Shark Tank with Recycled Products

boxThe other day, I came home with a small box of groceries. As I emptied out the box, an idea struck. Knowing kids love to make crafts (especially out of boxes) I challenged my children to think of something useful they could make out of the box. I gave them one condition – they had to agree on what they would use the box for. Excited by the venture, they set on their way, thinking and planning. I overheard them talking about what they each wanted the box to be used for (yes, you guessed it – they were not on the same page). I continued eavesdropping, pretending to be busy in the kitchen, hoping they’d soon come to a consensus. Five minutes later the arguing began and so I stepped in. My goal was for them to present their idea together, but perhaps a little friendly competition wouldn’t hurt.

For those of you who are familiar with the show Shark Tank, you know where this is going.

I asked the eager participants (then aged 4 and 8) to draw a picture of their master plan for the box and then come up with a convincing statement outlining the usefulness of their product. I suggested that next time we had a family gathering (which was the following day, so it would be quite immediate), we could have everyone act as judges and listen to their plan of action. We reviewed what they’d need to cover in the sales pitch: usefulness, durability, and of course, any cost I would incur as part of the construction (tape, paint, etc.).

With the prospect of a large audience and an exciting game plan, the sketching and designing began. Continue reading

Making Back-to-School a Success

Making Back-to-School a Success
by Stacy Cline


In my blog in July, I noted that old refrain “…no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers…”
Guess what? We’re baaaa-aack!

I have heard the following phrase often in the last few weeks: “School is a dirty word in our house.” No one wants to let go of summer. But school is around the corner and it’s time to think about it (even if you don’t want to say it, being a dirty word, apparently) so that we’re well prepared to return to you-know-what.

Summer is often a time of lazy days, with a side of ice cream. School is a time of routine. It’s critical to return to those old routines, so that the first week of September isn’t such a shock.

Bedtime routines should be back in place before school begins, if you’ve been lax over the summer. Morning routines should also be revisited. If they have been sauntering into the kitchen to eat breakfast in PJs, then get back into the old habit of getting dressed first, if that had been procedure. Write a checklist for the first week to remind you of all that needs to be done to get out the door. I will, because I know I might not remember to pack their water bottles or something like that. Two summer months is sufficient time to forget.

If nightly read alouds or your child’s independent reading time fell by the wayside over the summer because of late bedtimes, restore that good habit now. A new book of their choice is a great back-to-school gift. A reluctant reader might like a graphic novel or even a comic book.

Ensure there is ample time to eat a nutritious breakfast every morning. This is crucial, and one of my greatest worries as a teacher. Children who arrive at school nourished are energized and perform far better. Aside from nutritional concerns, hungry kids often have difficulty focussing.

Practice new skills. Maybe they are learning to tie shoelaces, dress themselves or pack their own lunch (preferably the night before). Homework policies should be planned and discussed. Where will homework be completed, such that it is a quiet space with little distraction? What time of day? Before or after TV? Prepare for effective and consistent study habits now, and this will help avoid conflicts later.

Organize their supplies. Assuming that the zipper on the pencil case isn’t busted, there aren’t holes in the knapsack and the lunch bag doesn’t smell like feet then all can be reused. Purchase only what needs to be replaced, and teach responsible spending and good environmental stewardship to your children. That doesn’t mean a fresh box of crayons or a fancy pencil isn’t in order. A few little back-to-school treats might brighten your child’s day.

If your kids, like mine, have mostly been wearing sport sandals all summer, then try their running shoes to ensure they still fit. They’ll need them for phys ed.

Some children experience anxiety prior to the start of school. They might even have trouble sleeping. As a teacher, this is something that I have struggled with. I’m excited, nervous, tense, a bit scared, you name it. Perhaps your child is too. New teacher, new grade, new challenge, new faces…

Remain upbeat, optimistic and calm. Listen and demonstrate empathy by validating their concerns. I can’t tell my daughter, “It’s nothing!” when I can barely eat. Remind them of old friends they will see, and the fun things they will learn and do. Talk about favourite subjects, even recess! Set up play dates with friends who they haven’t seen all summer to reconnect and to give them some comfort, and something to which they can look forward.

Last but not least, your pen-and-paper, traditional school teacher here strongly recommends you use a wall calendar to help your family organize your weeks. I know, you have everything stored on your tablet/desktop/smartphone but a wall calendar is a visual aid that your family can use for reference at any time. Anyone can add notes to it so everyone is literally on the same page. It will never fail you. It will also engage your kids to take responsibility and participate in daily planning. And if GYM TODAY is written down for your child to see, it will take one thing off your plate to remember.


STACY CLINE
Stacey Cline is an elementary school teacher and educational consultant. She is amazed by what she learns from her students every day. Stacey is passionate about reading, and has amassed a fantastic collection of children’s literature that her family enjoys daily. She lives in Toronto with her husband, two daughters and two cats. As a result, she loves strong espresso and good wine.
Stacey can be reached at sclineconsulting@gmail.com.


Check out this article and more at: Her Magazine

Three Lessons My First Year in Teaching Taught Me

GravatarA young woman walks into a school, dressed in a tailored suit, just loose enough to mask her anxious composure. In one hand she holds a resume, in the other a leather portfolio.


“You can do this. You can do this,” she chants to herself, while quickening her steps, fighting an impulse to run back to her car. She heads straight to the office, looking for the principal. Minutes later, a tall bearded man steps out of the adjacent office and extends his arm.

“Hi, I’m Craig,” he begins and the young woman’s shoulders relax as she looks into his warm eyes. Phew, she can breathe again. “Yes, I received your resume this morning,” he explains. “We’ve actually just finished interviewing for all the positions we have available.” The young woman’s spirit sinks; but is reignited as he continues. “I have to say, though, I love your assertiveness and determination. How would you like to stay for an interview?” A smile breaks on the young woman’s face as the principal proceeds to call in other staff members to join in on the interview.

So began my journey as a primary grade school teacher. Continue reading

MaurifullFrozen – Review

Anna: I don’t even know what love is.
OlafThat’s okay. I do. Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.

This is one of the lessons that Olaf (the snowman) teaches Anna in the movie Frozen. This Disney juggernaut ran away with the box office raking in a staggering $400 million domestic and another $713 million worldwide for a mind-bending $1.1 billion overall.  Not bad for a children’s movie that opened #2 to Hunger Games: Catching Fire with a healthy $67M, and then went on to also pick up a shiny new Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.  This all begs the question, what was the appeal?

Well, to begin, it’s a clever musical adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” fairy tale; although you would never notice with all the memorable musical numbers and state of the art animation.  It also boast many timeless sequences that will be watched on Blu-ray for years to come, I’m sure.  But the true magic, in my opinion, is the enduring sisterhood story that girls of all ages just can’t resist.  Even though Disney tried hard to sell it as an action-filled movie, presumably to attract boys as well, they knew that the heart-warming princess fairy tale would win the day.  How do I know?

“Kids, you want to watch Frozen?”
David: “No way! That’s a girl movie!”
Dayana: “Yes, yes, please!  I love the songs!”

Yet both sat and watched every moment with equal delight.  That is the value of skilled story-telling – indeed, a culmination of Disney’s efforts to blend a good fairy tale with modern appeal.  One of the main building blocks was the success of another well-known fairy tale turned Disney film – Tangled.  I would hazard to guess that the producers of Frozen kept those Tangled production notes very close by.  Both are a welcome change from the toy-selling, in-your-face commercialization of the Toy Story franchise.

So what is it about?  Once upon a time there were two princess sisters who loved each other growing up.  That is until the older one, Elsa discovers she has a knack for freezing things (a classic Disney curse).  So as to not hurt her sister, she runs away.  Her beloved younger sibling, Anna, spends the rest of the film trying to save that sisterly bond that they both cherished.  Along the way, she has to leave her suitor-turned-villian, meets the irresistibly charming snowman, enlists the help of the a hunky mountain man-turned love interest, battles a snow monster – all the ingredients in place for an epic adventure in a spectacular frozen wonderland.  Cue the music…

Disney made sure to top off the film with their trademarks: goofy talking animals (in this story, a snowman and a reindeer) who help and teach the protagonist along the way, memorable songs and a lesson learned.  Add a pinch of a love story and a villain and there you have it – a Disney Classic straight from the pages of literary masterpieces (see Cinderella, Snow White, Aladdin, Tarzan, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, The Jungle Book, the aforementioned Tangled, etc,etc.)  It is Disney at it’s best.

If you have any reservations about grabbing the Blu-ray for the kids … “Let it go, let it go…”

By Mauricio Bonifaz

For continued reading about the important life lessons in Frozen, look at these great links:

5 moral lessons from Disney’s ‘Frozen’
Top Five Lessons ‘Frozen’ Taught Us
5 Life Lessons Every Collegiette Can Learn From Disney’s “Frozen”

Someday by Alison McGhee and Peter Reynolds

Someday by Alison McGhee and Peter Reynolds

This story is one that will touch the heart of any mother and child. A mother reflecting on her love for her child, and imagining each milestone with beautifully illustrated watercolor pictures, will draw you in. From that first meeting at the moment of birth to holding hands as they cross the street to riding a bike for the first time to seeing her grown up daughter waving goodbye, this story will keep you reading and maybe touch a part of you that has been hiding. Reading it with your children may offer both of you a sentiment that is only brought on by being deeply moved.

Watch a reading of the book here: Reading of Someday

Mauri AvatarMr. Peabody & Sherman – Review
Watch Trailer

“Every dog should have a boy”.

So says the charming pooch, Mr. Peabody, in 2014’s second major studio animated feature offering. In my opinion, this film outshines The Lego Movie in humour, 3D animation quality but most of all personality, if not commercial appeal. The story follows a brilliant, well-travelled, articulate beagle as he strives to give his adoptive son a balanced upbringing; his primary technique – a time machine. As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless – learning about Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution, King Tut in ancient Egypt, DaVinci during The Renaissance and the Greek army as they prepared inside the famed Trojan Horse. All is well until Sherman, the adopted son, begins school and is taken away from the safe haven of his dad’s home and has to deal with a world that does not have a WABAC machine.

I was impressed how the film could hold both my attention and that of the young kids watching with me. This is a trick reserved for only the best animated features – typically, one of the two falters. I was further impressed by the ease at which several significant positive messages were layered over a funny and action packed tale. I noted clever lessons on bullying, consequences of not listening to a parent’s advice, thinking outside the box, having confidence and remaining calm, to name a few. The one that I enjoyed the most had to be that it’s ok to be a smart kid, to enjoy history and science. I patted myself on the back every time I was able to follow the various inside historical double entendres sprinkled throughout the movie.

As a parent, having a story that not only entertains your children but also teaches them is highly desirable. We all came out wiser, entertained and commenting endlessly about our favourite parts, the hallmark of all great shows. Go see it, I say!

By Mauricio Bonifaz

The Big Box by Toni Morrison

BIG_BOX-Morrison-001-quoteThe Big Box by Toni Morrison

In her first illustrated book for children, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison introduces three feisty children who show grown-ups what it really means to be a kid.

Patty, Mickey, and Liza Sue live in a big brown box (locked from the inside) with all the amenities a modern child dreams of: TV, Barbie, pizza, Spice Girls T-shirts, beanbag chairs, and Pepsi. All this, but no liberty. They’ve been placed in this box because the adults in their lives believe “those kids can’t handle their freedom.” They have too much fun in school, sing when they should be studying, feed honey to the bees, and play handball where they shouldn’t. Parents, neighbors, and teachers are uncomfortable with these irrepressible children, and hope to control them with strict boundaries. Meanwhile, the younger-yet-wiser children just want the freedom to become themselves: “Even sparrows scream/ And rabbits hop/ And beavers chew trees when they need ’em./ I don’t mean to be rude: I want to be nice,/ But I’d like to hang on to my freedom.”

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

love-you-forever-mainLove You Forever by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Sheila McGraw
Published by Firefly Books

With a down-to-earth message of love, a mother sings the same song to her child even as he grows older and older.  Finally he is a grown man and she has become an old woman.  When she can no longer rock him and sing to him, he does the same to her.  A beautiful reminder for every child that their parents will love them no matter how old they are, no matter what they do, and no matter where they go.  Love You Forever is the sort of book to bring parents and their kids together after each reading.