Friday, March 29, 2013

Studies Show that Yoga is Beneficial to Kids in Multiple Ways

Yoga has become one of the most popular forms of exercise in the country. You’d be hard-pressed to find a gym that doesn’t offer at least one yoga class, and here in New York City people walk around with rolled-up yoga mats slung from their shoulders as casually as they’d carry a purse or briefcase. Advocates of yoga say that it improves physical strength and flexibility while providing a sense of calm that too few of us enjoy in our fast-paced lives. But did you know that numerous studies have demonstrated that yoga can be beneficial to youngsters, too? Youth yoga programs have been shown to improve student self-esteem and self-image, behavior, and even academic performance!

Your blogger was recently interviewed for a blog post for YoGanesh, a wonderful yoga studio just blocks from The Yellin Center, about the many ways yoga can benefit kids. We noted that physical, emotional, and behavioral factors can play huge roles in academic well-being and that research shows that practicing yoga can have amazingly wide-reaching benefits when it comes to improving children’s behavior, mental/emotional health, and cognitive function. You can see the full interview and the references for current research when you visit the blog. And please take a moment to visit their website to learn more about yoga and young people. Namaste!

photo courtesy CC: Heidelknips

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A New Way to Talk About Special Education

The terrific Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) recently held its annual meeting, and one important initiative to emerge from this gathering of education attorneys, parents, and advocates was a focus on the importance of language when we talk about children with special learning and other needs and the work we do to help them. Think about it: we know that special education laws grew out of civil rights legislation and court decisions. The very principles that were determined to apply to discrimination on the basis of race eventually grew to apply to discrimination on the basis of disability. Children who were excluded from schools because they had disabilities were no less the victims of discrimination than those who were excluded or segregated because of race.

We've also seen how effective language can be in shaping opinion and practice in areas from politics to marketing consumer goods. As described in a blog on the public area of the COPAA members website, attorneys Mark Martin and Jennifer Laviano propose a new way of talking about what we have always called "special education" and its related areas.

Among the changes they propose are using "civil rights" to refer to this this area of law and advocacy. So, an attorney would not be a "special education lawyer" but, instead, would be a "civil rights lawyer."  Students who are suspended or expelled can be better described as being "excluded from class and from learning." When children are removed from class they are being "segregated." And children don't need special services, they need a "meaningful education."

As the blog authors note, it is time that students and families and the attorneys and advocates who work on their behalf  "have the rights, respect, and equality to which they are entitled." Using language that more accurately conveys the rights of students and the roles of their supporters is one step in that direction. We agree.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Activities at The New York Public Library

Step outside here in New York City and you’ll know pretty quickly that spring is decidedly not in the air. Step into a branch of the New York Public Library, however, and you’ll get a different message. Spring programs are in full swing at the library, and there are so many fun, free options you won’t even miss the sun! Well, maybe just a little…

Here is a very small sampling of some of the great activities and performances that will be touring different boroughs and branches this spring:

  • The Hobbit (ages 4 and up) – The Traveling Lantern Theater Company performs this classic, adventurous tale, where kids can meet a wizard, elves, dwarves, and a dragon!
  • An Erik Woods Workshop: Animals (ages 4 and up) – Young library patrons can create 3-D sculptures of animals using recycled computer parts and other materials in this fun program.
  • Stories That Move and Sing (ages 4 and up) – Help Julia Morris sing and dance her way through classic children’s tales.
  • Baby (birth to 18 months), Toddler (18 months to three years), and Preschool (3 to 5 years) Story Time – Give your kids an early start by bringing them to the library to listen to stories that are engaging, enjoyable, and developmentally appropriate.

Remember that the Children’s Center at 42nd Street always has something exciting in store. Right now, kids can view the real stuffed bear that inspired A.A. Milne to write Winnie-the-Pooh!

Don’t miss other great opportunities like science labs, chess clubs, film screenings, and Homework Zone which happen regularly at a library near you!

For more dates and more information about the programs above, visit the library’s homepage ( and search for events by name (be sure to search “”, not the catalog). You can also try the page for your local branch or the library’s searchable calendar or visit the Resources for Children page.

Photo: CC by ktylerconk/Flickr

Friday, March 22, 2013

Recommended Reads: Matched

We are once again bringing you our occasional Friday feature Recommended Reads, where we share some of the wonderful books for children and young adults. This week's book is Matched, by Ally Condie, originally published by Dutton Publishers in 2010.

Matched, by Ally Condie

Ages: 7th grade and up – will most likely appeal more to girls than to boys

Sequels: Crossed, Reached

Movie Adaptation: Disney bought the rights to the Matched trilogy in 2010; however, no release date has been publicized.

On her seventeenth birthday, Cassia Reyes goes with her parents to City Hall to find out whom she will marry. She’s excited and nervous about this event that every adult in the Society, Cassia’s world, has gone through it before her. Instead of being matched to a boy in a far-off city as she expected, however, Cassia is surprised and thrilled to learn that she’s been matched to her best friend Xander. It seems that, as always, the Society has made the right choice for her. After this seemingly harmonious beginning, Matched quickly morphs into a dystopian novel. When she loads the disc she has been given to learn more information about Xander, she sees Ky’s face flash before her instead before it is replaced by Xander’s. In a world in which there are no errors, how could this have happened? Was Ky, the shy, mysterious boy she barely knows, really intended to be her match? This is the first small crack in the foundation of Cassia’s trust of the Society, which controls its citizens’ meals, reading materials, leisure activities, romantic lives, communication, and even deaths. A forbidden poem smuggled to her by her grandfather, increased scrutiny of the routines she used to take for granted, and her growing relationship with Ky all lead Cassia to slowly learn about the darker side of the Society. Everyone around her is healthy and prosperous, but Cassia learns that this comes at a cost she’s not sure she’s willing to pay anymore.

Our Take
Be warned: Do not give this book to a teenage girl in your life during finals week; she won’t be able to put it down once it gets going. Like other dystopian novels before it—the incomparable The Giver, Brave New World, etc.—Matched presents a world that’s both attractive and horrifying, causing readers to reflect on the true nature of happiness and the importance of freedom. Matched is a very internal book, focusing intently on Cassia’s thoughts so that her transformation from a blindly accepting member of the herd to a brave dissident is striking. We particularly enjoyed the detail with which Condie developed the Society, and she proves to have a keen eye for developing suspense as well. As literature lovers, one our favorite aspects of the book was the frequent and apt allusion to Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. The novel served as a wonderful vehicle for exploring both the meaning of Dylan’s poem and of the power of poetry in general. The only thing readers are unlikely to enjoy about Matched is its cliffhanger ending, but rest assured that it’s the first in a trilogy and resolution is only as far as the nearest library.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Competition and Fun for Young Track Athletes

Today's sharp March winds and cold temperatures still feel very much like winter, but the fact is that it's the first day of spring, and perhaps we can all feel a bit more spring-like if we turn our minds to warm weather activities.

One upcoming event this spring is the New York Road Runner’s Spring Youth Jamboree, to be held on May 5. The Jamboree, now in its 9th year, is open to students from pre-kindergarten through high school. The setting is a reason to go all by itself: the Jamboree will be held at the legendary Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island, famed for being one of only five of the International Associate of Athletic Federation’s Class One certified tracks in the country. Kids will get a thrill from running on the same track where the world records for the 100 meters in 2008 (Usain Bolt, 9.72 seconds) and the 800 meters in 2012 (David Rushida, 1:41:74) were set.

Events include the 55-meter dash (pre-K only), races of 100, 200, and 400 meters, an 800 invitational run, a 4 x 200 meter relay, long jump, and shot put. Participants are allowed to choose two events in which to compete. Students may enter as individuals or join together with friends or classmates to form a team. Either way, registration is free.

Please visit the New York Road Runners webpage for more information. The deadline for early registration is April 22nd. This Cinco de Mayo, why not start a new family tradition by taking your children to participate in this exciting event?

Photo: CC by Andrew Siguenza

Monday, March 18, 2013

Steven Strogatz on Math

Serving children well in education often means providing remediation to those who need extra help. But kids who are gifted, or just plain interested, in a particular subject need consideration as well; these bright, curious young learners should be given sophisticated material to ponder. For young adults fascinated by mathematics, Steven Strogatz’s work for The New York Times is food for thought of the tastiest kind.

Strogatz, currently a professor of mathematics at Cornell and author of the recent book The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity, is one accomplished mathematician. He’s won countless awards for research and public service. And anyone who has read his work will not be surprised to learn that he has won a number of awards for teaching as well. Strogatz has a gift for explaining complex concepts in ways that make sense, drawing on real-life examples to prove his points. In his fifteen-part series for the Times, Steven Strogatz on the Elements of Math, Strogatz explores a number of fascinating (seriously) mathematical concepts with clarity and insight.

After enjoying these riveting (really!) reads for yourself, we recommend that you share them with a precocious middle or high school student you know who really loves math. This is mathematics the way it should be: relevant, clear, and concrete. Strogatz’s columns could spark lively discussions within math-loving families or in math classes. Some of the columns may even help give math insight to parents struggling to help kids with fractions and decimals (Division and Its Discontents), subtraction and negative numbers (The Enemy of My Enemy), geometry (Square Dancing), and more.

We haven’t yet gotten our hands on Strogatz’s book, which he was inspired to write after penning this series of articles. Have you read it yet? We’d love to hear your opinion!

Photo: CC by A.J. Cann

Friday, March 15, 2013

Watch Now: Dr. Yellin Dyslexia Webinar from Learning Ally

A recording of Dr. Yellin’s webinar from earlier this week for national nonprofit Learning Ally, Dyslexia: Diagnosis, Planning and Support for Struggling Readers, is now available for viewing online. The one-hour program was seen live coast-to-coast by hundreds of parents, students, and educators, and is featured on the Learning Ally website, where it will remain available for future viewing. Learning Ally provides accessible media such as audiobooks to students with learning disabilities and visual impairments. 

In the program, Dr. Yellin provides a detailed explanation of what is meant when we talk about "dyslexia"; an in-depth look at the many types of subtle learning variations that may be at play when a student is struggling with reading, spelling, or other challenges; and insight into why understanding each learner's individual strengths as well as weaknesses should be an essential component of educational planning. He also answers many questions from viewers.

“When parents, teachers and practitioners understand how developing appropriate strategies and interventions can improve children's reading skills and boost self-esteem, and when they have a deeper understanding of the root causes of a student's reading symptoms,” notes Dr. Yellin, “they can help to grow resilient, improved learners with a rekindled love of reading.”

Watch the video below:

Dyslexia: Diagnosis, Planning & Support for Struggling Readers from Learning Ally on Vimeo.

Thanks to all of the great people at Learning Ally for making this webinar possible.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

March 14 is Pi Day

Tomorrow, March 14th, is Pi Day -- the day to celebrate the Greek letter that represents the the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. What's so special about Pi (π)? First, it is a constant number, meaning that for all circles of any size, Pi will be the same. It's infinite -- to date it has been calculated to over one trillion digits. And it has no pattern, so that it includes no repeating strings of numbers.

The use of the letter π to represent the ratio dates back to 1737 when it was used by Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler.  

There are numerous celebrations of this amazing mathematical number, including an annual Pi Day in Princeton, New Jersey to celebrate both the number and one of its greatest users, Albert Einstein, who resided in Princeton for over 20 years and whose birthday was -- you guessed it -- 3/14! The fantastic Exploratorium in San Francisco is holding its 25th Pi Day celebration both on premises and via virtual reality on its Second Life website. And, here in New York City, the new MoMath museum is holding a scavenger hunt after school for students 11 and up. 

So, make your plans for tomorrow --  attend an event in person or via virtual reality, or just bake a pie and then use π to figure out its circumference!

Photo: CC by Dano272

Monday, March 11, 2013

Seriously Fun Kids’ Events at Symphony Space

Consider your Saturdays covered. Most New Yorkers already know that Symphony Space, located on Broadway at 95th Street in Manhattan,  is a wonderful venue for the performing arts. But did you know that it also plays host to fun, enriching events for kids every single weekend?

Running the gamut from dance performances, music, theater, storytelling, movies, and more, the Just Kidding series is sure to be a hit with the kids in your life. Upcoming events include a concert by musical historians the Deedle Deedle Dees, a Muppet double feature movie screening, a performance by Morgan the Clown, and dancing and singing to the eclectic music of Aaron Nigel Smith. Want to share these fun events with your kids? Interested parties can purchase tickets to individual events or buy a subscription for deep discount on unlimited Saturday events from the Just Kidding webpage.

For young bookworms and aspiring writers, the Thalia Kids’ Book Club  is another Symphony Space offering that’s sure to please. The next club event, on April 7th, is a performance of author Pseudonymous Bosch’s delightful choose-your-own-adventure-like Write This Book: A Do It Yourself Mystery, performed by the Story Pirates. Club events are co-presented with the Bank Street Bookstore, and each includes a creative writing project, a discussion of the book with the audience, and a book signing. Often, actors perform segments of the book as well.

Be sure to visit the Symphony Space website  so you don’t miss a thing!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Recommended Reads: Out of the Dust

Today we continue our Recommended Reads series, where we highlight books for children and young adults, with Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, originally published in 1999 and now available from Scholastic Books.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Ages: 9 and up

Awards: Winner of the 1998 Newbery Medal 

Adult Themes: none, though parts of the book are quite sad

Plot: Billie Jo, a scrappy, spirited, thoughtful girl is the narrator of this powerful book. The story takes place in the dust bowl of Oklahoma during the Great Depression where Billie Jo and her parents try to eke a living out of the unforgiving land by growing wheat. When a terrible accident befalls Billie Jo and her mother, Billie Jo faces the loss of nearly all of the things she loves and must rise to the occasion. Readers will be delighted when, in the end, Billie Jo triumphs.

Our Take: We can’t get enough of historical fiction – what a marvelous way to inspire students to care about people and events they couldn't otherwise experience! Hesse’s novel is told through a series of vignettes that take the form of free verse poetry and read like diary entries. This means that although the book seems thick, the print on the pages is sparse and will seem inviting to even reluctant readers. Billie Jo’s character is endearing, and her voice brings the desperation of the dust bowl to vivid life. In addition to suffering a slow recovery after her accident, Billie Jo faces the death of her mother, isolation from her ill and grieving father, a plague of locusts, loneliness when her best friend moves away, the possible loss of her gift for the piano, and, of course, continuous drifts of dust and drought that threaten to dry up her hope forever. But Billie Jo is made of sterner stuff, and her courage is all the more momentous for the hurdles she has to leap. Hesse’s language is vivid and easy to read, and she creates a cast of fascinating characters who help to present a rounded, readable portrait of life during one of the most difficult periods in United States history.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Reading Club – No Girls Allowed!

Research continues to show that boys have more trouble reading than girls and, even more troubling, that boys’ reading skills are worsening. Instead of wringing his hands, inimitable children’s author Jon Scieszka (the genius behind The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Time Warp Trio series, and other much-loved books) took action. Guys Read, a website rich with resources for bringing books to boys, was the result.

The homepage states, “research…shows that boys will read – if they are given reading that interests them,” and the site puts its money where its mouth is by offering a huge, diverse list of all kinds of books that, according to the site, “guys have told us they like.” The list is divided into categories, some familiar (Historical Figures, Funny) but many that are delightfully unexpected (Dragons, Mysterious Occurrences, At Least One Explosion). The lists are not categorized by reading level, alas, but there is a list called “For Little Guys” that should be helpful for guys who are early readers. Older guys will have to click on titles that seem appealing to them to find information about the book’s genre, how many pages it has, and what ages the book would be most appropriate for. They can even rate the book if they've already read it to help other guys. The lists are huge and varied, ranging from picture books like Jumanji to the wonderful tomes that make up the Redwall series. In addition to all these suggestions, Guys Read selects a Book of the Month, which is featured on the homepage. Looking for another way to find great titles for guys? Check out the “This Guy Reads” section, which features male authors’ lists of favorite books.

Jon Scieszka

The site provides resources even if a guy isn't in a reading mood. “Guys Listen” contains a list of audiobooks that might catch a guy’s fancy. And “More Stuff for Guys” includes drawing lessons, comics, and a link to an archive of back issues of National Geographic magazines.

Whether the guys in your life are book lovers or reluctant readers, they’re sure to love Guys Read.

Above images CC by Jon Scieszka

Monday, March 4, 2013

Eye to Eye: A Mentoring Program By and For Kids with Learning Differences

Children with learning differences or difficulty with attention may feel like no one really “gets” them. Wouldn't it be fantastic if each one of these kids could work with an older mentor who not only provides good company and advice but who actually shares their learning difference? Eye to Eye, a fascinating organization for empowering students with learning differences, makes this fantasy a reality.

This outstanding program began in 1998, when five students from Brown University with learning disabilities (LD) and/or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) began a public service project. Christening their idea Project Eye-to-Eye, they targeted a group of elementary school children who’d been given labels similar to theirs. Their goal was not to tutor these kids, per se; they say they simply wanted to give them hope. So they worked on art projects together, hoping the kids would find art an accessible medium to express their feelings and showcase their talents. Founding member David Flink graduated and went on to work as an admissions officer at Brown, but he kept getting requests from students at Brown and other universities for information on how to continue the program. So he changed tacks, recruiting employees and traveled the country to set up similar experiences for both LD/ADHD mentors and mentees around the country. The goal is to empower “at risk” kids by giving them membership in a community that accepts and supports them.

Today, Eye to Eye pairs highly trained high school and college mentors with LD/ADHD with younger students who have similar learning challenges. The pair meets weekly to work on art projects, talk, laugh, and learn about each other and themselves. We are especially impressed by Eye to Eye’s commitment to helping kids develop metacognition  This important skill allows kids to understand themselves from the inside out, recognizing their strong and weak areas and determining how to overcome challenges using their unique talents. One of Eye to Eye’s core principles is that self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-determination are critical for resilience, and so they strive to help students feel good about who they are, learn about themselves, and become self-advocates. Additionally, mentors help students develop concrete academic study skills and personalized goals that students can propose during IEP or 504 meetings or parent-teacher conferences.

Interested in getting involved with Eye to Eye? Visit their website to learn more. The FAQ page contains instructions for contacting Eye to Eye if you are interested in finding a mentor or mentee for a child in your life; currently, fifty-one chapters are spread across nineteen states. Information is available for those wishing to start chapters in their areas if one does not already exist. Also, those in the New York, New Hampshire, and San Francisco areas may be interested in the outstanding, week-long Camp Vision, where kids learn to celebrate their different strengths through a variety of fun and enriching activities.

Friday, March 1, 2013

International Children's Film Festival Starts Today

It's not easy to find quality films for children, especially if you eschew commercialized animation and movies that feature a bit too much violence to make most parents comfortable. So, it is a particular pleasure to note that today kicks off the International Children's Film Festival, which runs through March 24th at seven Manhattan movie theaters. The festival features "100 animated, live action, and experimental shorts and feature films" from 35 countries.

Now in its 16th year, the Festival also sponsors classes for ages 6 to 16 in animation and live action filmmaking. The Spring 2013 one week classes run from March 25-29. The two week summer program runs from July 8-19. Registration for both programs is now open. 

Some of the films featured in the Festival can be seen as part of a slide show on the New York Times website. Tickets for individual films can be purchased online.