A Spell To Bring A Friend: Fall Writing Frenzy 2020

As a kid I wanted to participate in writing contests, but never had the confidence to put myself out there. As an adult, but a kid at heart, I’m still building my confidence. My debut picture book IF SUN COULD SPEAK was released this year, and my confidence still takes regular nose dives. I came across the Fall Writing Frenzy put together by Kaitlyn Sanchez and Lydia Lukidis. For the contest, entrants choose from images and then write 200 words for any kidlit age. You can find contest info here. It’s an opportunity to connect with great people and get the creative thoughts flowing. It’s just what I needed. And there’s prizes too!

The image that spoke to me was this young girl:

A Spell to Bring a Friend

Willow entered a clearing on Halloween night. In one hand she held a cauldron, in the other hand a small bag. She could hear the distant hoots and hollers of the children trick or treating.

“Maybe a bag of candy would be nice…” she wondered.

She shook her head. “I’d rather have a true friend.” 

And tonight was the night to try out her new spell.

Into the cauldron of river water her special items went, as she recited the spell:

A last flower from summer’s end.

To bring a friend who plays pretend.

An acorn from a mighty tree

To bring a friend who’s wild and free.

A fallen leaf with colors bright,

To bring a friend who is just right.

Swirl and stir, swirl and stir

‘til the potion is a blur.

Think good thoughts till whirling stops.

Just when the water became still, a twig snapped behind her.

“Oh!” Willow shouted as a girl emerged into the clearing. The girls smiled at each other.

“Sorry to scare you, but I was wondering if you’d like to play?”

Writing for Children: Gaining awareness and Finding Inspiration

Children experience the world differently than adults. Writing for children may seem like an easy task to those outside the world of kidlit. But there is an extra layer to writing for children. Being a good writer isn’t enough. You need to know and understand the audience you are serving. Getting a degree in childhood development isn’t an option for most people, but you can gain a deeper awareness of the children you are writing for. An easy way to understand your audience (and find inspiration for children’s stories) is to go back to your own childhood. It may seem a little strange for some people but you can talk to your inner child too.

Here are some questions to ponder from your childhood or to ask your inner child:

  • Was there something you were afraid of?
  • Did you have a favorite place? A secret hiding space? What was it that you loved about it?
  • Was there something you hated?
  • What did you wonder about?
  • What memories still bring up an emotional reaction from you?
  • What did you find funny or made you laugh?
  • Was there something you always longed for? Something you wish you had known or done?
  • What were the defining moments of your childhood? What filled you up and brought you joy?

Tap into the feelings that come up when you ask yourself these questions!

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Kourtney 1984

My inner child is where I found the inspiration for IF SUN COULD SPEAK, my debut picture book illustrated by Saki Tanaka. I was enrolled in a course with​ ​​​Children’s Book Academy, directed by Mira Reisberg. We were reviewing ways to think of enticing book topics, and she said to think of a problem or question you had as a child. That piqued my interest, so I set the intention to recall a childhood memory that would make a great story. It was the next day that a memory from my childhood popped up.

I think I was about five or six when I first discovered that the sun doesn’t actually rise and set. I had assumed that the sun was moving up and down in the sky, because the word RISE means to move upward. That was the definition that my five year old self understood, and five year old brains are very literal. It totally blew my mind that it was the earth’s movement that created sunrises and sunsets. And I felt mad that I was mislead to believe inaccurate information. I was frustrated whenever I heard people say anything about the sun RISING. That’s where the concept of a book told from the sun’s perspective began, to clear up any misunderstandings about the sun.

    I took my childhood feelings and transferred them to the main character, Sun. Sun would be a feisty character, wanting to teach people the truth. I pictured Sun saying things like, “How dare they think I rise. I do not rise.” The title to my first draft was I DO NOT RISE. The main character, evolving through many revisions, kept a slightly egotistical trait. It happens when the world revolves around you. Sun had two goals when talking to readers: One is to share information about who Sun is and what Sun does. And the second is to inspire readers to wonder and search for discoveries.

IF SUN COULD SPEAK makes its debut in the spring of 2020! You can preorder your copy here: https://www.clearforkpublishing.com/store/p148/IF-Sun.html

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    Traveling back in time to your childhood is a wonderful exercise to gain a deeper understanding of children, and you can use it to fuel your writing for children. You may even find the inspiration for your next story while you are there!

 

This post first appeared on https://bookblastoff.weebly.com/blog

 

Summer Solstice Ideas For Families

I love to use the seasons as a way to connect with nature and deepen our bond with the Earth.  The changing of the seasons (solstices and equinoxes) are a perfect opportunity to slow down and notice the changes that are happening around us. It also a time to be grateful for all Mother Nature provides.

Summer solstice marks the beginning of summer. It occurs when one of Earth’s poles reaches its maximum tilt toward the sun, and we have the longest amount of time between sunrise and sunset. It happens twice a year, once in each hemisphere. Here’s a nice explanation from a meteorologist:

And here’s an explanation for the kids:

Simple ideas for learning about and celebrating summer solstice with children:

  • Go outside and sit and observe. Just one minute of sitting in silence and using your senses to notice. Ask children what they see, smell, hear, feel, and taste. Make a list or web of ideas.
    • Ask children questions such as: What happens as we enter the summer season? (more daylight, it’s warmer, flowers are blooming, bugs are abundant… What is there more of? Less of? How do we know spring is over?
    • Doing this helps children to: observe, develop critical thinking skills, organize thoughts on paper, practice handwriting, build conversation skills…
  • Go for a walk to find and collect samples from nature. Talk about what you are finding and comment on textures, colors, smells, and sensations. Children are building their vocabulary by listening to the words you use! As you are exploring invite children to gather whatever they find interesting: Leaves, rocks, feathers, butterfly and insect wings, bones, mosses, seashells, bugs and beetles, seed pods and the list goes on and on.

  • Make a nature mandala with your collection. The word mandala is taken from the Sanskrit word for circle. We chose to represent the four seasons and four directions in our mandala, so we started with four fern leaves pointing north, south, east, and west.

  • Other topics for discussion or writing prompts: What are you thankful for this summer? Is there anything that is bothering you or you are upset about? What can we do this season to make that better?
    • Share your own thoughts on these questions as well. Children will surprise you with their incredible minds. The more you ask them questions like this the more comfortable they become with thinking creatively, an important skill for the future!
  • Add to your nature journals!
  • Read my new book If Sun Could Speak, and check out these activities for playing with the sun and printable resources: https://kourtneylafavre.com/printables/

 

How do you incorporate nature into your family or classroom activities? I’d love to hear from you!

Guidebooks and Nature Journals

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Although guidebooks are not designed and marketed to children, they are a wonderful addition to children’s personal libraries! I wanted to share how we use them and their benefits, so I created a quick video to highlight our experiences and love for guidebooks. We also incorporate guidebooks with nature journaling.

Nature journaling is a simple and fun way to encourage young children to make observations and develop a connection with the natural world. It also promotes curiosity, wonder, and self-directed learning. Nature journaling helps develop and support reading and writing skills too. And it’s a great opportunity for connection within a family to have a shared activity.

Happy Journaling! You can also view the video from my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you! Does your family take part in journaling?

50 Precious Words

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In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, Vivian Kirkfield is hosting a contest to write a children’s story using only 50 words. You can read the details and peruse the amazing stories that have been posted here.

With the help of my son Tommy, we came up with these 50 precious words:

TOMMY’S TRACKS

Tommy asked Mama if he could go outside.

“Yes, but don’t go into the woods.”

He quickly forgot and ventured through the forest.

He glanced behind.

Frightened by the tracks following him,

he followed the footsteps until he saw something.

It was Mama.

His own footprints brought him safely home!

 

Labels and Homeschooling

Labels. They have a use in our world and are necessary for sharing information, such as food labels especially if you have an allergy. And they are necessary in the health insurance field, you have to have a doctor label you with a diagnosis if you want insurance to provide coverage. Once we start talking about people or groups of people it gets a little more complicated.

Labeling people is something I don’t like. I believe we should treat people with love and respect no matter what. I believe people should have access to what they need for their highest good and potential, regardless of identity, race, religious affiliations…. I also realize that in our world we need something a little more grounded than just “be kind” and “all lives matter.” There are people who are not nice and there are people who don’t value all lives. Many of our current systems that we have in place such as health care and compulsory schooling would collapse without labels. So what now? I don’t know a solution. We don’t live in a world where people can just be. And at the same time, if we continue using labels we continue the need for them.

I find myself using labels on my children to get other people to tap into some kindness and compassion. When my daughter was having difficulty being calm at the dentist, they didn’t want to continue with the filling procedure. They wanted to send her to another dentist to be put under to undergo the procedure. She was cooperating, but I think her intensity was making them uncomfortable. She wanted the dentist that she knew and trusted to do the filling. Once I explained to the dentist she has received the labels of ADHD, gifted, strong willed, and OCD they were willing to try again and be more patient with her. This makes me sad for her. Why can’t people just be a little more nicer, a little more empathetic, and more kind? And why does hearing a label allow them to tap into their compassion?

Let’s take this broad topic and bring it down to a narrower view and look at how the use of labels with children and learning. We tend to put labels on children since the moment they are born- good sleepers, fussy, social, etc. As they grow the labels continue- strong willed, sensitive, athletic, etc. These labels can be useful for the child to identify with and to connect with others who are “like them.” Labels can help people connect because of the particular characteristics that go with the labels. They can also give insight into how a person experiences the world. Insight can lead to empathy and compassion. Knowing that a child is Anxious helps others to understand why they may be having a difficult time in large groups of people. The problems arise when we allow a label to limit a child or to excuse bad behavior.

In standardized, compulsory schooling labels are necessary for children to receive what they need, especially when their needs are different than most. For example, when a child is not reading at a certain pace, he gets an evaluation where it is decided if there is a learning disorder interfering with his ability to read like the rest of his classmates. Once the child receives this label, teachers and other school staff develop an IEP, individualized education program. This IEP gives the staff and the school permission to make special accommodations and to also spend more money for this child to receive services such as time with a reading specialist. A label could be considered useful here to get the child what they need to learn to read, if it helps them learn. Sometimes the label may cause stress and anxiety for the child. It may turn the child away from reading if they are being forced into something they are not ready for. The child may assume that they are not a good reader and give up before they even had chance to be ready for it.

Labels give us preconceived notions about children. If you hear that a child is ADHD you are going to have some idea in your mind about that child before you’ve even meet them. You might be expecting them to be unruly and misbehave. You may think they are going to be loud and interrupt. You may get tense and frustrated at the first sign of them “acting up” because you are expecting them to become intense. Then the child senses your tenseness and it causes them to feel uncomfortable and insecure which can intensify their behaviors. So your assumptions become a self fulfilling prophecy. This is also why it so annoying to hear the question “What about socialization?” when someone finds out you are a “homeschooler.” People who don’t know anything about what homeschooling is or what it looks like, are assuming that you sit at home secluded from the world. Most homeschoolers do not identify with that way, so it’s frustrating to have those assumptions thrust upon you. (On a side note, as homeschoolers we know it should be of more concern for the socialization of children in classrooms segregated by age and location, cut off from the outside world.)
I think labels have to be something we are aware of. They can be useful, but it’s important not to put children in a box for that label. We should be treating children with respect no matter their backgrounds, needs, and strengths. Labels can be helpful to shed light on how a child experiences the world, and on the flip side labels can interfere with us truly seeing a child for who they are.

As a homeschooler (a broad label put on people who don’t go to school) I have felt confusion over what type of homeschooling family we are. I remember early in our journey feeling like we were “unschoolers.” So I joined an online community for unschoolers. Through conversations in this forum I was told you can’t be an unschooler if you use any type of workbook or curriculum. I didn’t agree. We have some curriculum in our house. I was a school teacher so we have many of my leftover workbooks and manipulatives. The workbooks are on shelves with other books and coloring books. The kids use them based their own interests and impulses. They are not corrected or scored, but are used more like a journal. My daughter at the age of three wanted to take a “Hooked on Phonics” kit home from the library. It was a box that had flash cards, lots of small books, 2 CDs, and workbooks. My daughter loved books so she had an interest in this box, so we took the box home. We played the CDs and she followed along in the books. It was something that she wanted to do. There was no forcing or coercion. She taught herself how to read in a few days. I stayed away from “unschooling” ideas because I thought they didn’t pertain to us, that we didn’t fit in that label. I was happy with what we were doing, my kids were happy and learning, so I just assumed unschooling wasn’t for us. If I had made the choice not to take home the “Hooked on Phonics” because it wasn’t allowed by a certain method, then my daughter would have missed out on a wonderful learning opportunity. Now that I have a better understanding of what unschooling is, I know that I was misinformed. Unschoolers can and do use workbooks and curriculum. I’m glad I didn’t confine us and our opportunities. This was just another lesson about being careful where and who you take advice from. And also a lesson in trusting myself and my children.

When it comes to choosing a life without school, you may feel the need to declare yourselves a certain type of homeschooler. Unschooler, world-schooler, classical, Waldorf, Montessori, eclectic, Charlotte-Mason, radical unschooler, project based… the list goes on. While it may be helpful to identify with a certain group, I caution against using that label to restrict you on your journey. I think time spent developing your manifesto is more worthwhile than trying to learn how do something in a specific way. Exploring the different approaches to homeschooling allows you take what would work for your children and families, but not stick to a prescribed method because you need to do it a certain way. Remember all children learn differently. Some may enjoy handwriting for example. They may like sitting down and copying letters and words, it’s almost meditative for them. Others will end up in tears when forced to write a certain way. There is no need to force a child to do something a certain way. Your children and your manifesto are your guides for this journey. Do not be overly concerned if what you are doing falls into a certain category, type, or label. It can keep you limited if you stay contained in a certain way. Use these labels as a means to explore, not as a decision maker.

Don’t feel like you have to make educational choices a certain way. Let your children guide you. That is a benefit to homeschooling- the freedom to make choices that benefit your children and family. Homeschooling is not limiting. There is no need to put restrictions on yourselves to be a certain type of homeschooler. Let your children guide you. Return to your manifesto as another source of guidance. You can build a whole curriculum using sticks and stones if you wanted to. Industry, advertising, and modern schooling convinces us that we need certain things to learn. There is no curriculum, manipulative, toy, app, or textbook that is necessary for learning. Just by being human we are designed to learn. If something benefits your family, do it. If your child has an interest, support it. If something becomes a struggle or is throwing your child out of balance, take a break. This is where your role is an observer, looking for cues from your children. I’m not suggesting to do away with labels. I am suggesting to use labels with an awareness that labels can have a negative aspect to them. Certainly seek out support and services that will help your child and family, just don’t let a label make you forget the human within that label. One of the best things we can do for our children is to make the world accessible to them. Be there to support them, answer questions, and remove barriers that may inhibit them from pursuing their passions and interests.

Allowing 2017 to Fold

I was encouraged to pick a word for how I’m exiting 2017. This was difficult because I am leaving 2017 a different person than the one who started the year. I wanted a word that was interesting and different, but the only word that feels right is STRONG. It has been a year of such profound transformation for me.

I have learned that I Am enough, perfectly imperfect. Nothing I do or don’t do changes my “enoughness.” I don’t always remember this, but I’ve experienced it for the first time.

I’ve learned to surrender, allow, and ask for guidance. I’ve found stillness that I never knew was there. I have learned to listen to the whispers, allow my path to unfold, and to be open to unthought of possibilities. I can’t always access that, but I’ve experienced it.

I’ve embraced flaws and found strength in my kindness and gentleness.

I have found my voice and given myself permission to use it.

I’ve worked on honoring the flow. The giving and receiving. The doing and allowing. Endurance and rest.

I’ve said goodbye to old ways, to an old self. It was tremendous, like losing a loved one. But I am grateful for her bringing me to where I am now. And I know I’ve got it from here.

I’ve shed layers and realized it was just fuel for the fire.

I traveled back in time to nourish and soothe my younger self and felt the expansion when I returned to the present. I’ve traveled through the stars and back, releasing weights along the way to make space.

I’ve learned that there is always going to be people along the way who don’t like what I have to say. Or don’t like me. And I’m okay with that. It makes me smile now. I know that it means I am being true to myself and that other people’s reactions have nothing to do with me.

I have healed.

I’ve learned about harnessing the power of my thoughts and beliefs.

I have found darkness and light.

I’ve cracked open to let things out and to let it flow in.

I was able to say yes because I have learned to say no.

I’ve learned the significance of “no more’ and “that’s not enough.”

I have experienced the relief of letting go of weights that are not mine to carry.

I feel strong because of what I have accomplished this year and the resources I’ve built. I feel ready to take on tasks with moral and intellectual force, endurance, and vigor. I am seeking to make an impression, stretch minds, and speak up. I am ready to emerge from this year fierce and gentle. Vulnerable and tough. Open and tenacious.7FE31911-4080-480D-8F5B-1AEAD05E6AC4

I would love to know what your word is, please tell!

 

 

A Way to Be

The apple cider was dripping down my legs. I was sitting at the kitchen table for dinner with my four young children, consciously choosing not to over react to the explosion of a spill that just happened. Not the kind of spill where the cup gets knocked over and the liquid spreads out from the cup, and if you’re quick enough you can catch it with a towel. This was the kind of spill where the cup gets knocked off the table and bounces off the floor, splattering the walls, chair legs, and floor with sticky juice. A wet dog shake kind of a spill.

I was aware that this could easily turn into an unpleasant memory for my children. “Remember the time mom completely lost her shit because of the apple cider spill!” I can hear them laughing at me 30 years from now. I was trying to avoid the making of unpleasant memories. But I had just spent the last hour preparing for dinner and one bite into my meal I’m talking myself out of stepping over the edge of self-control. I’m being flooded with frustration that five nights a week I do dinner time by myself with four young children. I let the drips of cider make their way down my leg to my feet and eventually the floor.  The kids are still eating and chattering among themselves, completely unaware of my internal struggles.

I do a quick and sloppy cleanup of the explosion-spill and we make it through the meal without the making of any unpleasant memories. Towards the end of supper, my seven-year-old son asks, “Hey Mumma, can we go watch the sunset?” I felt his request through my whole body. My boy, my sweet boy. He knows just what I need. Just what WE need. One look around the kitchen and there is at least 20 minutes of clean up that needs to done and its a lot of effort to get four kids in the car and I’m already so tired. But I put my concerns into my “Fuck it Bucket” ( a little tool I use), leave the mess and we start putting shoes on. We take a five-minute drive to the local beach, just because.

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Because Mama was having big thoughts and those thoughts needed space.
Because children are happy in water and sand, that is bliss to Mama.
Because sunsets have a way of resetting the soul. They remind us of our fragileness and connectedness.
Because some thoughts need the air and the water and the earth. Some thoughts are so immense that they need an atmosphere to be released into.
Because they are watching me and they know when my soul is heavy.
Because I want them to know when the world becomes too much, to find a spot where water meets the sand and release the burden. To surrender. The heaviness is not ours to carry.

I’m learning that self care as a mother is not just something we do, but it’s also a way to be. Self care is being able to let the unimportant things wait to make room for what it important. It’s the ability to notice when we lose our connection to ourselves and others. It’s having action steps we can take to bring the joy back in. It’s the ability to leave the messy kitchen to watch the sunset. It’s mindfulness of our thoughts, actions, and reactions. It’s checking in with yourself and honoring your feelings. It’s recognizing if something isn’t in alignment and doing something about it before it gets out of control. It’s allowing yourself to receive so that you have more to give.

Starting next week, Monday, October 23, I am going to start  “Free and Courageous” a 5-day journey of self-care for parents.

Day one: What is self-care and why is it important? What are the outcomes of self-care?

Day Two: Limiting beliefs and negative self-talk: It all starts within.

Day Three: Learning to say no and making room for what’s important.

Day Four: Valuing yourself and the work that you do. Making yourself a priority.

Day Five: Inner awareness and being versus doing.

I will be posting the videos through  Facebook live in my private support group “Choosing Homeschool.” You can join us by clicking here.

If you would like the videos emailed you, you can sign up here. It’s free! The videos will be available through email starting on Monday, October 30th.

I hope you’ll join me! Because by taking care of ourselves we are creating space for our children. We have more to give when our cups are full. And when our children are grown and on their own, the only thing we will have is our relationship and connection with them. And the foundation for that future relationship begins now.

Fall Reflections

Fall is my favorite season. Here in New England, Mother Nature displays tremendous beauty and demonstrates letting go. Last fall was the beginning of a huge transformation period for me. This season I am reflecting back on the past year, and my biggest changes, challenges, and accomplishments. One of the wonderful things about sharing my passions, has been connecting with so many great people, so thank you for being here!

As the trees are releasing their leaves, I encourage you to join me in asking ourselves “What are some things that we can let go of to make room for the important things?” Check out the “Fall Reflections Guide” I created by clicking below:

Fall Reflections Guide

 

We are discussing self care for parents in the private support group “Choosing Homeschool.” There will be weekly challenges, support, and inspiration. I hope you join us by clicking here!

The kids and I will be celebrating the start of Fall tomorrow with apple cake, time in the woods, and some science to explore what the fall equinox actually is. I wish you a season of love, joy, and learning!

Good Relationships

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”  A 75 year Harvard study has revealed this as the most important factor in human happiness. I have read about this study, and the length of time and amount of effort put into this is impressive. Although the study started with just men (women and children are brought into the study eventually), the results are significant for all. It seems like it should be common wisdom that the quality of our relationships affect our well-being, but it’s not common knowledge so it’s important for work like this to occur. And of course my mind goes right to how this knowledge is important to children and childhood. Childhood is the foundation of life. It is a crictical period of human development when we are figuring out how the world works and our place in it. We also receive lenses or filters through which we will view the world, ourselves, and our place in the world. The words we hear, the things we see, our experiences with people, places, and things, are all a part of that foundation.

How are we laying down a foundation for children that includes building relationships that are supportive and healthy? There are two things that come to mind for me. The first is what opportunities and support do children have to create these quality relationships? The second is what is being modeled for children?

  • On a side note, I realize I ask a lot of questions. It’s the Socratic philosopher in me. I actually can’t help it. I get passionate on a topic and I immediately think of  a list of questions that I want to ask myself and others. Anyone else like that?These are two topics I am particularly passionate about, so prepare yourself for a lot of questions!

Children need opportunities to practice the skills that will serve them for a lifetime. That’s why we have a childhood. It’s a period of development for them to observe, practice, take risks, ask questions, build knowledge, and seek answers. Their play is a vital component of the childhood experience. Their play is their work. So when we look at the foundational experiences of childhood, how are we supporting opportunities for them to develop good relationships? Are they getting opportunities to interact with a wide variety of people? Do they get to talk with people of different ages and generations? Do children get to cooperate on projects, seeing how different people have different strengths and weaknesses, and when they come together they can achieve big goals? Are they learning that all people have something to offer and do they have opportunities to showcase their strengths? Are children able to follow their passions and meet people that are passionate about the same topics? Are children sometimes introduced to a topic that they might not have explored on their own, and can then develop relationships from there? I’m asking all these questions because I believe they are important to the development of good relationships.

The second topic is where the adults come into play. Are the adults in children’s lives modeling how to seek out and maintain healthy relationships? Do they model setting healthy boundaries, expressing gratitude, practice empathy and compassion? Are the words that adults use sending messages of positivity, kindness, and encouragement? Do the adults have a healthy relationship with themselves? This is probably the most important question because it all starts with taking care of ourselves, everything evolves from there.  All of these questions are contributing factors to healthy development of quality relationships.

So if we look at the common and unquestioned practice of putting children into a school setting, how are these practices in support of the development of healthy relationships? Children are grouped into rooms with only children of the same age. They are gathered into schools based on where they live and placed with children that live within a certain geographical radius around their homes. I’m finding it hard to see how this practice is in the best interests of children and their development of healthy relationships.

Teachers do the best they can to bring the outside world into their classrooms, but is that enough? I have been there. As an elementary teacher I was always looking for opportunities to bring experts from various backgrounds and generations into the classroom. And these experiences are wonderful, but they are still just a substitute for the real life experiences that children need. Teachers do the best they can within their imposed limits. This is the reality of standardized, compulsory schooling. I’m sharing this point of view because we all have a responsibility to raising the next generation. Enrolling your child in the local school district does not necessarily mean a well rounded education. Children need more interaction in the real world in developmentally appropriate ways, in order to prepare them for life in the world.

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To set children up for success we must first model what healthy relationships look like, with ourselves and others. And we must also give them opportunities to build a foundation that leads to development of good relationships. So no matter who you are: parent, teacher, grandparent, politician, stranger in the grocery store, please set a good example. The children are watching and learning from what they see, hear, and experience.