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Sign up for the FREE Great Kindness Challenge at GreatKindnessChallenge.org!

Sometimes Kindness is Being Quiet: Upgrading School Rallies to Engage ALL Kids

Sign up for the FREE Great Kindness Challenge at GreatKindnessChallenge.org!

Sign up for the FREE Great Kindness Challenge at GreatKindnessChallenge.org!

The best way to start the New Year is with a burst of KINDNESS! Because all children are unique and respond differently to rallies and assemblies, this year I was delighted to collaborate with the beautiful soul and gifted occupational therapist Kathy Patten to add assembly/rally tips to the The Great Kindness Challenge toolkit to engage ALL children. The tips will empower participating educators & to be sensitive to introverted kids, or those with sensory sensitivities, all while spreading kindness and joy!

I have lots of fun plans to empower kids to stand up for their rights to have their sensory needs met in schools and in their communities, which I will be unveiling in the coming months. :) In the meantime, it’s not to late to sign up your school (or to recommend it to your child’s school!) for this joyful FREE kindness movement. Happy New Year!!!

Help Build a School in Pakistan!

Telling stories to children through video is a great love of mine, especially when those stories call on kids to use their inherent benevolence to uplift our world. Below is my latest project, made in collaboration with Kids for Peace Pakistan, who provided their expertise and exquisite footage. The video will be shown in schools who participate in the #KindCoins global service project during The Great Kindness Challenge. Given the beautiful participation in last year’s program, which resulted in a new school in Kenya FULLY FUNDED BY KIDS, I am certain the children in this video will have a wonderful, safe, and peaceful place to learn next year.

Thankful to be on the Kids for Peace Board!

In this season of gratitude, I’m so happy to announce that I am now a board member at an organization I am so grateful for: Kids for Peace.

Kids for Peace is a chapter-based global nonprofit that supports and empowers kids as they create peace in their lives, schools, communities and world. We create peace though youth leadership, community service, global friendships, and thoughtful acts of kindness. Everything we do at Kids for Peace is based on the Peace Pledge, which was written by kids for the whole world.

With so many people experiencing division in our country, it is such a blessing to be able to focus on unity with kids and adults who are actively working toward peace. The spirit of Kids for Peace reminds me so much of one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Junior:

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Each time I am surrounded by Kids for Peace volunteers, board members, or employees, I feel feel immersed in the light. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, surrounded by light, unity and compassion.

All stocked with spooky books!

My Little Free Library Is Haunted!

All stocked with spooky books!

All stocked with spooky books!

I maintain that half the reason I am a kid’s author today is because I am eternally trying to recreate the thrill of receiving Scholastic book orders in elementary school. And nothing thrilled me more than the HOLIDAY book orders in October, November and December.

The Little Free Library in my front yard is unquestionably a physical manifestation of my love for those memories. I get the biggest kick out of stocking that thing with seasonal kids’ books and hearing the door open and slam shut all weekend long. Kids play in my tree in the front yard, leave their bikes on my lawn, and sit on my front step with their noses in books. The heart bursts.

The local library book sales never disappoint

The local library book sales never disappoint

The local library has a used bookshop with lots and lots of stock so I can fill the library for about $10.00. Frequently they even cut me a deal out to get more books into the hands of the neighborhood kids. This last haul was beyond successful – every kid’s book in the library right now is spooky!

I’m already having a blast collecting winter holiday books and planning the little library’s holiday decorating scheme. It’s like a Scholastic book order form has come to life!

Lots of joy at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

Children’s Storytelling in Video: Kids for Peace School of Kenya

Lots of joy at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

Lots of joy at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

I took a short hiatus from kid’s books to focus on another form of children’s storytelling that fills my heart: video. I’m so excited to share my latest project about the Kids for Peace School of Kenya, which was 100% funded BY KIDS! Video has been such a powerful way to get kids inspired to act from their hearts. I just love it.

I shot my first video in Kenya last year and absolutely fell in love with the form. This year I’ve come to enjoy incorporating everything I know about story and structure. And there is nothing better than reliving these joyful experiences during the editing process!

I’ll continue to write kids’ books, as I love those, too, and am working on a picture manuscript this fall. But, I’m so happy to have opportunities to get videos like this one into schools through The Great Kindness Challenge by Kids for Peace. Nothing fulfills me more than being a part of a movement that empowers kids to be their true, compassionate, benevolent selves. Enjoy!

Cozy book nooks were a hit at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

Kid Power! Kids Donate Book Nooks to the Kids for Peace School of Kenya

Cozy book nooks were a hit at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

Cozy book nooks were a hit at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

I could probably write a post a day for weeks about all the wonderful people I encountered through the amazing cooperative effort that birthed the Kids for Peace School of Kenya. But one experience that stands out the most for me involves a small group of introverted fifth graders I got to collaborate with, who worked hard to ensure the kids at the new school would have somewhere to seek respite.

Creating safe space for introverted kids in our own schools is something I’m very passionate about. So, seeing these kids whose needs aren’t even adequately met here working so hard to ensure that kids elsewhere can get the quiet they need was quite moving for me.

Kids took complete ownership of the fundraising!

Kids took complete ownership of the fundraising!

They decided to donate a cozy nook for each classroom. Without their own money to donate, they took out a small loan from the adults in their lives for a Cupcake Creation Station. They did everything themselves, from pricing out the nooks, to doing their own grocery shopping and baking, even going as far as to carrying a heavy table out to the street for their store front.

They sold cupcakes for several days until they finally had enough money to buy all the nooks. From where I stood, they appeared proud, capable and powerful.

And the best part? The kids at the school appreciated the nooks. As soon as they went up in the classrooms at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya, the children took turns diving into them with books, cozying up, even pretending to snore in the soft pillows.

In every country I’ve ever been in, the kids are amazing. Kids are innately filled with power, creativity, benevolence, and desire to share their perspectives and gifts. I’m so grateful for programs like those at Kids for Peace, because they can give kids a place to begin exercising their compassion, and then the kids run with it.

 

 

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Off to Mikei, Kenya with Kids for Peace!

13668643_522451551275215_1920238865125525574_oI’m off to Mikei, Kenya with Kids for Peace to film and to help set up the new school and library! We have over 2500 pounds of donations & over 30 volunteers. It’s amazing how many children and adults pulled together through the The Great Kindness Challenge to make this happen. I love seeing the magnitude of what people can accomplish through kindness – even the tiniest acts add up to something. I’ll update when I return!

Our joyful kindness booth at ASCA

Spreading Kindness with School Counselors

Our joyful kindness booth at ASCA

Our joyful kindness booth at ASCA

The old adage that “the monster you feed is the one that grows” has set me free quite a few times in my life. I have to remind myself of it frequently, especially when things get as heavy and heartbreaking as they have been in our society of late. Naturally, I believe in the grieving process and allowing space for that. And this is, without question, a time of grieving for many. But, when the time is right for forward movement, I find the idea of turning toward the light to be very healing, hopeful, and empowering.

 

I’m so grateful that I got to face the light at the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) conference in New Orleans this weekend with some lovely women for the Kids for Peace Great Kindness Challenge. As I’ve mentioned before, the Great Kindness Challenge is a school-based kindness initiative that encourages kids to do as many acts of kindness as possible during the last week of January. This program is proactive, and has a wonderful impact on school culture. When you ask kids to face the light, they become the light. Referrals to the principal’s office decrease dramatically during kindness week, incidents of bullying all but disappear, and joy infuses everything – all driven by positive, uplifting messaging.

 

These effects multiply just as joyfully among the adults. My role this weekend was to help spread the word about the Great Kindness Challenge with school counselors. I can say with utmost honesty that virtually every conversation I had was fun and uplifting. Every single one.

 

Passionate school counselors are an inspiring population in general. I am always moved at ASCA conferences by the benevolence and advocacy of the attendees. They truly believe in children, and they believe in a better world. Bringing both The Grand Kindness Challenge and school counselors together this weekend was the perfect fertilization of hope that I needed after a heartbreaking week in the news. They’ve inspired me to keep feeding that which I want to grow: kindness.

Little Free Library "book tour" for Super Lexi!

Little Free Libraries Fill My Heart

Little Free Library "book tour" for Super Lexi!

Little Free Library “book tour” for Super Lexi!

I’m enjoying a brief stay in Palo Alto this week, which I am quickly learning is a beautifully bookish place. Children’s and adult bookstores abound. I’ve been to almost every single one. But perhaps even more impressive is their Little Free Library scene. They have so many!

 

I dropped off some copies of Super Lexi on a mini Little Free Library “book tour,” which I often do when I travel. I simply love these little community builders. Kids adore them and get so excited about reading. It fills my heart to see how widespread they’re becoming. If you’ve not explored them in your community, check out their interactive map – there’s a good chance there’s one near you!

Quiet Schools Network t-shirt, which I'll be wearing with pride!

Quiet Schools Network Summer Institute

Quiet Schools Network t-shirt, which I'll be wearing with pride!

Quiet Schools Network t-shirt, which I’ll be wearing with pride!

Ever since I saw Susan’s Cain’s Ted Talk on introversion, I felt a vision for a better educational world started taking shape in my mind. This sense only deepened after reading her comprehensive book on the topic, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

 

As a  children’s author, parent, and lover of children’s nonprofits, I am in public elementary schools quite a bit. I cannot get over how much more stimulating our culture has gotten just since I was a kid. I’ve been to countless children’s functions that stress multiple systems in young bodies that cannot process it all. Many of these events incorporate without reprieve every possible type of stimulation: cacophony, frenetic movement, flashing lights. At these events, I frequently see young children crying, putting their hands over their ears, crawling under tables, even vomiting.

 

In response to my observations, I wrote the Super Lexi chapter books, in which the second grade protagonist suffers very real pain from this overstimulation, and refuses to wear a mask of compliance or suffer in silence. I received emails and comments from many children that this is how they are experiencing their worlds. Many told me know one listens to them when they ask for breaks from it all.

Teachers opened up to me about how they wish they could shift things, but didn’t have the tools, the bandwidth, the resources, or societal support. It became clear to me that a shift was going to require an enormous community of likeminded advocates for a quieter world. This problem was cultural.

 

Imagine my excitement when Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution announced a Quiet Schools Network. Finally, a movement on a mass scale that would influence society to hear the children who are begging to have their needs met.

 

I attended the launch of this wonderful program with 50 other educators in New York City at the Quiet Summer Institute last week. In general, am frequently amazed and touched by the huge hearts of teachers, and this group was no exception. Conversations were insightful, illuminating and extremely thoughtful. I can’t wait to see what rolls out over the course of this year.

 

I have some ideas for empowering kids to advocate for a quieter world, which I will be developing in conjunction with some of the great minds that I met through the Quiet Schools Network. I’ll be sharing tools here in the coming months.

 

It never ceases to amaze me how fulfilling it is to work with people who are passionate about similar issues. Even more fulfilling is the amount of positive change people can accomplish when they work together. I can’t wait to see the advances that come from the collaboration of these champions for a kinder – and quieter – world!

 

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Training for Susan Cain’s Quiet Schools Ambassador Program

IMG_9160 2I am profoundly excited to announce that I will begin training to be a Quiet Ambassador for Susan Cain’s Quiet Schools Network in June! This program has a mission statement that resonates so deeply with my heart:

“Our mission is to create Quiet Schools, which are characterized by an inclusive culture in which everyone is recognized for their potential to learn and lead in authentic ways.”

As many of you know, I do a great deal of work to empower kids to ignite their unique and authentic potential so that they may contribute to the greater good. I have long held that in our society, sensitive kids often face tremendous cultural resistance when trying to step into their power in ways that are true to them. This is a central theme in my Super Lexi chapter book series, as I strive to bring these issues to the fore. I would love to see positive, inclusive change on a societal level, and am so grateful that I will have a chance to train with leaders in this movement to help make that happen.

As someone who was once a quiet kid trying to find my place in society that rewards the extrovert ideal, I find it so healing to work toward a more accommodating world for ALL of our kids.

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Helping Kids Live with Purpose

UntitledIn my work empowering kids to live with purpose, some of the concerns I hear most from kids is that they don’t have any idea what their purposes or gifts are.

They hear profoundly impressive stories of people who dedicated their lives to purpose like Harriet Tubman or Gandhi or Jane Goodall, and though they feel inspired, they get intimidated. They perceive purpose as having to be huge and world-sweeping, and they give up before they start, or they save it for adulthood.

But purpose is a life practice. It’s one foot in front of the other. It’s a path that is illuminated just a little bit at a time. For most people, it is humble, small, and often quiet.

And it’s extremely important.

Living with purpose leads to better health, happiness and society. Kids who feel purposeful have higher self-esteem, better grades, and healthier friendships. Yet, according to a recent Stanford study, 80% of youth have not found something meaningful.

So where do they begin?

One of the easiest places to start is with their interests.

I often tell kids, “Start with what you love.” This is the point where I hear in various ways that what they love has no value. For instance, at an orphanage in a Mexico, a young girl told me that she didn’t have any interests, that she really only liked doing her hair. Countless kids in the United States have told me they only like Minecraft. One child in Michigan told me he only likes cupcakes.

So, next, I ask them, “How can you use that interest to contribute to others?”

It is so beautiful to see how these kids transform when they figure out the answer to that question, when they realize that the interests they thought were useless or even self-indulgent can help others. They feel so important!

The child in Mexico ended up braiding my hair in the most beautiful braid it’s ever been in. Then, countless young girls at the orphanage wanted one, too, so she spent the afternoon brightening their day.

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Many of kids I’ve met who love video games have decided to invite new students over to their houses to play. Some others have chosen to help younger kids learn how to play. Others have decided to gather up their old games and video game-theme clothes, toys and books and donate them to children’s charities.

Minecraft

Some of the kids who love cupcakes and other treats have hosted bake sales to raise money for charities that speak to their hearts.

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The interests of children can change by the day. They outgrow things. A love for braiding hair today could be knitting or painting tomorrow. The point is not to demand mastery or lifelong passion. The point is to give kids a taste of purpose. Every child has something to offer.

When they start thinking how they can extend their interests to serve others, they feel what it is to live with meaning. They realize they have the power to create that feeling for themselves and they grab it.

Photo by author Amy Mair.

The Importance of Sensitive Children

Photo by author Amy Mair.

Photo by author Amy Mair.

Yesterday, while admiring pelicans on the beach, the wonderfully talented young adult author and my beloved friend, Amy Mair, educated me on effects of DDT on San Diego’s pelicans in the 70s. As it turns out, DDT softened the eggs of these birds, and their mothers crushed them when trying to warm them, thus dramatically reducing their population. Miraculously, scientists heard what these precious birds were trying to communicate, and ultimately banned DDT. This resulted not only in a pelican population boon, but also in a safer, DDT-free environment for ourselves and all the life that may have been impacted.

I wondered – what if we could hear sensitive children with as much compassion and respect as we heard those sensitive birds?

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, addresses this in her book, citing specific and fascinating points in history in which the sensitive perspectives of introverts (over 30% of our population) have been dismissed to our detriment, including the time leading up to recent housing market crash. A common gift of introversion is foresight, but it’s wasted if no one can hear it.

Profoundly intelligent and accomplished children’s author Jennifer O’Toole addresses the dismissal of her own sensitivities as a woman on the autism spectrum by stating:

We feel too much. React too much. Say too much. Need too much. So says the world. Except the world is wrong.

Imagine, if instead of hearing the wisdom the pelicans had to offer in the 70s, we collectively said, “Those pelicans feel too much. They’re too needy. They need to toughen up.” What an opportunity we would have missed. So why do we allow society to send these messages to our sensitive children?

How much more peaceful and healing could life on this planet be if we stopped labeling human sensitivity as too much of anything, and started hearing its wisdom?

I believe in the deepest fiber of my being that every child has something of value to bring to our earth. However, I think we sometimes confuse what value truly is. One of the issues I see a lot in children’s literature is the trend of extremely sensitive characters, frequently stereotypically portrayed as autistic, serving the sole purpose of providing “inspiration” for main, neurotypical characters to become “better people.” While I’m certain these story arcs were created from a place of good intention, I believe they miss a major point – that the sensitive characters (and the impressionable little readers who relate to them) have much more to offer than that.

In her book, Susan Cain states that the most sensitive instruments in science are the most expensive. Think of the care that is taken to ensure those instruments are handled correctly and are not harmed. Think of how much value we attach to the information they deliver.

What were to happen if we treated our sensitive kids with the respect and gentleness that we treat our sensitive instruments? What if we heard their cries, and allowed them to watch school assemblies on Skype from their media centers instead of thrusting them into painful, chaotic environments? What if we turned down (or off) the music at the “child-friendly” venues and the school events that blatantly disregard their needs? What if we provided low-lit cozy spaces for the kids who cover their ears or walk the periphery of the playground so they could read or do a soothing activity during overstimulating recess?

What if we heard their wisdom?

Sensitive kids are necessary and as valuable to the collective as anyone else. Let’s honor them. Let’s hear them. And together, let’s help our planet heal.

Jared and sister Destiny collect food for Got Your Back San Diego.

Children on Autism Spectrum Overturn Commonly Held Misconceptions about the Disorder through Kindness

I would love to see this month honor those on the spectrum rather than focus exclusively on their challenges. All humans have challenges, and all humans have gifts. The autistic population has been portrayed inaccurately and one-dimensionally for too long. While we all need to identify our challenges in order to overcome them, if we fixate on them, we form an inaccurate perception of who we really are. Let’s round out this discussion, so our kids grow up with a healthy perspective of their wholeness, autistic or otherwise.

I wrote this last year, but am sharing again because I think this boy, Jared, is an amazing example of a person who celebrates his wholeness, and uses his gifts to make a positive impact in the world:

Kids for Peace, a global nonprofit and creator of the international Great Kindness Challenge, honors volunteers with autism for Autism Awareness Day (April 2, 2015).

Carlsbad, CA – April 2, 2015

Jared and sister Destiny collect food for Got Your Back San Diego.

Ten-year-old Jared and his sister Destiny collect donations for food assistance program Got Your Back San Diego.

Ten-year-old Jared from Pacific Rim Elementary in Carlsbad, CA, organized a class food drive for the food assistance program Got Your Back San Diego during The Great Kindness Challenge this year. Common misconceptions about autism, a highly variable spectrum disorder, could lead people to believe that Jared’s autism would prohibit such an achievement. However, Jared’s profound sense of fairness and justice, which experts attribute to some forms of autism, were precisely the traits that motivated him. “There are kids suffering [from hunger] on the weekends when they could be having fun with their friends and family. As a country, we can’t accept this,” says Jared. “We must help!”

Jared’s mother, Bridget Smith states, “New research on autism suggests that autistic people may actually feel emotion more deeply than other people, and knowing Jared, that makes a lot of sense to me. He has a deep sense of justice about social problems like immigration and homelessness, and is always trying to come up with creative ways to solve problems.”

Kids for Peace has inspired more than 2,000,000 children to get in touch with their compassion as a leadership skill, through participation in the 2015 Great Kindness Challenge in January. This free annual week-long school event calls on all students to perform 50 suggested kind acts to contribute to the greater good. For children on the autism spectrum, however, the challenge can empower them to shine as leaders in ways people may not expect.

Emma Lesko reads SUPER LEXI, a chapter book about a second-grade girl with autism spectrum disorder.

Children’s author Emma Lesko experiences a strong sense of justice and deep empathy for others with her autism spectrum disorder.

And it’s not just the kids who are benefiting. Emma Lesko, autistic children’s author and volunteer on The Great Kindness Challenge planning team, echoes Smith’s sentiment. “A common belief is that people on the spectrum lack the ability to take another’s perspective or to empathize. That has not been my experience,” she says. “In fact, my empathy is so overwhelming that I often become paralyzed by it. Working on The Great Kindness Challenge has given me the opportunity and tools to transform that paralysis into action.”

Jared experienced a similar empowerment. Not only did he take the lead on inspiring his classmates to donate food to combat hunger in his community, he also learned a little more about social acts of kindness from The Great Kindness Challenge checklist. “Things like saying ‘good morning’ to other kids, or giving a friend a high-five, don’t come easily to Jared,” says his mother. “Sometimes he doesn’t even feel comfortable acknowledging when other kids say ‘hi’ to him or offer him a high-five. Still, he completed pretty much every activity on the kindness checklist.”

Says Lesko, “The autism spectrum is very broad, so we must not generalize autistic abilities. We can say, however, that every child on the spectrum has value. Autistic activist Temple Grandin once said, ‘There must be a lot more focus on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do.’ In my opinion, The Great Kindness Challenge provides a path for many kids on the spectrum to do just that. Obsessive interests can lead to passion, rigidity can lead to perseverance, and intolerance to injustice can lead to changing the world.”

About Kids for Peace and The Great Kindness Challenge
Kids for Peace is a global 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that provides a platform for young people to actively engage in socially conscious leadership, community service, arts, environmental stewardship and global friendship. The Great Kindness Challenge is an initiative that encourages schools to devote one week each school year to performing as many acts of kindness as possible using a checklist of 50 suggestions. The next Great Kindness Challenge takes place on January 25-29, 2016. For more information, to register your school, or to download the checklist visit The Great Kindness Challenge website.

The Great Kindness Challenge is made possible by the generosity of presenting sponsor Dignity Health and supporting sponsors: ExaMobile, The Code Crew, ViaSat, SDG&E, NRG, KIND Snacks, and McGraw-Hill Education.

About Emma Lesko
Emma Lesko is the author of the children’s chapter book series SUPER LEXI (ages 6-9). She is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in children’s literature, and offers writing workshops to lower elementary students. Emma has several years of experience teaching English and Spanish to children of varied developmental abilities in the United States, Brazil and Spain. For more information, visit http://www.EmmaLesko.com

Contact:
Jill McManigal, Co-Founder and Exec. Director of Kids for Peace
office 760.730.3320
cell 760.846.0608

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We Have the Land for the New Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

12552533_10153191245146268_650571767318529252_nLast May, I went to Kenya with Kids for Peace to shoot video of a young child, Magi, to be shown in schools during this year’s Great Kindness Challenge to raise money for a pre-primary school in Magi’s village, Mikei. We had an epic year at The Great Kindness Challenge with over 5,000,000 participating students! The donations from these students has allowed Kids for Peace to purchase the land, and we are only just beginning.

This whole project has been one of my favorite of my adult life, from introducing me to a new favorite form of storytelling (video shooting and editing), to allowing me the chance to get to know the warm and joyful people of Mikei, and for showing me the magnitude of good that people can do when they unite for a common cause.

I cannot wait to return to Kenya this summer to shoot the follow-up footage of Mikei’s new school to share with you and all of the children who helped raise the money. In the meantime, if you’ve not yet seen Magi’s story, check out the video here!

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Captain Book Treasure Chest Literacy Program

IMG_8477Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate Captain Book’s 100,000th book donation at the Encinitas Library with local children’s author, Sally Pla. Captain Book spreads the love of reading to children all over San Diego county through school visits and free books.

I simply love seeing people give back in whatever unique and quirky ways their imaginations inspire. Captain Book told us about the many thoughtful touches to his program, including a pirate telescope that “sees” beautiful gifts in each child’s heart, treasure chests filled with goodies for kids, and a donated ambulance, converted into a free book delivery truck that Captain Book drives through Camp Pendleton and underserved communities.

If you are interested in helping Captain Book spread the love of reading, check out his website!

Carlsbad's superintendent and two principals kicked off The Great Kindness Challenge by jumping out of an airplane!

Over 5 MILLION Kids Participate in The Great Kindness Challenge!

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Carlsbad’s superintendent and two principals kicked off The Great Kindness Challenge by jumping out of an airplane!

Last week, The Great Kindness Challenge spread joy and kindness through schools all over the world in a huge way. Over 5 MILLION kids participated, breaking last year’s record of 2 million. The Great Kindness Challenge is a movement that encourages schools to devote one week each school year to performing as many acts of kindness as possible using a checklist of 50 suggestions.

The energy around it is indescribable, with anyone from mayors to fire departments jumping in on the fun. This year, Carlsbad’s superintendent, Suzette Lovely, and two founding school principals, Chad Lund and Richard Tubbs, kicked the challenge of by jumping out of an airplane.

I feel so fortunate to have spent the week shooting video at the founding schools in the Carlsbad Unified School District on behalf of The Great Kindness Challenge founding nonprofit, Kids for Peace. Video shooting and editing is quickly becoming a new favorite form of storytelling for me, especially in this context. I simply could not look at my computer screen without smiling the entire time I edited this project.

Working with Kids for Peace and The Great Kindness Challenge has empowered me to grow into the person I wanted to be. With so much injustice in the world, I went through a period in which it was hard not to be overwhelmed. I didn’t even know where to start. The amazing Kids for Peace team allowed me room to find my place, and to empower kids and mobilize kids with similar passions.

It is so amazing to see kids access their natural strengths and use them for the greater good. Check out the video for a dose of joy!!!

Kids for Peace, creators of The Great Kindness Challenge, is a global nonprofit that provides a platform for kids to actively engage in socially conscious leadership, community service, arts, environmental stewardship, and global friendship.
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The Great Kindness Challenge Is Two Weeks Away!

CYccHgDWQAA2La4.jpg-largeAs a children’s author, the primary goal of my work is to celebrate neurodiversity by empowering kids to use their superpowers for the greater good. One of the most exciting ways I have been able to do that is through my work with the Kids for Peace Great Kindness Challenge.

The Great Kindness Challenge is a HUGE kindness initiative (over 4 million students!) that inspires kids to do as many kind acts as possible during the last week in January. It is amazing to see the effects of this program on school climate. Teachers report that the very cultures of their schools undergo profound, lasting shifts toward benevolence. The environments become much safer for our kids, where everyone is allowed to shine in their own way.

As an adult on the autism spectrum, last year I was so moved by how powerful and brave some children on the spectrum were during the challenge, that I felt moved to celebrate them by featuring them in an article. They took some of those tired, untrue stereotypes regarding autistic empathy and turned them upside down by letting their beautiful empathy propel them into action.

I absolutely loved seeing this opportunity for kids to be safe enough to let their altruism shine. In many cities, they were supported not only by their schools, but by their police forces, firefighters, mayors, and in some cases, state senators.

It’s a powerful, powerful movement. It’s entirely free, very easy to implement, and is absolutely the direction in which I love to see our culture shift. I am so proud to sponsor it.

If you are interested in participating in The Great Kindness Challenge at your school or in the community, do check it out!

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Cozy, Holiday Cooking Class with no Hoopla!

IMG_7492Our world has gotten so loud. Kid-friendly has come to mean chaotic, with each kid event louder, bigger, more stimulating than the last. Most kids don’t thrive under these conditions, and for introverted kids or those with sensory processing disorders and/or autism, these environments are incredibly painful and lead to meltdowns.

We are alienating these kids.

This is a primary theme in my chapter book Super Lexi Is Not a Fan of Christmas, as second-grader Lexi struggles to cut through the “hoopla” at her school during the holidays, and years to find her own peace. Reviewers have called it a “different” kind of a Christmas story, but I’m not convinced it’s that different from the experiences of many of our kids. The kids who are most likely to suffer from sensory overload are also the least likely to verbalize it. Experts estimate that 33-50% of our kids meet this description (source: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.)

My goal as a children’s author is to work toward a world that honors all kids and their unique, beautiful wiring. For these reasons, I teamed up with Amanda from The Good Food Factory to provide a cozy, quiet holiday cooking class. We turned down the volume and the lights to enjoy some respite and cozy holiday food. Amanda has amazing talent in offering a truly inclusive classroom, providing more stimulation for those who need it, without disrupting those who need quiet.

We read from Super Lexi Is Not a Fan of Christmas, we cooked latkes (Lexi’s favorite holiday food from her class party) and we sipped Lexi’s all-time favorite holiday drink, hot cocoa with marshmallows.

It was a cozy, delicious event. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with wonderful, compassionate Amanda. If you’re in the San Diego area, I highly recommend her kids’ cooking classes. And if you’re not, you can check out her kids’ TV cooking show and cook her healthy, kid-friendly food with your kids at home!

 

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Michigan School Visit Tour: Celebrating Your Superpowers to Make the World a Better Place

IMG_6958I had such a great time last week in Michigan on a school visit tour. Though never stated in the text, my Super Lexi chapter books are set in Michigan, where I spent my own childhood. I have such a deep love for the people and the state itself, I include it in the backdrop of most of my fiction. It was so comforting to be back.

The focus of my elementary school visits is to celebrate neurodiversity by empowering kids to use their diverse gifts for the greater good. In my assemblies, I work to illustrate how all people have value, and how we are unique for a reason.

Then, we get into the fun part: we brainstorm ways to discover our gifts by following what we love, and we hammer out easy ways we can apply those passions for the greater good. Last week, I challenged the kids to organize their thoughts on a bookmark that I provided, and to take action that day.

Bookmark

The kids had the most amazing suggestions, including:

  • Start a book club
  • Sell homemade baked goods for a charity
  • Cook food and donate it to a homeless shelter
  • Invite a new student over to play video games
  • Donate old video games to a younger child or a child in need
  • Play soccer with a younger child
  • Walk a neighbor’s dog

I love seeing them light up when they discuss the magic that is already in them.

If you’re interested in an author visit, please email me at emma@emmalesko.com!