Building Sensory Development in Children

Sensory development is the gradual process by which an infant learns and becomes aware of their senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, vestibular (body movement), and proprioception (body position).

 

Stages of sensory development differ for each child. However, each sensory milestone falls around the same approximate timeframes:

 

  • 0-6 months: Babies are alert and respond to sounds and voices. They also begin looking at their own hands.
  • 6-12 months: Babies can move their tongues around food particles and distinguish different textured foods.
  • 1-2 years: Babies enjoy messy play! They also react to extreme temperatures and can solve problems using trial and error.
  • 2-3 years: Toddlers begin to explore their surroundings. They can also identify basic shapes.
  • 3-4 years: Children can count from 1 to 5 and identify most colors. They also develop social skills through activities and simulated play.

 

Children acquire sensory skills in a progressive manner. These skills play an important role in their overall development. You can initiate sensory play by providing a safe and encouraging environment for discovery.

 

What is Sensory Play?

 

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates a child’s senses. These activities facilitate exploration and encourage children to discover and refine different thresholds of sensory information.

 

Sensory play helps refine other skills such as language development and motor skills. Some forms of sensory play also have calming effects, which can assist in regulating a child’s boredom, restlessness, or agitation.

 

How Can I Induce Sensory Play?

 

There are several ways of introducing sensory play to your child. You can utilize everyday items in your household to create an exciting experience. Below are some fun ideas to try!

 

1) Sensory Board

A sensory board is suitable for babies around 4-6 months and can also be used with toddlers until the age of 2. For this engaging activity, you will need a wooden board, glue, and an assortment of household items. Affix the items to the board with the glue. Choose similar items with varying textures, shapes, and sizes. For example, attach different types of fabric. As your child feels each piece, describe its texture using words like “rough,” “sparkly,” “soft,” etc. You can even attach a jingling key ring to engage your child’s sense of hearing.

 

2) Play Dough

Play dough is one of the most stimulating toys for children under 2. Your child will develop an understanding of how to grasp objects and mold different shapes. Most play dough available in stores contains chemicals that could be harmful to your child. Instead, you can whip up a quick batch of safe and edible play dough! To get you started, here’s a great recipe that is delicious and easy to make!

 

3) Food Art and Play

Feeding a baby or toddler often can be a messy task. However, it’s also an ideal time to have a fun learning experience! Cut up different types of fruit such as apples, oranges, and bananas. This will help your child in understanding different colors, shapes, and textures. Moreover, it will stimulate their taste buds and nasal rectors and expand their palate. Bonus point? Let them squish the fruits to their heart’s content and build their hand muscles. Encouraging your child to play with their food may also make them more receptive to try new foods.

From Banana For Two by Ellen Mayer, illustrated by Ying-Hwa

4) Rice Bottles

Rice bottles are perfect for toddlers between the ages of 2 and 4. Fill an empty bottle with grains such as rice, wheat, or barley to make a shaker for your child. Shake the bottle to help build motor skills; the sound of the moving grains will also stimulate hearing. Be sure to seal the bottle tightly so as to prevent any grains from accidentally entering your child’s mouth.

 

5) Interactive Books

Interactive books for babies and toddlers have plenty of developmental benefits. Interactive book elements such as lift-the-flap, die-cut holes, and touch-and-feel provide a range of sensory experiences. For example, books that emit sounds and light may improve sight and hearing. The die-cut or lift-the-flap features will foster your child’s curiosity and touch as they trace shapes or play with the flaps. In addition, reading aloud to your child will enhance their language acquisition skills.

From Shapes At Play by Jin Choi

By introducing these forms of sensory play, you help children remain cognitively stimulated and aid in their overall development. These are just some of the ways you can engage in sensory play. Visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children website for more suggestions and information.

Artist Spotlight: Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon and her “rescue love dog,” Teddy

Star Bright Books had the privilege of speaking with Arizona-based writer Judi Moreillon about her life, her writing, and her newest book Please Don’t Give Me a Hug!. In our interview she discusses her life as an academic and children’s book author, as well as her inspirations from her childhood and into her career. Here is a portion of our conversation.

 

 

Star Bright Books (SBB): What does your creative writing process look like?

 

Judi Moreillon (JM): Although I have a routine, my process can be described as messy. I write and edit professional books as well as write children’s books. I write every day.

 

Since I have just completed a professional book project that is in production, I now have more time for my creative writing. If I have just an hour or so to focus, I pick a children’s book work-in-progress to read aloud and revisit. Ending a story is one of my weaknesses. So, I often spend time writing alternative endings.

 

If I have new inspiration, I write very sloppy rough drafts. When I can truly dedicate two or more hours to writing, I pick up a historical fiction project I started years ago. I am currently reengaged in a focused research effort for that project.

 

 

SBB: How have your experiences teaching and working in library science impacted your own

storytelling and views on children’s literature?

 

JM: Before studying library science and becoming a school librarian and librarian educator, I

was a classroom teacher. When a principal asked me what I most enjoyed about teaching,

I responded that I loved sharing literature and stories and conducting research with

students. She told me I should be a school librarian.

 

During my library science master’s degree program, I had the opportunity to study

children’s and young adult literature and how fiction and informational books can be

used to deepen young people’s thinking and increase their knowledge of themselves and

our world. One professor who greatly influenced me had extensive knowledge of the

history of children’s literature and made connections to folklore and storytelling. You could say I was hooked!

 

 

SBB: Growing up, did someone in your life encourage you to read? Did someone encourage

you to write?

 

JM: My mother said I loved stories from the very start of life. My father was working and going to night school, and well, Momma just didn’t have much time to read to me.

 

Fortunately, I had same-age cousins who didn’t enjoy being read to so my uncle adopted me as his star listener. I believe he made a difference in my love of the written and spoken word as did my dad who told my siblings and me made-up stories at bedtime most nights.

 

I also credit my third-grade teacher, Miss Schwab, with setting me firmly on the path of

writing. Miss Schwab loved poetry. She read poems aloud to our class daily and every

Friday we composed our own heartfelt poems. From those writing experiences, I learned

I had an innate understanding of meter and rhyme, and to this day, I feel great satisfaction

when I write a poem that captures an authentic emotion, curious experience, or exciting idea.

 

 

SBB: According to your website, you have written many poems that will “never be published.”

Why is that?

 

JM: Most publishers are reluctant to publish poetry collections. They say poetry doesn’t sell. To my way of thinking, it’s a great day to celebrate when a poetry collection or a book written in rhyme earns a prestigious children’s literature award. Sadly, those days are few and far between.

 

 

SBB: How do you use different sides of your writer’s brain, so to speak, to write both educational texts and books for children?

 

JM: For the past few years, the research-based educational texts side of my brain has dominated the more imaginative side. I am on the cusp of “retiring” the serious side and look forward to the resurgence of the playful side. My grandchildren—now eighteen months and three years of age—are powerful motivators for lightening and loosening my writing.

 

Even as young as they are, they have given me enough story starters to last for many

years of writing and submitting manuscripts for consideration.

 

 

SBB: What inspired you to write Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! ?

 

JM: Make Way for Books (MWFB), a Tucson-area nonprofit that offers early childhood literacy programs and services, hosted a writing contest. I had never written a work-for-hire or even entered a writing contest. I elected to write a story for children who do not like to be hugged. At the time, I was learning about young children with autism who preferred not to be touched and the idea of giving consent for the ways one wants to be touched was gaining more attention. For me, the story forthrightly addresses both the needs of touch-sensitive children and children’s rights to body autonomy.

 

 

SBB: What do you hope Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! will convey to adults and caregivers?

 

JM: I believe that the first-person point of view in Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! is essential in telling this story. The book makes it clear that children have agency with regard to their own bodies. They can say “no” to peers and adults alike; they can state how others should respect their boundaries. Understanding and practicing consent from an early age can increase how touch between children and between children and adults is understood in families, schools, and communities.

 

 

SBB: How do you think Estelle Corke’s illustrations help bring this book to life?

 

JM: As a picture book author who does not draw, I feel especially fortunate when an illustrator enhances my story. I appreciate that Estelle Corke’s child-friendly illustrations show three different children demonstrating autonomy while engaging in a wide variety of intergenerational social situations. The children and adults depicted are from various racial and ethnic groups and one character is assisted by a therapy dog. Estelle’s art shows each child’s discomfort when receiving a bear hug and their comfort in receiving greetings in other ways. Books published by Star Bright Books are sensitive to showing diversity in books that increase young children’s understanding that difference among people is both normal and positive. Estelle Corke’s artwork furthers Star Bright’s “concerted effort to include children of all colors, nationalities, and abilities in our books.”

 

 

SBB: How did you come up with the many alternative ways of showing a child love and affection that are mentioned in the book?

 

JM: As an educator, parent, and now grandparent, I have practiced all of the ways to show caring that are demonstrated in the book. All children deserve to receive (and ultimately give) kind greetings and meaningful acknowledgements.

 

It seems winks, waves, and smiles have always been go-to communication tools for

educators and family members. In addition to acknowledging auditory or speech differences, including the ASL sign for “hi” is also important. Some children may not want a soft pat on the back or a cootchie-coo under the chin, but it’s likely most will enjoy an air kiss. Our grandchildren like to sign-off our video chats by blowing us kisses. (The three-year-old is working hard to master winking!)

 

 

SBB: Should we keep an eye out for more Judi Moreillon children’s stories in the future?

 

JM: Absolutely!

Cover image of Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! by Judi Moreillon, illustrated by Estelle Corke

Supporting Childhood Development Through Gardening

From What’s In My Garden? written by Cheryl Christian, illustrated by Annie Beth Ericsson

Play isn’t just fun; it is fundamental for supporting a child’s learning, growth, and development. In particular, outdoor play helps improve sensory skills and encourages physical activity. Outdoor play doesn’t stop at the playground; it can also take place in a garden. Gardening with your child provides bonding time and helps them develop positive habits that enhance lifelong health. This activity can be accessible to children who live in urban and rural areas.

 

Gardening Supports Health

Sunlight, fresh air, and digging in the dirt benefit your child’s health in multiple ways. Gardening supports sensory development by engaging every sense—the sights and scents of flowers, tastes of veggies, and textures of leaves. Gardening has also been shown to improve mental health by helping reduce stress and depression. Exposure to healthy microbes in the dirt can strengthen your child’s microbiome—an important part of their immune system. Playing outside can even help children sleep better at night.

 

Tending a garden also supports essential motor skills. Fine motor skills are needed for tasks like using a pencil or tying shoelaces. Using gardening tools, grasping tiny seeds, and pulling weeds help your child develop these skills. Carrying a watering can and walking in soft soil can boost gross motor skills like balance and coordination. Physical exercise like this is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing illness.

 

A garden can help your child enjoy a healthy diet. It can be a challenge to convince picky eaters to try new foods or get proper daily servings of vegetables. Children are more likely to try new vegetables and fruits if they help to grow them. Multiple studies found that gardening increased vegetable consumption in children far more effectively than nutrition education programs.

 

Gardening can also be part of a healthy lifestyle for children with physical disabilities. There are many simple ways to make gardens accessible. One of the easiest is to use raised containers in order for the soil level to be within reach. Window boxes, hanging baskets, or vertical gardens can accomplish this, as well as tall plants like tomatoes or pea vines on a trellis. Wide walkways of compacted soil or gravel can offer better traction for scooter or wheelchair users.

 

Gardening Builds Cognitive Skills

Tending plants can spark your child’s curiosity for science. Starting a plant from seed offers a hands-on opportunity to see the life cycle of plants. Once the seed develops, grade schoolers can learn the basic parts of a plant—flower, leaf, fruit, stem, root—and their functions. Middle and high schoolers might find interest in identifying more detailed parts of a flower—anther, filament, stigma, etc.

 

Planning for a garden can also help develop your child’s vocabulary as they learn the names of plants and vegetables and read requirements on seed packages for light, water, and soil. Grade school children can create plant labels by writing plant names on popsicle sticks or stones. If you are creating a larger vegetable garden, older children can help you make a garden map to plan when to sow seeds and how to maximize available space.

 

Your child’s critical thinking will be challenged by tending a garden, whether it is through figuring out how to move a big rock or quickly pulling weeds. You and your child can solve problems together by discussing how you will manage bad weather, plant diseases, or garden pests.

From A Garden for Groundhog by Lorna Balian

 

Get Your Garden Started

Gardening doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or take up a lot of space; but it does require a little planning. First, consider the needs of your family and the age of your child(ren). With toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary-aged children, avoid plants that may be dangerous if touched or ingested. Young children may delight in the reward of quick-sprouting seeds like peas, lettuce, and beans. Children in middle and high school may enjoy seeing a flower bloom or a vegetable ripen after weeks of anticipation.

 

If you have a big yard, in-ground garden beds are a great option, but smaller spaces like patios can host beautiful container gardens. Urban families with limited outdoor space may be able to use hanging baskets, window boxes, rooftop space, or even plant an herb garden on a windowsill. Many cities offer community garden plots where anyone can volunteer. If you aren’t sure what to plant or how to care for plants, most regions in the US have an extension office with gardening experts who can give you advice.

 

Whether your garden fills an acre or a couple pots on your front steps, it will provide your child countless opportunities to grow and develop as you nurture nature together.

Creating A Cultural Learning Experience Through Vacation

The arrival of summer means planning family vacations! Although the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly reduced travel options, around 42 percent of Americans are cautiously optimistic about 2021 vacation plans. Small family vacation trips adhering to the CDC safety guidelines are definitely a possibility!

 

A family vacation can be a fascinating learning experience for children through cultural immersion. A 2019 survey by the US Travel Association revealed that 55 percent of Americans traveled in order to learn something new about a place, culture, or history, and 85 percent said they planned trips with the intention of creating an exciting experience for their children. With the US increase in cultural diversity, the need for cultural understanding through vacationing has also augmented as more families opt to teach their children about different heritages and cultures.

 

What are the benefits of a cultural immersion trip?

 

There are several different benefits of taking children on a culturally focused vacation!

From Alicia’s Happy Day, written by Meg Starr, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

 

1) Cultural Saturation
By the age of 3 or 4, children are aware of their own racial or ethnic backgrounds. Children who experience multicultural surroundings become more aware of different lifestyles and other cultures. This in turn helps activate vital developmental and social-emotional skills such as open-mindedness and empathy. It also helps children to understand inherent biases and stereotypes and how to overcome them. Through cultural appreciation and understanding, children learn to adapt to diverse cultures and environments.

 

2) Increased Cultural Intelligence
As infants and toddlers constantly examine their environments, every moment can become a learning experience. In an article for Parents, child psychologist Dr. Margot Sutherland stated, “An enriched environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive, and sensory interaction.” In other words, infants and toddlers become more attuned to the world around them and can begin to recognize differences and similarities between their upbringing and that of other children.

 

3) Multilingualism
Exposure to different cultures means exposure to different languages. Experts suggest that children under the age of 10 are more adept at learning a new language. “If you want to have native-like knowledge of English grammar you should start by about 10 years old. We don’t see very much difference between people who start at birth and people who start at 10, but we start seeing a decline after that,” said assistant professor of psychology Joshua Hartshorne, who conducted a postdoctorate study on children’s critical period for learning a second language.

 

4) Interconnection
Family vacations allow you to forge memories and bonds with loved ones that last a lifetime. With a cultural focus, your child will learn to embrace other communities and develop a personal connection with them. For multicultural families, a multigenerational vacation can help foster these connections as children learn about their grandparents’ heritage.

From The Girl on the Yellow Giraffe by Ronald Himler

How should I plan a cultural immersion vacation?

 

Admittedly, planning a vacation in these times is tough. However, there are several ways of ensuring a diverse vacation while also maintaining safety. Some of them don’t require traveling too far and can take place in your own city!

 

Below are a few tips for planning a trip that focuses extensively on a cultural experience.

 

1) Celebrate International Festivals
Most families plan vacations around popular American holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. This year, you can also celebrate international holidays! The Diversity Calendar 2021 is a great resource that includes holidays and major events from other cultures such as the Lantern Festival, a Chinese festival, or Holi, an Indian festival. You and your child can read books on such festivals together and visit nearby areas where celebrations take place. This way, your child can simultaneously have fun and learn the significance of festivals in your community.

 

2) Visit Local Areas
Instead of visiting the same tourist spots and attractions, look for local museums and historical villages of different communities. For instance, the Museum of African American History in Boston focuses on Black culture and hosts collections of historical items accrued the last 50 years. Another great option is the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Museum complex, which celebrates Indigenous tribes and houses one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts.

 

3) Try Local Cuisines
Book a hotel that offers cooking classes for cuisines from a different culture and whip up new dishes with your child! Another great way of assimilating cultures is by visiting local food markets and restaurants. This 2017 blog compiles all the best cultural markets in the US. Local cuisines offer a variety of dishes that will enhance your child’s palates. You can also extend their vocabulary knowledge by teaching them the local names of each dish. When visiting any restaurant, make sure to follow all current CDC guidelines and maintain social distancing wherever required!

From Zachary’s Dinnertime, written by Lara Levinson and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright

4) Attend Local Events
Although difficult during the pandemic, live events are one of the best and most entertaining ways of learning about a new culture! Live music and dances are especially interactive, often inviting audiences to participate. In Los Angeles, a famous music festival called Mariachi USA is held annually. It features performances from Mexican and American mariachi musicians, along with other mesmerizing folkloric musicians.

 

As you can see, there are a myriad of possibilities in which you can help your child learn about new cultures through vacation activities. These experiences will aid children in developing cultural understanding, while also creating memories the whole family can cherish for a lifetime.

Rebuild the Planet with Reading: Inspiring Children’s Books to Celebrate World Environment Day

What is World Environment Day?

Celebrated annually on June 5, World Environment Day highlights the importance of protecting the environment and ensuring that our planet remains a better place for current and future generations. The first World Environment Day was held in 1974 by the United Nations with the theme “Only One Earth.”

This year, in an effort to help rebuild the planet, the United Nations announced the theme for World Environment Day 2021 is ecosystem restoration and introduced the slogan, “Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.” In the last few decades, worldwide issues such as plastic pollution, global warming, illegal wildlife trade, and water scarcity have destroyed millions of natural habitats and have endangered multiple species, some of which are now extinct.

Page excerpt from Professor Noah's Spaceship

From Professor Noah’s Spaceship, written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith

How Can You Celebrate?

For World Environment Day, you can contribute by teaching your children good habits for sustaining the environment. Through education and exploration, children develop a love for nature and nurture other beneficial skills like social responsibility, tolerance, and critical thinking.

Be it an exciting story on saving a swamp from disaster or a somber tale on poisonous waste, books can be influential teaching materials. Below is a list of books that will inspire children of all ages to be a part of the green literate force and protector of Planet Earth!

Books for Babies and Toddlers

Baby Loves Green Energy!
By Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan
Board Book, Ages 0-2
Expertly written for babies, this book is a great introduction to climate change and green energy options. It includes STEM concepts in age-appropriate language that will spark babies’ interest in nature.

Hello, World! Planet Earth
By Jill McDonald
Board Book, Ages 0-2
The latest installment in the Hello, World! series, this board book details different countries, continents, oceans, landforms, habitats, and Earth’s place in space.

Mrs. Peanuckle’s Hiking Alphabet
By Mrs. Peanuckle, illustrated by Jessie Ford
Board Book, Ages 0-3
Learn about animals, plants, and more with this unique set of ABCs! Using vivid images and playful text, this book is sure to engage little ones and inculcate a love for the outdoors.

Books for Preschoolers and Early Elementary Readers

The Boy who Grew a Forest
By Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Kayla Harren
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 5-8
The Boy Who Grew a Forest follows the real-life story of Jadav Payeng, a young boy who single-handedly planted over twelve hundred acres of lush forest on a barren island in northeastern India.

Greta and the Giants
By Zoë Tucker, illustrated by Zoe Persico
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 4-7
Author Zoë Tucker explores the journey of young environment activist Greta Thunberg who rose to global recognition while raising awareness about the climate crisis. This book was also included on the 2020 Green Earth Book Awards’ recommended reading list.

Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas
By Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 5-9
Named a Green Earth Book Award recommended title, this is a biography of journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas who fought to save the Florida Everglades from becoming an abandoned swamp and land for a jetport.

The Mess We Made
By Michelle Lord, illustrated by Julia Blattman
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 5-7
Using a rhythmic crescendo and digital artwork, The Mess We Made dives into the impact of waste on marine biodiversity. The book also provides details on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch disaster and ocean pollution and conservation.

Artwork from Professor Noah's Spaceship featuring wildlife against a background of artistic trees and smoke

From Professor Noah’s Spaceship, written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith

My Friend Earth
By Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Francesca Sanna
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 3-5
A perfect book for any beginner! It covers interesting environmental facts through interactive die-cuts and poetic text, making it a dynamic reading experience for toddlers and young readers alike.

Professor Noah’s Spaceship
By Brian Wildsmith
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 4-8
Written and illustrated by renown artist Brian Wildsmith, this book unfolds a quirky tale of animals whose habitats are destroyed. When they seek new homes, the animals are transported back to the time after Noah’s biblical flood.

We Are Water Protectors
By Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 3-6
Winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal, this is a lyrical narration of a young Indigenous girl’s quest to save water, the most revered resource, from harm and corruption.

What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet
By Jess French
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 6-9
Written by Dr. Jess French, a qualified veterinarian, What a Waste takes readers on an informative journey on issues of pollution and solutions like recycling and renewable energy. Filled with fun facts and illustrations, this book is apt for any budding ecologist!

Books for Upper Elementary and Middle School Readers

Darcy Moon and The Aroona Frogs
By Catherine Carvell, illustrated by Michael Scott Parkinson
Paperback Chapter Book, Ages 8-11
This book weaves a delightful tale about Darcy Moon, who feels like a misfit around everyone else. Darcy soon learns that she is an Earth Guardian and her mission is to save the local swamp from disaster!

Monarch Mysteries
By Claire Datnow, illustrated by Ruth Palmer
Hardcover & Paperback Chapter Book, Ages 9-12
Part of the Adventures of the Sizzling Six eco-mystery series, this installment follows a group of six preteen girls as they try to protect endangered monarch butterflies from interfering city officials and even the weather!

Meet The Family You Never Knew You Had: A Guide to Creating a Family Tree with Your Child

Children might be curious about the people and cultures they descend from. Genealogical research can be a fun, engaging, and visual way to help children bond with their heritage.

 

One option for helping children learn about their ancestors is by creating an organized family tree. Make it a fun family activity! You and your child can work together to visually trace their ancestry, helping them form links with people from the past.

 

It doesn’t matter how far back you can trace the family, as long as you talk with your child and other relatives about the people and places you come from.

 

But where does one start to dig up their families’ history? When beginning your family tree, you’ll have two main options:

 

  1. Create an online digital tree that will store and organize information such as records, birthdays, marriages, etc. There are many resources that allow free trials and tree creation, such as Ancestry, Familysearch, and Geni.com.

 

  1. Or use a big poster board to visually plot each member of the family. You’ll need a big poster board, lots of pens or pencils (multicolored preferred), scissors, glue, and pictures of family members (if available) for maximum visual aesthetic.

Once you and your child have decided which avenue you want to take, write down all the family members you know. An easy place to start is with you and your child(ren), your parents, your partner, their parents, your siblings and your partner’s siblings, their children, and everyone else you’d be obliged to send a holiday gift or might see at the next family reunion.

 

For those working on a physical poster board, remember to be cautious with spacing. It’s easy to run out of room when creating a family tree, with its many twisting branches and leaves. Plan for mathematics: four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and sixteen second great-grandparents. Not to mention all the cousins, aunts, and uncles!

From 21 Cousins, written by Diane de Anda and illustrated by Isabel Muñoz

Make sure to include your child by having them help identify family members they already know: cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. They’ll get a kick out of helping you organize and record it together! In lieu of printed photographs, your child can draw pictures of Cousin Ruby, Aunt Louisa, and other relatives the know.

 

Now that you’ve jotted down everything you know, it’s time to contact any family elders. Call up Great Aunt Dorothy and let her tell you everything she knows about the family, especially the names of her parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Talk to Grandpa José and record what he can remember about his childhood and early years. And so on. This is a great way to bridge generational gaps with your child and family elders. As your child listens to stories and legacies that shaped the people in their family tree, they will simultaneously strengthen family relationships and understand their culture and heritage.

 

While talking to family elders, interesting stories about family members may come to light. What was Nana Rose’s life like after the war? Why didn’t Great Uncle Richard like his job? Who taught Auntie Sofia that family recipe for ricotta? It’s a great idea to record these sessions with family elders (with their consent) so the conversation is never lost. You can even make copies for other family members who may be interested! If you’re working with a digital tree, most genealogical services provide areas to “attach” stories to particular people.

 

Continue to synthesize information you already know with new information from family elders, making sure to plot them digitally or on the poster board. Your child can help write down names and dates or cut out pictures and glue them down.

 

Facilitate conversation with your child throughout this process. With everything you’re learning together, questions (from both you and your child) will arise. Why did Great-Grandmama June stop speaking with her sister? How come we never knew we had family in El Paso? Mysteries come to light that fascinate and intrigue when we start to dig into our ancestral pasts. Even you will be surprised how much you never knew about the recent past!

 

Here comes the final piece! With a visual model of your hard work in front of you, talk with your child about the people you’ve learned about together and the places they’re from. Not only have you given honor to the people who you descend from, you’ve done your child a service in helping them uncover their identity, building cultural awareness, and opening their eyes to how unique they truly are.

How to Teach Children Body Autonomy and Consent

 

What is body autonomy?

Body autonomy (sometimes called bodily autonomy) is defined by the United Nations as the power and agency a person has over their body and future, without violence or coercion. In other words, all people—including children—have a right to live free from physical acts, such as touch, to which they do not consent.

 

Why do body autonomy and consent matter?

Body autonomy and consent are vital to every human being. Learning about these concepts early in life helps to support a child’s social and emotional skills like sensitivity toward others and self-confidence. Body autonomy and consent also play a part in aiding children’s mental and physical health.

 

Some children love getting hugs and snuggles! Others, including those with touch sensitivities or sensory processing differences, may find these forms of physical affection uncomfortable or stressful. Allowing children to express when they are feeling discomfort or hurt and encouraging them to consider how others feel helps them to develop self-awareness and empathy.

 

Many professionals, including pediatricians, believe that teaching children about body autonomy and consent is also an important tool to help prevent child sexual abuse. This abuse can have long-term physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral consequences on children. Child sexual abuse is a significant problem: about one in four girls and one in thirteen boys experience sexual abuse at some point before the age of eighteen.

 

For a variety of reasons, many children who experience abuse wait to report or never report it. Understanding body autonomy and consent at a young age can empower a child to speak up and say “no” if abuse occurs. It can also equip children to disclose abuse if it happens.

 

This is a heavy topic, and it can be hard for caregivers to know how and when to talk with their children about these issues. The short answer? Start simple and start young!

 

Talking to children about autonomy and consent

Caregivers can begin talking with children about autonomy and consent as early as preschool. Conversations about these subjects should change and expand as a child grows. Here are some practical tips to initiate discussions with children and keep them ongoing.

 

Use the right terms at the right age

While preteens can begin to comprehend abstract concepts like “consent” or “autonomy,” preschoolers can grasp simpler words related to consent like “body,” “space,” and “touch.” Use phrases like “this is my body and my space” to illustrate meaning. Preschool is also a great time to teach children the correct anatomic names for body parts, including private parts. This approach helps children understand that these parts of their body are important and not shameful. Youngsters will also be able to use the right terms if they need to disclose abuse.

 

Talk with preschoolers and kindergarteners about who is allowed to see or touch their body and for what reasons. “OK touches” might include a parent helping them use the bathroom, a teacher helping tie their shoe, a friend giving them a hug, or a doctor giving them a checkup with a parent present. “Not OK touches” might include someone hugging or touching them without their permission or someone touching or asking to see their private parts. These conversations can develop as children age; include the subject of consent in discussions about sex and sexual harassment with your preteen and teenager.

 

Ask your child to name at least five family members and adult friends outside the family who they trust and see often. This might include a teacher, coach, or doctor. This group of adults is their “safety network.” Let your child know that if they ever feel uncomfortable, scared, hurt, or confused after an encounter with someone, they should talk with an adult in their safety network.

 

 

From Please Don’t Give Me a Hug!

Practice giving and receiving consent

Some caregivers might encourage—even force—their children to “give grandpa a hug” or “give auntie a kiss.” Allow your child to decide whether or not they want to have this contact. Support the idea that if a child says “no,” the behavior should stop and not be forced.

 

Offering a choice empowers your child to have control over their own body and teaches them that it is okay to say no, even to adults. Give them other ways to show affection—a handshake, a high five, or a fist bump, for instance.

 

Remind your child to ask permission before touching another child. Share with them that not everyone likes to be touched, and that’s okay! Other people have autonomy over their own bodies too.

 

Starting the conversation

Physician Martha Perry suggests using media such as movies or news stories to spark conversations with your child about consent. Having conversations about consent and body autonomy will play a vital role your child’s health and wellbeing throughout their life.

 

Here are some resources to help you get started:

For preschool children

Our new board book Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! is a story about how some children dislike physical contact. This book can help you talk with your toddler or preschooler about how friendliness, love, and affection can be shown in many ways!

 

For grade-school children

Boss of My Body from the Mother Company is a music video that introduces the idea of body autonomy by encouraging children to be the “boss” of their own body.

 

For preteens and teens

The ASK. LISTEN. RESPECT. video and discussion guide can help you speak to your teenagers about healthy relationships, including setting—and respecting—boundaries.

Mindfulness Activities for Kids

From Grandma is a Slowpoke, written by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Michele Coxon.

What is mindfulness?

 

The practice of mindfulness is one that has gained mainstream popularity over the last decade. With rising rates of stress and anxiety across the US, many have turned to meditative and mindful exercises to find balance in their lives.

 

According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is defined as a state of active, intuitive attention to the present that involves observing thoughts, feelings, and sensations in an objective manner. Rather than avoiding pain or difficult emotions, mindfulness equips us with the tools to become aware of our feelings and work toward acceptance. The goal of the practice is to cultivate inner peace that can translate to external relationships with others and the world around us.

 

The benefits of practicing mindfulness with children

 

Mindful practices present abundant benefits for people of all ages, including improvements in focus, patience, emotion regulation, and decision making. For children still developing key social-emotional skills, mindfulness techniques can teach them early on how to process their thoughts, emotions, and actions and react in positive ways.

 

Scientifically speaking, a majority of the skills that mindfulness promotes are controlled by the prefrontal cortex section of the brain. Connections are created and formed in the prefrontal cortex at the fastest rates during early childhood. While the brain continues to develop throughout our lives, childhood is an especially crucial time for these skills and connections to form.

 

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has outlined five core skills crucial to SEL learning:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management or self-regulation
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills

While CASEL has explicitly cited the benefits of mindfulness in relation to self-awareness and self-management, additional research suggests that all five CASEL skills may benefit from practicing mindfulness in these ways:

  • Improved ability to pay attention and remember information.
  • Improved ability to transition between different tasks.
  • Improved academic performance, classroom participation, and interpersonal interactions.
  • Increased focus, curiosity, self-control, coping abilities, empathy, and compassion.
  • Decreased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and disruptive behavior.

How incorporating mindfulness may differ across age groups

 

It’s never too early to introduce mindfulness to children! The practice may also simultaneously ease the stress of parents and caregivers. In fact, it is highly suggested that caregivers who practice mindfulness themselves may be better suited to integrating it into their child’s life.

 

Infants learn primarily through observation; an infant will sense when a caregiver is present in the moment. Try to limit use of digital devices around a baby and learn to ask yourself where attention is directed when spending time with one. Since parents and infants often feed off of each other’s emotional reactions, it’s equally important to maintain mindful habits in stressful situations, such as crying tantrums or sleepless nights. One example is gentle and loving eye contact.

 

These sentiments are important when practicing mindfulness with toddlers as well, but this age also presents more opportunity to explore the vast reaches of mindful practice. Mindfulness can be incorporated into reading, making art, or outdoor time with a toddler. Intentional expressions of mindfulness can begin to be practiced at this age as well, such as breathing exercises and learning to express gratitude often.

 

Young children will retain the mindful skills they’ve learned as infants and toddlers and may begin to explore meditation, yoga, and independent mindful activities. Across age groups, there is an array of mindful activities that children can enjoy!

 

Mindfulness practices to try with your child!

  • Walk around a room slowly while holding your infant. With each step, think about the love you hold for them and silently repeat phrases of gratitude or well wishes to yourself and your baby with each step.
  • Sit with your child and ask them to relax the tension held in their muscles. Take it slow and name each part of the body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes until each muscle has been relaxed.
    • Practicing squeezing and releasing your hand is a good way to demonstrate tension for younger children.
  • Use coloring as a mindful activity and ask your child to color their feelings. Invite them to associate colors with their thoughts and feelings.
  • Blow bubbles and associate each drifting bubble as releasing negative emotions. Offer farewells to the bubbles by saying “goodbye tears” or “goodbye sadness.”
  • During snacks or mealtimes, ask your child to describe their food to you. This can include size, color, texture, and taste. Ask them to consider ways the food nurtures their body and keeps them healthy.
  • Fill a jar with water and glitter. When your child feels distressed they can shake the jar and watch the glitter slowly settle to the bottom of the jar as a grounding and calming exercise.
  • Create a mindfulness kit! It could include essential oils, stimulating sensory objects, a journal, art supplies, or a comfort toy.
  • On a walk with your child spend time collecting different natural items. Take turns describing your findings to each other, including what they look and feel like.
  • Take five deep breaths in the morning and/or at bedtime. Encourage slow, deep breaths drawn in through the nose and pushed out through the mouth. A child may find comfort by holding a stuffed animal or closing their eyes.

Practicing mindfulness with children equips them with the tools to be self-reliant and self-aware, preparing them to overcome challenges later in life. The earlier mindfulness is introduced in a child’s life, the more empowered and resilient they will be. A mindful lifestyle can be refined as they grow older.

Supporting Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander Bookstores

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in March 2020, there have been increased attacks on Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander communities. Many attacks have resulted in death or life-altering injuries.

 

Star Bright Books believes it is vital to support communities in times of distress. We stand with the Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander communities in the US. Here is a link to find out ways to support these communities, in whatever way you can contribute.

 

May is Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! One way to honor these communities is by supporting local businesses. Below is a list of US bookstores and publishers to support. Click on the name of each bookstore to visit its website!

 

California

Arkipelago Books

  • Address: 1010 Mission Street, San Francisco
  • Phone: 415-795-3382

Bandi Books

  • Address: 2777 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles
  • Phone: 888-880-8622

Bel Canto Books

Eastwind Books

Giant Robot Store/GR2 Gallery

  • Giant Robot Store Address: 2015 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles
  • Giant Robot Store Phone: 310-478-1819
  • GR2 Gallery Address: 2062 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles
  • GR2 Gallery Phone: 424-426-7626
  • GR2 Gallery Email: info@giantrobot.com

JANM (Japanese American National Museum) Store

The LEV

Now Serving

Philippine Expressions Bookshop

SeJong Bookstore

  • Address: 3250 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste 326, Los Angeles
  • Phone: 323-735-7374

Siam Book Center

USC Pacific Asia Museum

  • Address: 46 North Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena
  • Phone: 626-787-2681
  • Email: shop@pam.usc.edu

Colorado

Townie Books

  • Address: 414 Elk Ave., Crested Butte
  • Phone: 970-349-7545

Florida

Femme Fire Books

Georgia

Maomi Bookstore

  • Address: 5391 New Peachtree Road A, Chamblee
  • Phone: 770-451-5171

Hawaii

Hakubundo Inc

  • Address: Pearlridge Center, 98-1005 Moanalua Rd. #823, Aiea
  • Phone: 808-591-2134
  • Email: web@hakubundo.com

Illinois

The Dial Bookshop

  • Address: 410 South Michigan Ave, 2nd Floor
  • No phone calls are taken, the owners want the bookshop to feel like an escape for their visitors!
  • Email: hello@dialbookshop.com 

New York

Eastern Bookstore NYC

Koryo Books

  • Address: 35 W 32nd Street, Manhattan
  • Phone: 212-564-1844

Oregon

Waucoma Bookstore

  • Address: 212 Oak Street, Hood River
  • Phone: 541-386-5353

Virginia

Word of Life Books

  • Address: 4113 John Marr Dr., Annandale
  • Phone: 703-256-3444

Several Locations

Bookoff

  • California
    • Costa Mesa
      • Address: 2955 Harbor Blvd.
      • Phone: 714-556-1521
    • Gardena
      • Address: Pacific Square Mall, 1610 W Redondo Beach Blvd. #E8
      • Phone: 310-532-5010
    • Lakewood
      • Address: Lakewood Center Mall
      • Phone: 562-634-6000
    • San Diego
      • Address: 4240 Kearny Mesa Rd. #128
      • Phone: 858-627-9600
    • Torrance
      • Address: 21712 Hawthorne Blvd.
      • Phone: 310-214-4800
    • Westminster
      • Address: 1025 Westminster Mall
      • Phone: 714-897-1800
  • Hawaii
    • Aiea
      • Address: 98-1005 Moanalua Rd. #860
      • Phone: 808-485-0841
    • Honolulu
      • Address: 716-A Cooke St.
      • Phone: 808-952-9115 
  • New York
    • Address: 49 W 45th St.
    • Phone: 212-685-1410

Kinokuniya USA

  • Illinois
  • New Jersey
  • New York

Online Only

Unraveling the Monarch Butterfly Migration Mystery

Monarch butterflies at Gulf State Park, Alabama, on the fall migration south. (Photo by Boris Datnow)

Guest Written by Author Claire Datnow.

 

It’s one of nature’s biggest mysteries. Every year, a super generation of monarch butterflies—which lives eight months longer than other generations of monarchs—migrates to one specific location: the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, nestled in the majestic oyamel fir forests in the central mountains of Mexico. As many as one million butterflies from wide areas of North America fly to the reserve, a place that they’ve never seen. The trees seem to turn orange, branches bending under the collective weight of thousands of monarch butterflies.

 

In my book Adventures of the Sizzling Six: Monarch Mysteries, jovial science teacher Mr. Ernie Fix describes this phenomenon to his class:

 

‘The monarchs will live here [at the Biosphere Reserve] until the spring comes and mating can begin,’ Mr. Fix says. ‘They must wait for spring when the milkweed starts to grow in the United States and southern Canada. The milkweed provides a place for monarchs to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch into caterpillars, they will feed only on milkweed and no other plant.’

 

Monarchs make the trip to the reserve once in their lives, some navigating as much as three thousand miles to a tiny point on a map. For more than ten thousand years, these monarchs, each weighing no more a paper clip, have traveled without a map, a compass, or GPS. How do they know where to go?

 

Scientists have devoted years to studying monarchs, unraveling part of this mystery: these butterflies are guided by the position of the sun. It’s pretty miraculous if you think of the monarchs as tiny, orange solar compasses with wings.

 

After wintering in the mountains for eight months, when the temperature starts to warm the monarchs begin their return journey, traveling as far north as Canada. When summer ends, the monarchs migrate south again—and so the cycle of life keeps on turning, like a giant Ferris wheel, through the seasons.

 

Unlike the migrations of other insects, four successive generations of monarchs are born and die within two to three weeks along the way. The fourth generation to hatch, known as the super generation, is bigger than the previous three generations and can survive for eight months in the mountains.

 

The monarch butterfly isn’t just fascinating—it’s essential. Without pollinators like monarchs our agriculture and food system would collapse. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (UFWS) estimates the North American monarch population has dropped over 90 percent since the 1990s. In December 2020, the UFWS announced that listing monarchs as a threatened and endangered species is “warranted but precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions.”

 

One conservation concern for monarch butterflies is illegal logging in the reserve that destroys their winter habitat. Their food sources are also disappearing in the US because some farmers consider milkweed a weed and spray it with insecticides.

 

It’s now more important than ever for us to protect these natural wonders! The best thing we can do is plant native milkweed. It’s a great way to learn about nature. Click here for other conservation tips.

 

Teachers and Educators: Visit my website for a FREE handout with role-playing cards featuring characters from Monarch Mysteries.