as we walk around town, excited about the season, the gift-buying, the work parties, often having too many sweets and being covered by the sparkles from all the holiday greeting cards. At home, decorations are up, and plans have been made with family and friends. Kids are ecstatic, the promise of treats, toys, games dancing in their heads.

There is something intoxicating about the holiday season – nothing in the year matches it. No matter your faith, you can find something to celebrate – oftentimes drinking in the joy like a rich, creamy eggnog. But, in the midst of the holiday crowd you can also find pain for many. This time of year can also be a reminder of broken relationships, hard times, less than successful attempts to live the dream of a better life and maybe the empty chairs of loved ones that may have left us too soon.

I recently came across this ad, which struck a cord…

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So how do we create a balance, an equilibrium between the joy in our own lives and the lack thereof in the lives of others? It seems the answer is found in our own communities. Why not find a moment to assist those who cannot respectively share in the holiday cheer. Maybe as we scurry through the grocery aisles picking up all the last trimmings for the our special dinners, grab an extra couple of items for the food banks that, during this time, are often under strain serving our needful communities. After all, what is the holiday season without giving and sharing? It only takes a moment, but it can make a great difference in someone else’s life.

Many years ago a beautiful song came out called, “Do they know it’s Christmas”. It often plays in holiday concerts and festivities around this time of year. There is one particular line that stands out for me, “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” It is a reminder that there is a world outside our window, and it’s not always joyous. It made me think of something we often overlook, especially as we get all caught up in holiday preparations, and that is acknowledging and being grateful for what we have, however big or small. After all, there is always something to be thankful for.

So amidst all the celebration, the family, the music, the presents, the cheer, let’s take a moment and count our blessings, find something to celebrate – whatever it is that completes our little corner of the world.

I am most honoured and excited to introduce my latest picture-book, Lucky Me, which centres around this concept of gratitude, shedding light on all the small miracles that we sometimes forget to be thankful for. I’d love to recommend it to you.


lucky me

 

Lucky Me
Lora Rozler (Author),‎ Jan Dolby (Illustrator)
Fitzhenry and Whiteside (December, 15 2017)

Chapters-Indigo | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

 

Lucky Me celebrates the concepts of thankfulness as it explores the world with a series of evocative, one line descriptions of situations wherein a child (or adult), might be inclined to thank one’s lucky star. The extraordinary book shares 36 of these celebrations, each exquisitely illustrated by Jan Dolby.


Whatever is beautiful, whatever is meaningful, whatever brings you happiness, may it be yours this holiday season. May your days sparkle with moments of love, laughter, and goodwill, and may the year ahead be full of contentment and joy.

Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Holiday season and a blessed New Year!

Gratefully yours,

Lora

My New Normal – Living With Endometriosis

It takes courage to speak openly about our personal struggles, to invite the world into our private space. But sometimes, those brave words are just what another silent warrior might need; to feel that they are not alone, their experiences are not crazy, they are not just imagining things. They too, matter.

Thank you Julie, for your candidness and willingness to share your story. I hope your New Normal will empower another woman struggling with Endometriosis, to redefine Hers. You are one strong, beautiful, remarkable woman!


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Autism Service Dogs

IMG_7012Hello everyone. I hope Fall is off to a wonderful start for you (quite frankly, I miss summer already).

We are once again delighted to feature an article, written by high school student, Kathleen Carter, a teen living with Asperger’s Syndrome. Today she writes to us about the impact of having an autism support dog on her day to day life with AS. We thank her for allowing us a glimpse into her life and sharing her insight.

A couple of years ago when I was really struggling in middle school, my parents decided to put me on the waiting list with an organization that trains autism service dogs. I was being bullied often, and as a result of the bullying, my self-esteem had plummeted. I no longer liked or wanted to go to school. It had also caused some of my Asperger’s-related symptoms to worsen. For example, when I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I wring my hands. I was wringing them so often at school that when I came home each day my hands ached. The process of getting a dog can be lengthy, but my wait is about to come to an end. I’ll be getting my service dog a couple of weeks after school starts back. While I’ve made a lot of positive changes in my life that have helped me improve my self-esteem, the timing for my dog’s arrival is actually perfect because I’ll get to work with him for a couple of years before it’s time for me to start college, which will be overwhelming, I’m sure! (Photo by Sonja Lovas)

Here are a few reasons why I’m looking forward to working with my autism service dog:

The dog will be a calming presence. As mentioned above,calmDog in a couple of years, it will be time for me to start college. It took me a long time to adjust to being in high school so I worry that being on a college campus will simply be too overwhelming for me. As this article from Canine Journal on psychiatric service dogs notes, trained service dogs can help keep you centered in difficult situations. They “provide a focal point when situations become difficult to cope with.” I think having my dog there with me in college will help me get centered when I start feeling overwhelmed.

He will help me manage repetitive motions. My hand-wringing has been a big source of embarrassment for me over the years. The truth is often I don’t even realize when I’m doing it. But back in middle school, there were a couple of bullies in my class who were always quick to point it out. Of course, that usually only made things worse. While this is a habit that I’ve gotten largely under control, I worry that it might creep back in when I start college. handsAs this article on service dog tasks notes, my dog and other service dogs are actually trained to nudge a child on the autism spectrum when they give in to repetitive behaviors. This nudging helps the child recognize what they’re doing so that they can stop.

He will keep me safe. As this article notes, one reason autism service dogs are so valuable is that they can reduce a child on the runningautism spectrum’s ability to wander. And while wandering isn’t an issue I’ve ever had to deal with, my dog will keep me safe in other ways. For example, he can be my eyes and ears in public situations that I might find overwhelming. When I do feel overwhelmed, it can be difficult for me to figure out what to do to get myself out of the situation. When I’m in reaction mode, I don’t always notice everything in the environment around me. My dog will help calm me down and help lead me through these situations.

He will be a great companion. My service dog will be able to help me in many ways, companionbut one of the most important roles he’ll play is as my companion. Who wouldn’t want to spend their time with a friend who can, as this article from Mental Health Dogs notes, boost self-esteem, improve mood, help in social situations, reduce feelings of loneliness, and so much more!

The wait to get a service dog has been long, but I think he will be well-worth it. While I’ve gotten to spend time with him while he’s been in training, I can’t wait for him to become a more permanent part of my life and a member of my family.


Kathleen Carter enjoys educating her peers and others about AS. Recently, she began writing proudly about how her experiences differ from other people her age. She is so grateful to have the opportunity to write for EducatorLabs.

How Diving In Helped Me Get Over Being Bullied

IMG_6388Hello everyone. I hope you are enjoying the beginning of summer. We have something great to share with you. High school student, Kathleen, reached out to us after taking a look through our awareness-related articles. She wrote to us from Educator Labs where she is volunteering to speak out for Asperger’s Syndrome. Along with her research there, she is also creating an outreach program to share resources to empower others to overcome their obstacles. We felt it was a worthy cause and are delighted to share her story. 


Diving

If you’ve ever been bullied, you know how humiliating it can be. Even though you’ve done nothing wrong, you end up feeling ashamed, inadequate, and isolated.

That’s how it was for me during my freshman year of high school when two factors converged to make me an easy target. First, when I entered high school I was around a lot more people who didn’t know me and who didn’t understand my Asperger’s. They saw someone who wasn’t like them and singled me out.

Second, during the summer leading up to freshman year and during freshman year, I gained several pounds. I had always been prone to a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, this is common among kids with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome and may be a factor that contributes to the high rate of obesity within the population. Because I wasn’t good at playing sports and I didn’t like exercising, I was always much more content reading a book or watching TV. Then, when middle school ended so did my required PE. It had been the only real exercise I was getting each week.

In high school, the kids who weren’t familiar with me thought I was odd. They’d pick on me because of the hand-wringing and clasping motions I often made and because of my weight.

Soon, just as I had begged my parents not to make me participate in PE when I was younger, I would now ask them if I could stay home sick from school. I even tried to convince my mom to start homeschooling me.

After a trip to the doctor revealed that I could now be classified as “overweight,” upon the recommendation of my doctor, my mom began taking me regularly to swim at the local YMCA. I had learned to swim when I was little, and while I liked being in the water, it was never something I had a deep desire to do. But it didn’t take long for all that to change. After those first trips to the YMCA, I fell in love with swimming. I began to feel better physically and mentally, and on really difficult days it gave me something to look forward to. Here are a few of the ways swimming helped me overcome being bullied:

  • It gave me something to achieve. My mom was completely on board with me losing my excess weight, but she didn’t want me to become focused on achieving a certain weight. So, instead I set different goals for my swimming. For example, I’d set a goal to for swimming a certain number of laps without stopping or to beat a previous time. Having swimming helped me focus on something that I really enjoyed instead of lingering on what certain kids at school said about me.
  • It helped reduce repetitive motions. Swimming regularly certainly helped me get back to a healthy weight. But it was another physical change that helped boost my self-esteem. With autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, repetitive motions such as hand flapping, or in my case, hand clasping are common. But as this guide on aquatic therapy explains, exercise can help reduce those motions. I think swimming and getting other exercise helped me relax a little. I was less anxious and therefore needed to comfort myself with those motions less often. And while kids continued to make fun of me for it, I knew that I had been working hard and that my motions were less noticeable. That gave me a much-needed self-esteem boost.
  • It offered me a safe haven. Swimming has many benefits, and they aren’t all physical. In fact, for me, some of the most helpful side effects of swimming more often have been mental. In an article on the many different kinds of benefits of swimming, U.S. Masters Swimming lists a few of the mental benefits.

One, in particular, stands out for me: “Offers relaxation through the repetitive nature of movement.” Once I get in my rhythm many of my worries about school and being bullied drift away. The water has become somewhat of a safe haven for me. A place where I can just be, without worrying about what someone else might say about me. It has played an important role in helping me move past the negative feelings that being bullied caused me to have.

This is my story, but it isn’t necessarily unique. Many kids with Asperger’s Syndrome are made fun of or bullied by their peers. I want them to know that they shouldn’t lose hope. For me the pool has become my refuge. Find a similar place or activity that provides you the kind of comfort I get from swimming. It will help you make huge progress in getting over being bullied.


Kathleen Carter is a teen living with Asperger’s Syndrome. She enjoys educating her peers and others about AS. Recently, she began writing proudly about how her experiences differ from other people her age. She is so grateful to have the opportunity to write for EducatorLabs.

What it means to be Canadian

In a word


Hope, richness, belonging, open. These are a few of the words some naturalized citizens from across Toronto used to describe their feelings about Canada and their citizenship.

To celebrate Canada Day the Star profiled 10 naturalized citizens, representing 10 different countries. Some were refugees; others came as immigrants. Some have been here for decades; others are newly arrived.

But they all share a common love for the freedom Canada has guaranteed them and the security their citizenship has given them. They place great value on their Canadian citizenship and it has deep meaning for them.

Click on the images to hear their answers.

From Pakistan

Aisha Daanish, 42, laughed as she recalled how she missed Canada when she went back to Karachi, Pakistan to visit family and friends only a year after she first arrived.

It was an odd and surprising reaction, she confessed. She had spent most of her life in Pakistan. Yet, here she was back in her native land and all she did was miss Canada.

She chose the word warmth to describe a country that has some of the bitterest winters on the planet. But it isn’t the temperature that she’s referring to, but rather the warmth in people’s hearts.

In Pakistan, Daanish, a kindergarten teaching assistant in a private faith-based school in Mississauga, realized it was that warmth she was missing; craving. Even the tiniest gestures of friendship, such as a neighbor advising her and her children to dress warm on a crisp fall day, made her feel she was part of the fabric of the country.

“That really touched me because that’s what Grandmas used to do in my country of origin,” she said, explaining she doesn’t feel she can call Pakistan her home anymore. “This is home now so there has to be another word other than back home.”


From Sri Lanka

Tolerance is the word Keren Stephen chose to represent her feelings about Canada.

“We are mindful,” she said of Canadians. “There is a reluctance to succeed at any cost here. And I guess the whole culture is one of tolerance and including people.

“I like Canada. I like its values. It’s amazing the amount of volunteerism that goes on here.”

The 50-year-old chartered global management accountant came to Canada in 2009 along with her brother, his wife and two nieces from Sri Lanka. They left because of the violence.

“Being in a war area there’s so much activity,” she said. “There’s so much negative. Even if you’re not personally suffering, you hear about others suffering. I was affected, but not directly. You’re living in a war. There is fear, risks.”

After travelling the world for business, she settled on Canada after ruling out the United Kingdom and Australia. “I had heard good things about Canada…One of the key things is values…Canada is a very inclusive country. I wanted to form my home base here.”

She got her Canadian citizenship in November, 2013. And it was momentous. “It was the final signing off,” she explained. “That’s it. You’re there now. You’re a citizen and have obligations. It also gave me the feeling that I can really behave like a citizen…I can call myself a Canadian.”

Continue reading

Childhood Thieves – The Residential School System

Imagine!

A frightened child sits beside you, her hand clasped tightly in yours. Silent tears stream down her face, clouding her otherwise golden brown eyes with a pool of grey. She is voiceless. Despite her heartbreaking pleas, you cannot help her. She must go.

Sitting on the damp bench, you wrap your arm around her quivering body and wince as you look at her grief-stricken face – the same sweet face that treenourished your soul for the past six years. Images of her inundate your mind, cascading from one scene to another. The day she was born was your happiest ever. You planted a tree in her honour that year. Will it continue to grow in her absence? You recall how easy it was to soothe her then. You’d hold her in your arms and sing sweet lullabies, the very ones your mother once sang to you. But who will comfort her now when she’s lonely and scared? Will they care for her when she is unhappy or sick? What if she’s hurt? What if she’s hungry? You panic. You try to restrain the fear that is taking over.

You close your eyes and pray. Please take care of my baby. Oh hush, you mustn’t let her see you cry, or she will surely realize your comforting words were nothing but lies.

70b141c03a68de3794d94b7c1ce75c2fIt will not be alright when they tell her she must abandon her birth name. It will not be alright when they cut off her braids. It will not be alright when she feels homesick and is denied her brother’s embrace. It will not be alright when she wonders why you cannot be there on her birthday or why she has to miss grandpa’s 70th. Time will surely not fly. But you do and say what you must, for the choice is not yours.

The cruel rain continues. They will come for her and you must let her go. You gave birth to her but somehow you do not know what is best for her. You raised her, nourished her, taught her, but she is not yours.

A van emerges from around the hills, slowly making its way up the road. She squeezes your hand, a final plea. Ihandn just a few moments the scent of your hands will be all she has left of you.

“Please Mommy, I don’t want to go”.

A kiss, a hug and a swift smell of her hair, your heart is in pieces, yet you pry her hands out of yours. You try to sound sensible when you know nothing you say or do will ever be so.

“I will see you in the summer, my sweet rose,” agony overwhelms you as you watch her climb aboard, sobbing and confused. Why is mommy letting this happen? What did I do wrong? Doesn’t she love me anymore?

Untitled-1You are numb. You wave when all you want to do is shout at the world. That is my baby disappearing into the thick mist.

You continue to stare long after the van disappears behind the hills. Surely this must be a horrible dream, a nightmare.

You look around. All is still. You pick up the discarded doll and hold it close to your body. You weep for the child they thieved from your home.

Imagine!

Lora Rozler


It was a few months ago that my friend and colleague, Michele Parkin, enlightened me with one of her picture books, Shin-Chi’s Canoe by Nicola Campbell. I had reached out to her a few days prior when I sought an Ojibway translation for a picture book I was working on at the time. As always, she was more than happy to help and the discussion that ensued left me wanting to learn more about the Aboriginal people’s struggles. Knowing my passion for children’s literature, Michele kindly offered her book.

I brought the book home with me the same day and as I read it, a sense of rage began to build. My children happened to be playing in a nearby room and and all I remember feeling is deep sadness for those families whose children were taken away from them, stolen from their home, their culture, their life. There was something about the the way the story was told that touched me deeply. As a mother, the thought of having to endure something so horrific is beyond comprehension. 

I’d like to share an article I read online, written by Erin Hanson, a researcher at The University of British Columbia. It beautifully articulates and captures the effects of the Residential school experience on the Indigenous people. You can visit the article by clicking the image below: Continue reading