Category Archives: children

Dialoguing About Wealth with Children

money

I learn as much as I teach when teaching creative writing to my students. A few weeks ago, a first grader wanted my help writing a play. He wanted it to be about a teacher who took a cheap job because she was poor. I noticed at the time that he was putting a lot of emphasis on the value of expensive cars and on money. I took the opportunity to discuss the issue with my mentor. She suggested I write a play and begin a dialogue about what wealth means.

It made me question what it is we teach children about money and wealth. What is wealth? Does being wealthy mean you have a lot of money? Or does being wealthy also mean that your life is rich and full and meaningful in many arenas of living? The dictionary meaning of wealth is “an abundance of valuable possessions or money.” But is that really the true meaning of wealth? The dictionary meaning also includes: “plentiful supplies of a particular resource.” Could that resource be fun, happiness, joy, passion, or inspiration? Maybe a person is wealthy because of the depth of intimacy, love and caring in their lives. Maybe a person is wealthy because they feel joy from being, giving and receiving. Maybe a person is wealthy if they bring meaning and hope to their own life and the lives of others.

I wonder.

A week or so later, I ended up having another conversation with the same student. We talked about what else wealth could mean. The following week he told me that he decided to write a different play.

What are your concepts of wealth? What are the concepts of wealth the children in your life hold? Could they be expanded?

The California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco is holding a
“Women, Money & Spirit” Conference, April 29th, 2017, from 9:30am to 4:30pm. Leaders in psychology, social justice, religion, and finance will explore money from the perspective of spirit. It gives us an opportunity to examine our relationship with money and take a look at our beliefs around wealth. Here’s a link: http://www.ciis.edu/public-programs-and-performances/conferences/women-money-spirit-conference-2017

Image courtesy ClipartFest: clipartfest.com

Copyright © 2017, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.

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Social Story Impact

comicpaperbackThe benefits of social story may not always have the results that we think it should have or show up in the form we think it will take. What I do know with certainty is that social story works. I trust the process.

Yesterday, I noticed that the pile of blank paper that I had just brought into our open classroom the day before, (I bring my own supplies) was completely gone. I couldn’t believe it. I expressed my dismay out loud. Later in the day, two first graders came up to me while whispering to each other, and then one of them said, “We used up the paper to trace our characters.” (They used it to make stick puppets, and for coloring.) “We will bring paper from home to give you.”

I was moved by their honesty and caring, and the desire to take positive action. They saw the impact their actions had and they wanted to do something to change that. I responded in surprise and thanked them for their honesty and their caring and let them know how much I appreciated their thoughtfulness, which made them feel good about themselves.

I have also noticed that there is more interest in the social story books we have in the classroom, and that generally everyone is more conscious of putting things back where they found them.

Although the missing story “dream” stone has not yet returned, writing and reading social stories together, and then talking about choices and the impact we have with the choices we make has had immensely positive impact. I am amazed and grateful!

Copyright © 2017, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.

How to Write Social Stories

dreamstonepage10There are many  helpful tips on the internet on “how to write social stories.” Most of the guidelines focus on stories that are meant to help children learn social cues and understand social situations.

I have been writing my own form of social stories (or what are called pedagogical stories in Waldorf Schools) for nearly 20 years now. I have written stories about many topics including bullying, teasing, racism, kindness, and recently, stealing. Writing and sharing these social stories with children has shown me that it is really important that the story is engaging.

When children are engrossed in a story, the lesson is more gently received. I might start writing with the theme in mind, like stealing. I think about the context of how it is playing out in the classroom or the household. I consider the children involved in the actual life situation, and I consider their interests and the dynamics of what is going on. I create a main character who has a similar challenge to one that the children in my life are facing, and I create a resolution. The setting I use is usually a village or a world I create that will engage the children’s imagination.

I ask questions about my main character like who are they? How old are they? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their dreams and wishes? What do they hate? What are they afraid of? Who are their friends? Who are their enemies? I ask other questions to, including what really matters to my main character? What do they want? What is their problem or challenge? Why? And how do they resolve it?

As I answer these questions, the story starts to unfold. Often, a magical alchemy happens where the story flows from beginning to end as though it has a life of its own. And it does!

Once the story is written, I share it with my students. We discuss what happened in the story and why. We talk about the subject in context of their lives and in context of the character’s lives. Usually, new awareness, and understanding surfaces.

This is one way I create and work with social stories that address emotional challenges in everyday living with children. When writing your own social stories for the children you care about, I suggest that you do a google search: “How to Write Social Stories,” or, “Social Story Writing Tips.” Here is a link that might be helpful: http://challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/explore/pbs_docs/social_story_tips.pdf

Copyright © 2017, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.

Writing Social Stories About Stealing

dreamstoneWise mentors I know have used life situations as teaching moments. Recently, I brought a “dream” stone, a large tumbled quartz stone with yellowish iron veins and the word “dream” carved into it, to the after school where I work. My intention was to use it as a “story stone” encouraging the children to imagine and think about their “dreams” in context of story.

I set the stone aside on the pink drawers that contain all of the writing journals. I was aware of placing it there as one class left, and the other arrived. We had a lot of activities reading and writing plays, that I forgot about the stone. At the end of the class, as I was putting things away, I noticed that the stone was gone. I searched high and low, moving furniture, looking under tables, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I wondered if it was lost or if it had been taken without permission.

Later in the evening, I found myself still thinking about the missing “dream” stone, and wondered how I could use this as a teaching moment. I have written social stories professionally for classrooms in Canada and here in the United States, but I haven’t really written my own social theater play yet, so I decided to do so last night. The story flowed, and 11 play pages later it was written. My intention is to read it to the classes that were present when the “dream” stone went missing. While we discuss the story, we can also discuss the concepts of taking things without permission, and the consequences of how people feel when something is taken.

There are a lot of good articles on the internet on “How to Write Social Stories”. My method is different. The focus is more on the story, and the lesson is woven subtly through it.

My experience has shown me that when writing social stories it is important not to be too preachy or even obvious. The lesson can be woven into the story, but a strong main character still needs to move the plot forward. If you know your audience well, you will know what sort of story will draw them in, so that they are so involved in the story they don’t realize it is teaching something until it is over. That’s when you can discuss both reading comprehension questions, and questions about the particular social topic.

(More on how to write social stories in the next blog post.)

Copyright © 2017, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.

Creating Plays with 1st Graders

dragonmasktheatrePlanning ahead before initiating a puppet play with first graders is important. I work as a tutoring teacher at a reputable Chinese after school. The curriculum I have created is a Creative Writing curriculum for grades 1-5, drawing on my experience of teaching storytelling and writing for children grades K-7 and my experience as a writer and author.

It’s important to have a structure with varied activity. I started our class with a reading of the play, “There’s a Dragon in the Library” by Dianne De Las Casas and Marita Gentry. As an introduction to the play, I read while the children used stick puppets to act out the story. This particular story has a lot of repetition so it is a good one for first graders to easily memorize some of the key phrases and repeat them together. The children enjoyed this very much.

Afterwards we discussed the play briefly, reinforcing familiarity and understanding of the story. This was followed with making their own Chinese dragon puppets. I tied in the dragon story and celebrating Chinese New Year with this project. I printed up copies of a Chinese dragon head ahead of time. The children colored and cut out their Chinese dragons, then glued them onto brown lunch bags to make their dragon puppets, or onto paper plates to make dragon masks. They proudly named their dragons and wrote their names on the back.

The children were so excited about their unique puppets and masks with their very individualized colors, that they asked if they could write dragon stories and make dragon plays. Of course, I said yes. It is wonderful when the actual writing and performing of puppet plays comes as a request from the children.

Some of the children already started writing their dragon stories in their writing journals. They are very excited. It is very rewarding to see them having so much fun while learning.

Copyright © 2017, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.

Excerpt From Mama, Angel, and the Tree Dragon

tree dragonGrandmother Moon and Other Mother Stories EBook by Vlatka Herzberg and Becky Parker Geist is soon to be released. In anticipation, an excerpt from one of the stories, “Mama, Angel, and the Tree Dragon.” Louisa-May tells her little sister, Angel a story so she can have her Mama all to herself:

I told her a story about a little angel that got lost and was sad and all alone until a tree heard her crying. The tree turned into a dragon to help the little angel. It swept her up on his back and flew her all the way back home to her Mother’s lovin’ arms. Angel loved that story.

“Tell it again,” she said.

“I will, but after I tell it you have to stay here and hide in Mr. Gover’s shed until the Tree Dragon comes and gits you, ok?” I said.

“Ok.” Angel nodded her head and hid in the shed in Mr. Gover’s back yard, ready to play my game.

I went back home happy as a puppy that I would have Mama all to myself. When Mama came home she asked me where Angel was. I told her the story of the Tree Dragon and how it took Angel away.

To read and hear more of this story stay tuned for the EBook release and audio book release announcements.

Copyright © 2014, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.

Illustration © 2014, Natasha Tasiyana Kolida, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce illustration without permission from Natasha Tasiyana Kolida.

Grandmother Moon and the Homeless Child #3 by Vlatka Herzberg

In the days and weeks to come, mother and baby wrestled and nuzzled. Mother Bear taught Sharah Bear how to catch fish and find the juiciest berries. This is how they lived all the way until the moon was full, and new once again. Sharah was happy being a bear cub and having a bear mother but there was still something in her heart that she longed for. While Mother Bear slept, Sharah Bear walked to the edge of the pool and called upon the moon, which this time was but a sliver of a moon. “Grandmother Moon with a smile,” called Sharah. “Thank you for giving me a Mother Bear. I really appreciate it. But I am a human child and would like a human mother. Could you help me?” Grandmother Moon said nothing, but smiled down upon Sharah until she fell asleep. (To be continued.)

Copyright © 2014, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.

 

Grandmother Moon and the Homeless Child #2 by Vlatka Herzberg

That night while Sharah slept on one side of the pool, a lone Mother Bear was on the other side of the pool talking to Grandmother Moon. With all her heart, she wanted a child to love. “Grandmother Moon, can you bring me a child to hug and love?” said Mother Bear. Grandmother Moon said nothing, but smiled. She sent a moon beam down to Mother Bear, and Mother Bear followed that moon beam all the way to the other side of the pool. To her amazement, sleeping in the grass, at pools edge was a child. Mother Bear embraced Sharah and her heart filled with joy and love. Sharah slept all night long in the warm arms of her new mother. Mother Bear slept all night long with her child nuzzled in her arms. When they awoke, much to Sharah’s surprise, and the mother bear’s delight, Sharah was a bear cub!  (To be continued)

Copyright © 2014, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.

 

Grandmother Moon and the Homeless Child #1 by Vlatka Herzberg

Once there was a child who did not have a home. She did not have a mother or a father. She did not have a house, or a people. She was alone. She hid inside hollow trees, ate roots and berries. She howled with the coyotes at night and laughed with the ducks in the afternoons. She knew her name, for the wind whispered it to her. The wind called her Sharah, one who shares herself. Sharah loved to dance in the moonlight by the pool. She loved to admire the stars. One moonlit night she called up to Grandmother Moon, “Grandmother, can you please find me a home and my people, so that I may know where I belong.” Grandmother moon said nothing, but smiled upon this homeless child who had the courage to ask for what she wants. (To be continued.)

Copyright © 2014, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.

 

How the People Learned to Thank Water #3, Conclusion

She dreamed of droplets of water dripping onto her face. Drip, drip, drip. And she heard tiny giggles. “Stop it. I’m getting all wet!” she yelled and awoke from her dream. She was startled to see a sprite, skin as green as olives, hair like grass, hovering over her. Her dress was wet with dew and when she giggled the dew drops sprinkled all over Shenna’s face. All the commotion woke up Brock. He saw the small green sprite. “A pixie!” he yelled. “I’m not a Pixie! I’m a Sprite! Don’t you know your elementals?!” she frowned at Brock. Brock shook his head with disbelief. He had never seen a real sprite before. “Can you show us where a spring might be? Our village is experiencing a drought and we need water.” The Sprite inspected the two children. “There is no village close to here. You must be very far from home,” she said. Shenna nodded. “I will take you to a spring,” said the Sprite, “but it isn’t what you expect.”

And so it is that the Sprite sprang, tumbled and flew to the Spring. Shenna and Brock both rode the old nag after her. It was the only way that they could keep up. When they got to the spring, Shenna thought it was mistake. She was expecting to see water gushing and flowing out of the spring, but instead there was only a trickle. “But that isn’t enough water to help our village,” said Shenna. “No. It is not,” said the Sprite. “What are we going to do?” asked Brock. They both slumped down on the wet rocks near the spring.

“I’m going to dance,” said the Sprite and she began to twirl under the droplets of water streaming down the rocks. There were  times when her body merged with the water and looked translucent. Brock poked his finger right through her. She giggled, “That tickles.” “I don’t understand,” Said Shenna. “Does this mean that the drought is everywhere?” The Sprite stopped twirling and nodded her head, “Yes.” Shenna started to cry. She was sad for her people. She was sad for her parents at home worrying about their crops. She was sad for all the people in the world that didn’t have water. Shenna’s cheeks began to tickle. The Sprite was wiping her tears with her wings. “There’s another way to see things.” “All you see is that your world is without water. Your people do not see that the Undines are stressed.” “I don’t understand,” said Shenna.

“Here take my hand,” offered the Sprite. Shenna and Brock held the Sprite’s hand and they began to spin and shrink until they were dripping into a pool of water. They plopped into the pool, transforming into water spirits. Shenna’s body was blue. Brock poked her. “You’re see through,” he laughed. “So are you,” she poked him back. “What are we?” asked Shenna. “Why you’re Undines of course,” said the Sprite.“But what will mother and father think?” frowned Brock. “You won’t stay this way, just long enough.” And before she could say another word, the Sprite jumped and bounced away. Shenna yelled, “come back,” but the Sprite ignored her. Instead the water formed a large mouth and said,“Stop making so much noise. It makes me ripple.” “Who said that?” demanded Shenna. “I did,” said the Undine who shape shifted itself into a face that Shenna and Brock could see. It was a watery face with a twig for a nose and a very squiggly mouth. “Now why are you here?” The Undine wanted to know. Shenna told the Undine the whole story. Brock ended it with, “yep that’s the way it happened. Can we stay water spirits? This is fun!” The Undine listened, then said, “Hold on they were going for a ride!”

They followed a tricking stream to the river. It was very low. They passed skinny cows, and parched fields, until they fell into deep, dry cracks. “Woa!” yelled Shenna and Brock. “Hold on!” said the Undine. They followed veins of moisture to an underground stream, flowing all the way back to the spring they had come from. “Wow, that was cool! Do that again!” said Brock. The Undine frowned, “Do you know why there is a drought?” “Because the water spirits are stressed,” said Shenna. “Yes, the water is stressed. All the pollution is choking us up. We need your help,” said the Undine. “But how can we help? We are only children.” “You can start appreciating water and sending healing to it.” Then the Undine taught the children a ritual of placing their hands over the water and filling it with their gratitude for all the ways that water gives to them, for food, drink, bathing, cleansing, and all nourishment. The children learned a healing song that they could sing to the water, and promised that they would share it with others.

When they were done the Sprite came back. “Are you ready to go home?” “Yes!” said the children. They thanked the Undines and sang them a song. The Sprite danced on their hands and they turned back into children! Brock poked his sister. She giggled, “Hey stop it!” “Just checking if you are back to normal,” laughed Brock. The children took only enough water in their canteens for the remainder of the trip home.

Shenna and Brock were happy to be home. Their parents rushed to embrace them, “Where have you been? We’ve been so worried!” Shenna and Brock told their parents and all the villagers their story. When they were done they showed everyone how to cup their hands over water and fill it with their gratitude. They taught all the villagers, young and old how to sing songs of gratitude. If people forgot, they could make it up. What mattered is what they felt in their hearts. The people learned how to feel gratitude for every droplet of water. They became more conscious not to waste it. Eventually the drought ended. People lessened their pollution. The Undines relaxed, receiving healing, and eventually the water started to flow again. The rains came, and the cycle of life flowed.

From that day on whenever people walked by a river, spring or the ocean, or when it rained, people would sing: “Bless the water in the sky, bless the water in the earth, it’s alive and flowing. Thanks be to water. Thanks be to air. It gives all life. Treat it with great care!”

Copyright © 2014, Vlatka Herzberg, all rights reserved. You may not reproduce materials without permission from Vlatka Herzberg.