How Parents Can Encourage Their Kids To "Be Brave, Stay Wild" From Animal Expert and Author Coyote Peterson

Coyote Peterson, animal expert and host of “Brave Wilderness” on how parents can raise their own adventure seeking outdoor enthusiast.

When I was a kid, my parents opened the door in the morning and said, “Go outside. Be back for lunch.” I’d spend the early hours chasing bullfrogs, building elaborate castles out of sticks, and playing in the endless mud that decorated our out-of-commission 250-acre farm in Maine.

After I wolfed down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunchtime, their trusting request was repeated, “Go outside. Be back for supper.” I always returned, as instructed, right before our dinner plates landed on the table. My childhood wasn’t perfect, but in some respects it was downright glorious. I was an adventure seeker and outdoor enthusiast before I knew my ABCs.

Today, parents often shudder when I tell them about my upbringing. “But you could have been kidnapped!” they sputter with wide eyes. “What if you had been hurt? Or worse!”

Back then, hypotheticals did not drive parenting. Good judgement may have been partially off the table too, but our parents placed their faith in us. Plus, we didn’t have a multitude of electronics and fifty stations of infinite cartoons. We had to find ways to keep ourselves busy, and there was no better place to do that than the great outdoors.

Coyote Peterson, animal expert and host of “Brave Wilderness,” had a similar upbringing. He spent much of his childhood exploring the woods behind his home in the small town of Newbury, Ohio. There, a simple love of animals and appreciation for the outdoors gave him inspiration for his hit YouTube channel and new book “Brave Adventures: Wild Animals in a Wild World.”

“From those early days, I told my Mom that I wanted to have my own reptile show some day. I wanted to be the one to show other people this incredible world that I had come to love and respect,” Peterson reveals in the prologue.

In short standalone chapters, he recalls some of his most memorable encounters with creatures from all over the world and the environments in which they live. From his first spontaneous moment with a snapping turtle at eight years old to the many nail-biting adventures with his Brave Wilderness team, the book reminds us that animals rule the wild places of this planet. But, according to Peterson, that shouldn’t stop parents from encouraging their kids to explore beyond their front doors. There are plenty of ways for your child to “Be Brave, Stay Wild,” as Peterson says at the end of each “Brave Wilderness” episode.

He recommends that children start in their own backyards where the opportunities are endless yet often hidden. “Anybody who has rocks or logs or trees, anything like that around their house, you can go outside and find some sort of an animal. Even if it’s something as simple as a beetle or a worm, it’s still exciting.”

He’s also a fan of local and state parks, which are affordable and accessible for families of all sizes. “They have beautifully manicured trails and posted directions, making it a safe adventure for any family,” he says. Once children are a little older, in the 10 to 15 age range, adventures can become more challenging and ambitious. Backcountry backpacking, “spending at least one night in the wilderness, usually at a designated backcountry campsite or trail shelter far from the nearest road,” is a good starting point.

blond girl holding snail
 

If your child is fearful of or intimidated by nature, Peterson suggests reading as a gateway. He was inspired by books such as “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Misty of Chincoteague,” and “Jaws,” and spent a considerable amount of time learning about different species from encyclopedias and other wilderness guides at his local library.

When exploring the outdoors, proper identification of animal species, Peterson explains, is the most important thing you and your child can do to stay safe. “You can walk upon something and be like, ‘Wow, that is a really cool looking snake.’ But it could venomous. It could kill you,” he warns. Peterson encourages kids to admire animals from a safe distance, but also realizes that curiosity sometimes gets the best of us.

“Obviously people are curious by nature, especially kids, and they’re going to want to catch things, they’re going to want to handle them, they’re going to want to get a closer look,” says Peterson.

In each show, Peterson travels the world teaching his audience about and interacting with earth’s most dangerous, abstract, and misunderstood animals. On occasion, he even endures bites, stings, pinches, and barbs to show viewers how the human body reacts and how to remedy the different situations.

Even so, he urges caution and education. “You can get incredibly close to things and not touch something and have the same intimate and meaningful encounter with an animal without ever disturbing it in its natural environment,” he says.

"I’ll Deal with The Denver Nuggets Later, Right Now I Need to do Something About That Baby."

When your screaming baby is more of a concern to the front desk than an NBA team doing what NBA teams do in hotel rooms, it’s hard to know how to feel.

Because we were only 17 miles from our home, you couldn’t really call what we did a “Babymoon.” Instead of heading down to Puerto Rico (an early idea), we spent a day enjoying all the Christmas-related activities Philadelphia offers in December.
We strolled through the Christmas Village, took the obligatory photos in front of the Holiday Tree, stood next to a rack of bras and watched the Macy’s Christmas Light Show from the women’s intimate wear section on the third floor of the department store, and gawked at the animatronic characters that bring “A Christmas Carol” to life in the impressive, 6,000-square-foot walk-through of Dickens Village.
Then, instead of heading back home, we spent the night at an expensive downtown hotel, eating room service in our ridiculous bathrobes (I stole mine!). On the drive home the following day, we made a pact to do it again next year – with an 11-month-old baby.
As our daughter Emma screamed her way through the 50 minute, traffic-filled drive to the city, we had second thoughts about the tradition we were trying to start.
Those fears proved unfounded. The minute Emma got out of the car, she was mesmerized by the lights, the sounds and the smells of Christmas time in Philly – a mix of pine trees, cold weather, fried foods, and the faint odor of stale urine. Everything we enjoyed the previous year was magnified tenfold by the new addition of the baby we affectionately refer to as Beans. Emma’s Uncle Joe even met us for a few hours and bought her a new pair of gloves. I still have a clear picture of how happy Joe looked carrying Emma and her new gloves around.
When it was time to call it a day, again we opted for a fancy hotel that’s ordinarily well outside of our price range. Thanks to an insane Groupon deal, we’d secured a spot at the Loews Hotel.
Here’s how you can tell if the hotel you’re staying at is really, really nice: Opposing professional sports teams stay there. On this particular night, the Bilskis and the Denver Nuggets chose the Loews to rest their weary heads. As a huge lifetime fan of NBA basketball, I was star struck, and eager to make the most of my good fortune. After we put Emma to bed, I snuck back down to the lobby and mulled around until I noticed players heading to the elevator. I then wedged myself into the elevator with the NBA players. Once inside, I’d start with the questions: “You guys been following the Sixers’ progress at all? What do you think of Embiid?” and, “I’m in relatively good shape, so do you think I could train myself to dunk at this point in my life if I worked really hard?” I did this about four times before my wife called and asked me what the hell I was doing.
Emma had gone to bed without any issues, but she didn’t stay asleep long. When she awoke to find herself in a luxury hotel instead of her modest, unimpressive townhouse, she must’ve thought she’d been kidnapped. To this day, I’ve never heard Emma scream the way she did that night in the Loews Hotel. And she never stopped the whole time my wife and I took turns trying to console her. She didn’t stop when the bellhop came by to tell us there were complaints and ask if everything was okay, either. For his part, the bellhop seemed relieved when we opened the door and he saw we weren’t performing any human sacrifices.
The wailing got so bad we thought about going to the ER. Instead, we bundled up our 11-month-old daughter for the December night and headed out to pick up some Motrin at a 24-hour Rite Aid a few blocks away. While I was putting Emma’s coat on, I glanced at the alarm clock on the bedside table. It read 1:48 a.m.
On the walk, I saw a man pooping next to a dumpster. When you’re pushing a stroller with your screaming baby through the streets of Philadelphia at 2 a.m. on a cold December night and you spot a man defecating on parking lot asphalt, it really makes you question your parenting decisions.
Eventually the Motrin worked its magic, and Emma managed to drift off for a few hours. Watching her sleep, I began to wonder if we were being dramatic about what had happened.
Then I remembered what I overheard the bellhop saying on the phone as I was pushing Emma’s stroller into the elevator and heading off to the Rite Aid: “I told you, I’ll deal with the loud music and weed smell coming from the players’ rooms in a minute,” the frazzled man barked. “But I had to deal with that baby first!”
*I’m only 46% sure he said “weed smell.” I’m 99% sure he said loud music, though.

Can We Learn to Love a Place That's Not the Perfect Fit?

What does science say about moving? Is it better to move to a place with more desirable characteristics, or to try to love where you are for their sake?

The United States is full of people who imagine the better life is just one move away, and I am not immune to this way of thinking. My husband and I feel the itch to start anew with our four kids. Months ago, we started fantasizing about somewhere cooler, somewhere with mountains, somewhere more exotic than the flat suburban terrain we inhabit in Texas.
Then we told our kids.
The two who are old enough to understand were horrified, and the younger ones latched onto their siblings’ panic. Having lived in the same house all of their lives, they didn’t view being uprooted as an adventure. They saw it as upheaval, chaos, and abandonment of their only home.
I felt deflated as my husband and I regrouped and tried to figure out what to do.
Would it be better to move to a place with more desirable characteristics, or should we try to love where we are right now for the sake of our kids?

The effects of moving

Researchers have studied the effects of moving on children, and the results are not encouraging for parents with wanderlust. A massive study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that children who moved were at higher risk of abusing drugs, attempting suicide, and committing crimes during their lives.
The study went further and found that the more times a child moves in one year the higher the risks of negative outcomes, and the early adolescent years, as expected, are the worst time for a move.
Another study looked at the effects of moving from one house to another to test the theory that as long as kids don’t have to switch schools, they’ll be okay. They found that they are not, in fact, okay.
In the over 20,000 kids studied, researchers found that moving between kindergarten and eighth grade affected kids’ math and reading scores as well as their social lives, even when kids stayed at the same school.
Research can’t be perfectly complete, and the reasons for moving are important. For example, moving because mom and dad are divorcing is likely going to cause more stress than moving because of a parent’s lucrative job opportunity. However, the conclusion from all the data seems to point to moving as a stressor all its own.
Presented with the facts, choosing to move without a job or other tangible reason for a motivator feels wrong. Can we choose to go just for fun, and if not, how are we supposed to look at where we live now in a new light?

Falling in love with a place

Melody Warnick’s book “This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live,” jumped out at me from the library shelves. Still wading through our dilemma, I devoured this thoroughly researched work written by a parent who has moved with her family many times. In an attempt to fall in love with her newest location, Blacksburg, Virginia, Warnick set out to find research-supported ways to love where she landed.
She found that many practices known to make people happier are also keys to falling in love with our locations. Being happy by practicing known happiness boosters can foster a connection to being happy where we are. The following tips are easy enough to implement, and Warnick offers even more in her book.

Hit the pavement or path

Being on eye level with our town or city helps us see the details and makes us feel more attached. Plus, exercise makes us happy. Mental health, memories, and immune systems receive a boost from being outdoors.
We’re also more likely to run into other people and to have a conversation if we’re afoot rather than if we are in a car stuck in gridlock with other angry drivers. That leads to the next tip.

Steal a page from Mister Rogers

Nine years in the same neighborhood does not mean I know my neighbors. Parenting little ones is full-time work, and I am also leaning into my introvert tendencies as I age. I haven’t fully invested in most of the people around us. This may be another reason I don’t feel invested in where I live.
Knowing our neighbors helps us build relationships, and that has long-term effects. Besides feeling more connected to where we live, relationships with our neighbors that are positive can benefit our health more than kicking a cigarette habit or exercising regularly.
When natural disasters occur, those who know their neighbors may also be more likely to survive according to research Warnick discovered. People who know their neighbors are more likely to look out for them, including helping those who can’t make it out on their own in the case of a hurricane, tsunami, or other threatening event.

Practice altruism

Towns and cities depend on the kindness of volunteers to keep them running, and finding a place to pitch in helps families feel invested in the place they call home. Working to make a place better, whether it’s by organizing fundraisers or donating canned goods to a food bank, makes us care about it more.

To stay or to go

There are positives to every place, and there are negatives as well. Warnick’s book is helping me focus on what my piece of suburbia has to offer – tons of family friendly events and affordable housing – as opposed to all of the ways I feel it’s lacking. However, I still can’t say for sure that this is our forever home.
A brief vacation to Austin, a hipper, more outdoorsy part of Texas, even made our kids reconsider their reservations about moving.  They loved the vibe and the allergen-friendly food, and as we headed home, my oldest wanted to know if moving was still a possibility.
Maybe, maybe not, but Warnick’s book gives me hope that whether we stay or go, we are equipped to learn to be happy wherever we are. Relationships require time and effort, and that’s even true of the relationships we have with our cities and towns. The love we have for a place can grow if we put the work into it, so no matter where we go or if we stay, we can follow sound advice for how to make a destination a home.

Your Family’s Insider Guide to Conquering 6 National Parks

Sure, you could do what everyone else is doing on their trek to these popular National Parks. Or you could be a little more adventurous.

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]H[/su_dropcap]eading to our nation’s national parks with children often creates a dilemma: Stick to the highlights of the park, which are often kid-friendly and easily accessible yet overrun with other tourists, or head to less popular areas which are often less accommodating for children?
If you look hard enough, there are a few spots in and/or near every park that will take you away from the crowds for a family-friendly adventure.
 

tip #1

Rise early or come late

Parks gates often remain open even when the park is officially closed. Buy a day pass online ahead of time and enter the park while other visitors are busy with breakfast or dinner – you’ll be rewarded with more wildlife, great lighting, striking stars, and few people.

 

Shenandoah

Virginia

Safari LTD cayote toy shennedoah national park
Autumn colors in Shenandoah National Park, above the clouds.
 
Learn some history – The Fox Hollow Trail is an easy, 1.2-mile self-guided hike located near the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. While it’s not known for it’s views, the trail passes by the cemetery and homesite of farmers who lived in the region.
Explore underground – One of the largest series of caverns in the east, Luray caverns will fascinate any young explorer who has wondered what goes on beneath her feet. The stalactites and stalagmites are sure to impress. Because this activity is completely underground, a guided tour is a perfect outing if the weather for your trip turns out to be less than hoped for. Strollers are usable on the paved walkway, but must be carried in sections.
Spy some wildlife – Shenandoah is home to black bears, bunnies, woodpeckers, deer, and more. The completely stroller-friendly Limberlost trail is a 1.3-mile chance to catch a view of some of Shenandoah’s year-round residents. Head out in the early morning or dusk for your best chance at viewing wildlife.
Find a waterfall – If you have older children with you, the Doyles River Trail offers a pleasant out and back hike with two waterfalls to encourage your kids down the trail. The hike is 2.7 miles round trip, 3.2 if you head down to the second falls. With just over 1,000 feet in elevation gain, this trail is more difficult than others, but should be doable for older children or experienced hikers.
Have a snack – The Route 11 Potato Chip Company factory cooks up some of Virginia’s most iconic snacks. With unique flavors ranging from Chesapeake Crab to Mama Zuma’s Revenge, everyone will find something to enjoy. The factory offers plenty of chips to sample and large windows in the retail store that allow you to see the entire chip making process.
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Safari LTD. toys of animals found in America's national parks
 
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Parent Co. partnered with Safari LTD because they believe preserving the environment is second nature to kids who grow up surrounded by its beauty.

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tip #2

Backtrack

Some national parks with limited road access, like Glacier, have a predictable traffic pattern. Talk to a ranger ahead of time to find out which direction people usually view the park, then do the opposite.

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Yellowstone

Wyoming | Montana

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"Explosion" of the Great Fountaun Geysir at Yellowstone National Park
 
See geysers as they erupt  – The boardwalk by Old Faithful is far from a secret. But joining a ranger walk is the often overlooked secret to getting the best views of geysers erupting. Ranger walks are offered daily in the summer and fall. If you head to the park in the off season, look for members of the “Geyser Gazer Club” standing by with clipboards. They will be happy to share their information with you.
Swim in a hot spring – The Boiling River, in Montana’s small claim to the park, is a perfect swimming hole for anyone who has been tempted to test the waters in Yellowstone. From the parking lot, there is a short, flat three-quarters-of-a-mile hike to the swimming hole. Hop in where river meets the significantly colder waters of the Gardner River. Park officials recommend avoiding going under water.
Find Paradise – Yellowstone’s famous thermal waters extend pass the park. Paradise Valley, Montana, is home to one of the state’s most loved resorts, Chico Hot Springs. The restaurant offers finer dining than you will expect to find in this rural locale. On the drive there, play John Mayer’s album “Paradise Valley,” named after the time he spent there. Consider going in winter; nothing beats swimming in warm water as snow falls around you, and Chico offers a fantastic winter getaway package.
See real dinosaur fossils – If your vacation is taking you to Glacier National Park as well, don’t overlook a stop at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. The museum features rotating exhibits and a large collection of T-Rex and Triceratops fossils. The second floor hosts an excellent Yellowstone-themed playspace for young kids. In the summer, be sure to check out the living farm to get a taste of what life was like for early settlers. If you are a member at your local science museum, you may get in free.
Take a bike ride – If you’ve packed your bike trailer or have enthusiastic cyclists in your family, check out the trail to the Lone Star Geyser. The geyser erupts about every three hours, so pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the area for a while. Before you leave, ask at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center if they can estimate the timing of the next eruption.
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tip #3

Try to visit parks during the shoulder seasons

Spring, winter, and fall are the least busy times for the parks. If the summer is your only window, try visiting parks during the first or last week of the summer holiday.

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Glacier

Montana

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Grinnell Glacier at Glacier National Park, Montana.
 
Catch a waterfall unlike any other – The Two Medicine area of the park used to be one of the most popular sites, until the Going to the Sun road was completed. Now it’s one of the least visited. It is home to Running Eagle Falls or “Trick Falls,” named so because the waterfall appears to come directly out of the rock in summer. In spring, two waterfalls appear to join together. The trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Eat a huckleberry macaroon – Montana is known for its huckleberries, and while you can try them anywhere in and near the park, Polebridge, known for its bakery, features the most iconic. From there, head to Bowman Lake in the northern end of the park.
Take a boat ride  – Most visitors to the park stay to the western side, but families should not miss St. Mary Lake on Glacier’s eastern side. The western end of the lake hosts several family-friendly trails, including Baring Falls (0.6 miles) and many picnic spots. Book a spot on a lake cruise for an unforgettable view of the park.
Find a wild horse – If you head south after your trip to Glacier, stop by Wildhorse Island State Park, the largest island in Flathead Lake. Salish-Kootenai Indians historically used the island to pasture horses. It is now famous for its wildlife viewing, including five wild horses. Accessing the park requires a boat.
Take it easy – Many of the hikes in Glacier require backcountry courage or a willingness to put up with a crush of crowds. The Rocky Point Trail along Lake MacDonald is an easy trail that takes you away from other sightseers. Just under two miles, the trail offers views of the lake, and in the spring, plenty of wildflowers.
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tip #4

Learn about the parks before you go

The National Parks Foundation website has a great directory of all the parks to help your family get excited about your visit – their various guides offer additional in-depth resources.

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Arches

Utah

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Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah at sunrise.
 
Go exploring – The short, 0.3-mile Sand Dune Arch trail provides a completely different experience for kids than for adults. While adults may be tempted to view the arch and finish the trail in under 20 minutes, children will enjoy exploring all the nooks and crannies along this sandy playground.
Take a drive – If kids need a break from hiking and exploring, let them rest in the car while you check out the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway. With petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks along the road, there are plenty of places to pull off that will entertain curious adventurers.
Go off the beaten trail – While the initial portion of the Windows Primitive Trail is quite popular, the less traveled backside of the loop provides even better views. A 1.2 mile loop is doable with children, and allows for easy views of the arches that many consider to be the heart of the park.
Go stargazing – The crowds in Arches are hard to avoid during the day, but the park offers some of the darkest skies in Utah for stargazing at night. Roads are currently closed at night from Sunday through Thursday until November 30th, but if you visit on a weekend, head to a picnic area or viewpoint. Bring blankets and hot chocolate for an unforgettable night.
Head to a museum – If you have any dinosaur enthusiasts in the family, be sure to check out this prehistoric paradise at Moab Giants. Complete with a museum, aquarium, outdoor dinosaur trail, and dinosaur themed play area, kids will not forget this piece of Moab.
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Acadia

Maine

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View from rocky summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.

 
Pick blueberries – If you head to Maine in July or August, be sure to pick blueberries for the ultimate “Blueberries for Sal” experience. Numerous trails in the park offer places to pick fresh blueberries, so bring a bucket and some hungry mouths. Because it’s a popular activity, park officials ask that people be aware of their impact on the land and be careful to stay on rock to minimize trampling.
Take a bike ride – Acadia is home to 45 miles of carriage roads that are closed to motor vehicle traffic. Witch Hole Pond is not the most trafficked of these roads, but it was made famous when the Obamas biked around in 2014. The 3.3 mile trail has an initial steep ascent, but then levels off after a quarter of a mile.
Learn about lobsters – Take a cruise on the Lulu Lobster Boat to learn firsthand about lobstering in Maine. This small lobster boat can also provide better views of seals along the coastline than larger boats can.
Enjoy a bite to eat – You can bribe kids to finish nearly any hike with the promise of food at the end. The Jordan Pond House is known for it’s popovers and lemonade. To work up an appetite, check out the less busy Jordan Stream Trail nearby.
Surf and turf – The Ship Harbor Nature Trail  offers forest and water views on a 1.3-mile walk. This trail is shaped like a figure eight, with the first loop wheelchair and stroller accessible. The hike winds through a spruce and fir forest before coming out at a rocky coastline. If you visit in the winter, bring your snowshoes.
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Everglades National Park

Florida

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Everglades national park
See seashells by the seashore – If you have a shell enthusiast in the family, be sure to check out the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum north of the park on Florida’s gulf coast. The museum hosts numerous exhibits, daily beach walks, and family arts and crafts. The children’s learning lab features interactive displays, games, and a live tank.
Take a guided birding walk – The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary north of Everglades park is owned by the Audubon society and offers a variety of family friendly activities including guided walks. The sanctuary provides a 2.25-mile boardwalk from which to view wood storks, and even the rare blooming ghost orchid.
Find hidden treasure – If coastal explorations have put your children in a pirate mood, try your hand at looking for hidden treasure while geocaching. The Park Employee for a Day Geocache Trail is a series of hidden case studies to find and weigh in on. If you are already an avid geogacher, note that only park employees are allowed to place caches in the park.
Get on a boat – Hop on a boat for a chance to see manatees, bald eagles, ospreys, alligators, and more. The Everglades National Park Boat Tour company offers two tours: the Ten Thousand Island Cruise and the Mangrove Wilderness Tour. Both offer unique views of the area, but the Ten Thousand Island Cruise is free for kids four and under.
Go for a ride – Take the 15-mile loop through the Everglades and you might have a chance to see alligators, herons, snakes, and other wildlife. You have two options for getting around on this road – either a tram ride with Shark Valley Tram Tours, or by bike. Either way, you and your family can enjoy the road less traveled.
 
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15 Kid's Books That Celebrate Immigration

In honor of such a monumental move, here are 15 books to help your child grasp what it means to arrive in a new land.

Unless you are an immigrant or the child of immigrants, the move from one country to another can be a hard thing for kids to understand. The transplanting of a life is about more than just a physical shift. It’s about holding onto one’s culture, ideals, and heritage during a shift onto new soil, and it’s no small thing. In honor of such a move, here are 15 books to help your child grasp what it means to arrive in a new land.

 
 
 
COmingtoAmerica

Coming to America: The Kids’ Book About Immigration

by David Fassler

This book is filled with illustrations and written descriptions by children who have immigrated to the United States. It’s a beautiful first-hand account of what it’s like for a child to come to a new place.


ThisIsMe

This is Me

by Jamie Lee Curtis

This book, written by Jamie Lee Curtis, poses the question: If you had to fill your suitcase with all the things that are most important to you, what would you pack? Of all the things and people and places in your life, what says, “This is me”? It tackles what defines us. It also comes with a pop-up suitcase on the back cover for young readers to fill.


HereIAm

Here I Am

by Patti Kim

A boy moves to a new world full of bright colors, loud noises, and words he cannot understand, but he takes with him a token from his old life: a red seed. He carries it everywhere until it falls out his window. Now he must venture out and brave the new world. In this world he finds friendship and the ability to bring the things he loves about his past into this new place.


MamasNightingale

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

by Edwidge Danticat

Saya’s mother is sent to a detention center for undocumented immigrants. Saya must take solace in the sound of her mother’s voice on the answering machine and the cassette tapes she sends her. While her father spends his evenings writing letters to officials, Saya writes her own story based on the Haitian folk stories her mother tells, and she learns the power words have to change lives.


LostandfoundCat

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey

by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes

Think a longer distance “Homeward Bound” for this one. This true story follows the journey of one cat, Kunkush, who gets separated from his Iraqi family on their way to Greece. Aid workers find the cat and join a worldwide force to reunite Kunkush with his family in their new home.


MyTwoBlankets

 “My Two Blankets

by Irena Kobald

A little girl nicknamed Cartwheel moves from Sudan to Australia and finds security in the metaphorical blanket she weaves of her language and memories. She meets a girl at the park who helps her weave a new blanket, with new words and experiences, to go along with the old one. Written by an Austrian immigrant to Australia, this book perfectly captures the experience for anyone who has been the new kid.


OneGreenApple

One Green Apple

by Eve Bunting

Written by the best-selling author Eve Bunting, this book follows Farrah, a Muslim immigrant who feels isolated from her classmates in her new school. But when she visits an apple orchard on a class field trip, she finds things that can bring them together. The green apple she accidentally puts into the apple press instead of the red one mixes together to form a cider they share, an extension of the melting pot metaphor for a new generation.


TheNameJar

The Name Jar

by Yangsook Choi

Nobody can pronounce “Unhei,” or at least that’s what Unhei, the new Korean girl, thinks when she starts in a new school. So she decides to come up with a new name and everybody in the class gets to help by filling up a name jar. It’s only after a week of being “Jane” and “Suzy” that one classmate finds out the meaning of her real name and encourages her to use it. This book is excellent at celebrating being yourself and being brave in new situations.


EverybodyCooksRice

Everybody Cooks Rice

by Norah Dooley

This book is a moveable feast. One little girl is sent to fetch her brother for dinner and, as she explores the neighborhood, she sees all the different ways each family cooks rice. It’s a celebration of cultures on a San Francisco street. It also comes with recipes at the end.


TheBlessingCup

The Blessing Cup

by Patricia Polacco

This New York Times bestseller follows a family’s move from Russia to America in the early 1900s. They take along their most prized possession: a tea set meant to bring blessings to the owner. The favorite cup among the bunch, “the blessing cup,” becomes a symbol of hope and a reminder of heritage that gets passed down over the decades.


SukiKimono

Suki’s Kimono

by Chieri Uegaki

Suki is the kid we all wish we could be. On her first day of class she insists on wearing the blue kimono her obachan, her grandmother, bought her at a street festival. She gets so excited recounting the story of the kimono in front of the class that she begins to dance and sing, just as she had on that day. Suki is brave, funny, and fiercely herself, making this book an easy favorite.


GrandfathersJourney

Grandfather’s Journey

by Allen Say

This book, winner of the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished picture book, traces the story of one man’s grandfather who came from Japan to California and back again. It reflects the love for both places and both cultures in a way that shows the complexity of an immigrant’s life as one man tries to hold on to the old and the new with equal appreciation.


ApplePie4OfJuly

 “Apple Pie Fourth of July

by Janet S. Wong

This book is full of sensory imagery – the smell of baking pies that clashes with the chow mein and other Asian cooking in one girl’s family restaurant. The girl is convinced her parents do not understand what America values on Fourth of July until she watches patrons enjoy her family’s cooking. She ends the night eating apple pie and watching the fireworks with a new appreciation of her family. The bright, paper-cut illustrations bring this book to life just as much as the narrative.


HowManyDaystoAmerica

How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story

by Eve Bunting

 Another one by Eve Bunting, this story follows a Caribbean family who is forced to flee their home in a small fishing boat. They arrive in America on Thanksgiving Day. The story is both suspenseful and hopeful as readers root for this family’s survival while they brave the waters to come to a better place.


AllTheWayToAmerica

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel

by Dan Yaccarino

Yaccarino tells the true story of his grandfather’s arrival on Ellis Island from Italy with shovel in hand, ready to work hard and make a new life. The shovel made it through four generations and carried with it the rich history of a culture that never left. This is a book that will make you want to interview your own parents on the history of your ancestors.

Mothers Hold Children’s Hands for a While – or Sometimes Forever

When I co-owned a home décor business, one of the products featured in our catalog was a calligraphy sign that said: “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a while… their hearts forever.” At the time, my kids were five and three, then eight and five, and 12 and nine – Lindsey and Michael practically grew up in the warehouse where I packed and shipped those sweetly framed pieces of art to our customers.
During those busy years, I adored holding my toddler’s, preschooler’s, and grade-schooler’s hands. They were so small, so soft, so innocent. I held them when we crossed streets, when we walked to the park, and sometimes, when I was driving down the road. I’d reach behind me to the backseat where the kids were safely buckled in and slip my palm into Lindsey’s or Michael’s. Without ever saying a word, we’d hold onto each other for a mile or two.
In July, my 37-year-old daughter and I took a cruise to Alaska. The last port on the itinerary was Victoria. We’d traveled there on Holland America 10 years before, when my daughter was 27. Out of all the ports of call, Lindsey said she enjoyed this one most because at the end of that evening, we had taken a horse drawn carriage from the Empress Hotel back to the cruise ship. Lindsey grinned the entire ride. So, we were both looking forward to returning to this charming Canadian city and seeing a little more of the town.
As soon as we exited the ship and headed down the ramp of the MS Eurodam, Lindsey reached out to hold my hand. You see, back when my daughter was 16 month’s old, she had a grand mal seizure. Afterwards, she developed essential tremors that caused her hands, arms, and head to shake. In 2006, doctors at Oregon Health Science diagnosed her with intellectual disabilities, explaining that a short in her neurological system causes information to process differently in her brain than in those of her more typical counterparts. They also predicted she would eventually live in a group home. Then in her late 20s, Lindsey began to suffer from balance and spatial issues that caused additional mobility problems.
Despite struggling daily, my daughter has proven the OHSU doctors wrong. Lindsey lives independently – in her own apartment – and she works a part-time job at a local State Farm Insurance agent’s office. Some days, Lindsey’s tremors are mild and anyone observing her might not even notice. Other days she fights to confidently take a single step – yet forces herself to take many. A few years ago, for a short period of time, Lindsey felt more comfortable using a walker to get around our small community. Lately, though, she’s graduated back to a cane. Some days, she doesn’t even need that.
Once we left the port area, I offered to hail a taxi to take us into town. Lindsey said she’d rather walk. That answer pleased me because the mile stroll along the waterfront – from the port into downtown Victoria – is delightful. Besides, my Fitbit indicated that I needed a lot more steps to reach my daily goal.
But as we headed down the sidewalks, the paved paths, the wooden walkway near the water, past the houseboats and the little boat taxi landing, unless Lindsey was gripping my hand, she took baby steps. It was as if her legs were frozen.
When I held my daughter’s hand, she moved at a fairly normal pace. When I let go, cruise ship passengers seemed to whizz past us as if they were running in a relay. Holding on tight, Lindsey stepped confidently. Letting go, my daughter moved slower than a sloth.
I know Lindsey cannot help this. At least I do not wish to believe she does this for attention. Although my mind did wander back to recent days on the cruise ship and how effectively Lindsey moved about the corridors with only her cane and no help from me. Still, I chose to consider that on those unfamiliar streets, in that unfamiliar city, she needed to hold my hand.
As we walked, I thought back to the years when I treasured holding my little one’s hands. In most cases, it wasn’t a mandatory gesture – it was a way to connect, to let them know I was thinking about them. As children grow, though, most mothers hope their kids will let go of their hands and begin to navigate the world on their own.
Sauntering toward the Empress Hotel, holding my 37-year-old’s hand, I glimpsed someone staring at us, trying to assess our situation. My face flushed red. A rush of emotions surged through me. Envy. Why can’t we be like all the other mothers and daughters? Grief, then deep sadness. For Lindsey. She struggles so. And even though my brain comprehends that she can’t help having mobility issues, I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed to have to walk the sidewalks of Victoria hand-in-hand with a 30-something woman – to stand out from the other mothers and daughters walking toward the town’s center. Then shame. Shame because I allowed myself to care what other people think, to permit untoward feelings in the first place.
My mind somersaulted back in time, back to my warehouse where I also packed a wooden sign we carried: There are two things we should give our children. One is roots, and the other is wings.
“Why can’t my daughter have wings?” my brain screamed, suddenly feeling angry and frustrated along with all those other emotions. We were surrounded by happy, chatty tourists, and yet, I felt lonely. When it comes to my daughter, after all my years of counseling, I know it is okay to feel a mixture of emotions. All emotions have value. There is no right or wrong way to feel. I took a deep breath. I released the air slowly. I turned toward my daughter.
“You’re doing good, Linds,” I said. She gripped my hand tighter. Her face concentrated on the path ahead. She steadied her cane on the pavement, took a step, lifted her other leg, and shifted her body forward – one slow movement at a time. I studied my girl. “She definitely has roots,” I thought. Independent roots. And she proves them again and again, day after day.
As I walked toward the city center holding my daughter’s hand, I knew she also had wings. Her wings may not allow her to fly as high as I’d initially hoped on the day she was born, but compared to what the OHSU doctors predicted back when she was six, my girl is soaring.
And, sometimes, whether it’s convenient or not, and whether I embrace it or not, Lindsey is going to need to hold my hand.
This article was originally published here.

It Would Have Been Better If Kevin Hadn't Come

I think all parents worry that one of their kids is being shortchanged in some way. This fear increases exponentially when you have a special needs child.

I think all good parents worry that one of their children is being shortchanged in some way. This fear increases exponentially when you have a special needs child.
Some days it feels as though everything is about Kevin – keeping him calm, keeping him happy, or keeping him from harming himself and us. There’s not a day, not a single moment, that I don’t worry my girls are being cheated.
We just returned from Universal Studios in Orlando Florida, and what an amazing place, especially for families with disabled children. We were able to bypass all the lines and, not only did the staff allow Kevin to choose his seat on every ride, they weathered each of his outbursts as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.
I planned this trip over a year ago for Dana. It was all for her. Dana is a bonafide “Harry Potter” junky, and I couldn’t be more proud of my self-proclaimed “nerd.” She has sorted each of us into our prospective “houses.” Chris, Papa, Kevin, and I are Hufflepuffs, Godmommy and Dana are Ravenclaws, and Kayla and Grammy are Gryffindors.
I know it won’t last. Puberty is just around the corner and, before I blink, I know the robe, wand, Ravenclaw T-shirts, and Marauder’s Map will be replaced with lipstick, Teen Vogue, and God knows what else. They told me years ago to hang on to every precious moment but, like many parents, I didn’t listen until two years ago when I finally saw her childhood slipping through my fingers.
Two years ago (she was 10), I thought Dana still believed in Santa Claus. I figured it would be the last year, so I planned a vacation to Disney World on Christmas Day. When the kids woke up, the only things under the tree were suitcases and an agenda written by Santa to Dana detailing every moment of the trip. It was all for her – this last Christmas I thought she believed.
We had a great time, but when we got home, Dana sat me down and said, “Mommy, I know it was you. I wanted to believe, but deep down, I knew it was you. Thank you.”
It was one of those moments when you can actually hear your heart break. She knew I did it all for her, she knew I loved her, but my baby didn’t believe in magic anymore. I became cognizant of every moment I’d lost, because I was so busy with Kevin.
This time I wanted things to be different. “Okay,” I thought. “She doesn’t believe in Santa, but she still believes in wizards and witches, so the magic isn’t gone!” This time, I let her plan everything down to the last detail and spent way more money than I should have, but it would all be worth it because for once, everything would be about Dana and what she wanted. For once, my darling girl wouldn’t be in second or third place.
We got home yesterday and, all in all, it was a great trip. But there were moments that nearly crushed me. Everything with Kevin is hard. There were meltdowns in the park where he hit us, screamed at us, bit us, and pulled our hair. There was a tantrum in a restaurant that silenced the whole place. It seemed a thousand eyes were bearing down on us with either pity or disdain.
There was the day he didn’t make it to the toilet in time and pooped all over the bathroom floor, and Dana had to bar the entrance to the men’s room while I cleaned the mess and Chris found new clothes.
I’ve taught my daughters to be honest about what our life is like, but sometimes the truth hurts. For example, our first day in was rough. Kevin was confused, overstimulated, and extremely agitated. After dinner, he finished his desert and then demanded Kayla give him hers. When she refused, he started screaming and hitting her.
Dana’s godmother, who isn’t used to seeing him meltdown like that, politely suggested we bring him outside, and Dana responded with, “Oh you’re embarrassed? Seriously?! Welcome to my life. I deal with this every day.”
Ouch. I’d never heard her say anything like that before. But it was the cold, hard truth, and I understood exactly how she felt.
Our last day we spent swimming in the pool. Chris and I were holding Dana when Kayla swam over to us. (Kevin was with Grammy.) We each put a girl on our back, and Kayla said, half-jokingly, “It’s like we’re a perfect family!”
Translation: We’d be a perfect family if only we didn’t have Kevin.
Then there was the day I caught Dana’s Godmother and my mother talking about me. “I heard you two!” I said jokingly. “What are you saying behind my back?”
But my mother put her head down as if making a confession and said, “I was just saying how, sometimes, when Kevin explodes like this, I just have to walk away it’s so hurtful to watch. I hurt for you and for him, and I just have to get away.”
Ouch, ouch, double ouch.
As wonderful as the late night talks with Dana’s Godmother were, one night she confessed to me, “You have a very hard life. I wouldn’t want it for myself.”
I must have asked Dana a million times in four days, “Is it everything you dreamed it would be?” Every time she replied with something along the lines of, “It is, Mommy, it really is, and if Kevin wasn’t here it would be perfect.”
I can remember thinking, “You know, Dana, all the honesty I’ve heard this week didn’t hurt quite enough. How about we get some lemon juice or salt or something?”
Which begs the question: “Rachel, have you done the right thing encouraging the girls (and everyone else you love) to be honest about their feelings? Shouldn’t you be responding to all these comments with something along the lines of, “Don’t say that about Kevin!”
Maybe.
I’m sure there are those who would say I’ve made a mistake allowing my girls to speak so freely about their feelings and thoughts, but you know what? They don’t have to live the way we do. We’ve had to survive things most people can’t imagine. So yes, we live by our own set of rules over here, and part of that is admitting you’d rather not get slapped in the face in line for “The Hulk” because Kevin wants to go first or telling strangers they can’t go into the bathroom right now because Mommy is busy cleaning poop off the floor.
My girls speak some harsh truths, truths heavy with anger and resentment, but we’ve all learned something the hard way: When you speak those truths, it sets you free to love when loving seems impossible.
I can’t count how many times (after she said she hated him) the following conversation took place.
Kevin: “I hit you!”
Dana: With all the empathy and patience in the world, “Please don’t hurt me?”
Kevin: “I want to!”
Dana: “Okay, Kevin, if it will make you feel better, you can hit me.”
Kevin: “Sawney.”
Dana: “It’s okay, thank you for making the right choice. Let’s go on another ride, you can go first!”
And Kayla, who said we’d be the perfect family if only it weren’t for Kevin and took more physical abuse than any of us, returned every blow with a firm hug while softly whispering, “It’s okay, buddy, I’m here, I’m right here,” as she held him.
What is it she always says? Oh yes: “Bad thoughts and feelings are like weeds, Mommy. You can’t pretend they’re not there. Pull them out by the root and let them die, or they’ll kill everything you’ve worked so hard to make beautiful.”
So we’re home now. Kevin has been so peaceful and pleasant all day, obviously relieved to be where things are familiar. I ask Dana to sit in my lap, and she agrees, which is rare. She’s almost 13 now, and sitting in Mom’s lap is sooooooooooooooooo not cool.
Me: “Why did we go to Universal?”
Dana: “Because you love me, and I love Harry Potter.”
Me: “What was your favorite part?”
Dana: “Getting my Godmother all to myself in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.”
Me: “Was it just like you dreamed?”
Dana: “Better.”
Me: “Do you still wish Kevin hadn’t come?”
Dana: “No, I was just mad. Sometimes you have to let yourself be mad or you’ll never be happy, right?”
Me: “Right. I’m sorry he takes up so much of my attention.”
Dana: “It’s okay. He takes up a lot of everyone’s attention, even mine.”
Me: “I love you.”
Dana: “I love you more.”
Me: “Not possible.”
We’re home. Dana is in her Ravenclaw robe, wand in hand, re-reading “The Order of The Phoenix” while munching on a chocolate frog. Her friend just texted to ask how the vacation went, and she replies, “The best time I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

Food: The Great International Ambassador

While I love the diversity of their palates, what I love even more is how it has created a starting point for a growing global-awareness in our family.

From the day of her conception, my daughter has been exposed to ethnic food. Heck, it was a spicy tomatillo salsa that put me into labor (okay, it may have been coincidental, but I’m convinced she was tired of tube-feeding by umbilical cord and wanted the real thing). As a breastfeeding-mom, I recall an aunt advising me to give up Indian curry to help my baby have more (ahem) solid stool. Aghast at this suggestion, I tried giving up dairy instead.

My daughter is now four and my son almost two. Not too surprisingly, they both rank ethnic food up with the likes of mac and cheese. While I love the diversity of their palates, what I love even more is how it has created a starting point for a growing global-awareness in our family.

After seeing how much our kids loved exotic dishes, we began talking about where those dishes originate. Our daughter’s curiosity was piqued! Yet she still needed something tangible to understand that there were far away cultures much different than the one she knew.

Our conversations really took flight when – dorky parents that we may be – we bought her an interactive world floor-map for Christmas. She was hooked. While her brother wildly stomped around the flat globe as if claiming it as his own, we tried to identify some of the countries whose food we eat. In the quieter moments when her brother wasn’t loudly parading across the surface of the earth, we talked about the challenges these people face and what we could do to help them.

Though our approach to creating global-awareness with our kids is ever-evolving, here are some of the ideas we’ve loved implementing as a family:

1 | Eat

I’m a believer that the earlier you start your kids with ethnic flavors, the more likely they are to grow a diverse palate. I’m sure there is some genetic influence on taste preferences, but we adopted my son from here in the U.S. as an infant, and he loves Indian food just as much as my biological daughter.

If your kids are older, the biggest hurdle is convincing them to try new food (introduce it as a dare at first!). While there are likely dishes from every culture that might make your stomach churn (I, for one, am a wimp when it comes to unconventional animal-parts), you may all be surprised to find some really fantastic foods that please the Western palate as well! Some of our favorites are Indian Butter Chicken (chicken and rice in a creamy tomato-sauce with fragrant spices like cinnamon and cumin), Israeli Falafel (fried chickpea patties in a pita, often served with a yogurt sauce), Korean Bibimbap (crunchy fried rice and veggies), Bosnian Cevapi and Burek (slightly spicy sausages and homemade snail-shaped phyllo pastry, usually stuffed with meat or cheese), and Thai Massaman Curry (fried potatoes and onions in a spicy coconut-milk sauce, served over rice).

If you’re not much of a cook, check out the international aisle of your local grocery store. More than likely they have sweets from around the world that everyone in the family would be willing to try. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, find a restaurant to visit. Google-search the dishes on their menu to order something you think your kids would like.

2 | Explore

Food can open the door to learning, so don’t stop at just trying new cuisines. While waiting for your order at an international restaurant, take in your surroundings and talk about the cultural significance of the decor. Back at home, dig deeper: Is there a cultural festival or museum in your city? What international traditions could you replicate for a night of imaginative travel? Are there games children from other countries play that you could learn together as a family? Listen to their music and learn some of their words. Once you get the ball rolling, your kids will be propelled by curiosity!

3 | Engage

While eating and exploring are fun, the real purpose is not to boast of a diverse palate or an expansive knowledge of the world’s cultures. The point is to draw our kids into a relationship with the greater world. All around the globe, people are living in persecution and poverty and there are many ways our families can help. Find out if you can volunteer at a refugee center in your city. Raise money for an international justice organization. Send a Christmas shoebox to a child through Samaritan’s Purse. Help a family become self-sustaining by purchasing them farm animals through Heifer International.

You can also sponsor a child with an organization like Compassion International, World Vision, or Save the Children. Our family sponsors a little boy from Bangladesh. In addition to helping fund his education and meals, it’s been fun corresponding back and forth with letters, pictures, and drawings.

Perhaps the ethnic foods I’ve described sound a little too exotic for your taste or digestive system, but even pasta or tacos can be a starting point to draw your family into a heightened awareness of other cultures from around the world. Make food the ambassador to your kid’s hearts. Who knows, maybe in doing so, they’ll grow up to be ambassadors themselves.

Look, Mom! a Van Gogh!: Why Artistic Masterpieces Matter to Teens

Even the most jaded and surly teenagers can be inspired and moved by an up close encounter with artistic masterpieces.

“Mikala will be so jealous,” my daughter Maya says as she Snapchats a photo to her friend.
We’re on our fifth day visiting New York City. By the enthusiasm exhibited by my 15-year-old, you’d think we’re in front of a famous site – the Statue of Liberty, perhaps, or the Empire State Building. Or that she just snagged a photo with a celebrity and that’s why her friends back in British Columbia, Canada, will bubble with envy.
But no, the photo isn’t of her and a superstar – at least not flesh and blood. And while we are in a world-recognized locale, that’s not the focus. My daughter and I are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Maya has just sent off a photo of herself, beaming with excitement, beside a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh.
While I’m delighted for her and proud of her cultural eagerness, I’m also intrigued. Why would a teen and her friends care about century-old art?

Classroom concepts come to life

When I think teen, I think smartphones and YouTube. I rarely think of oil paintings in gilt frames – apart from school field trips or the occasional family outing. But when I ask my daughter why she loves Van Gogh in particular, all I get is a shrug and an unwillingness to analyze her motives: “It will feel too much like schoolwork.”
Yet that link to school may actually be one of the reasons. Darcy-Tell Morales is the associate educator of teen programs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, commonly known as the Met. She says, “I’ve personally heard teens say things like, ‘Wow! It’s so cool to see something in person that I learned about in art history!’” Seeing the art face to face, “provides context in a way that seeing a picture of it in a book or online does not.”
After all, kids in our society often grow up with these works. In elementary school, they may recreate Claude Monet’s water lilies in tissue paper or reproduce Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” in plasticine. The importance of this art is embedded in them, so it’s no wonder an up-close encounter will produce a sense of awe.

An encounter with fame

Even if a teen doesn’t have a tissue-paper history with an influential work of art, he or she is mostly likely familiar with it anyways. Once upon a time, one would have to visit a museum or be invited to a private collection to see paintings like these. Now they’re readily available online.
The more we see something, the more we like it, at least according to a 60s study. (And the more we like it, the more we see it.) Take Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, which didn’t become famous until it was stolen in 1911 and the story of its theft was disseminated around the world. Or Van Gogh, who was just starting to gain recognition when he died – and then shot up in popularity when his sister-in-law published the letters he wrote to his brother, which illuminated his difficult life. According to the website of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, “Van Gogh’s fascinating life story is one of the reasons why his work gradually took the whole world by storm.”
The art, of course, has to be of a certain quality for its popularity to endure, according to a 2013 study. But assuming it hits an acceptable degree of craftsmanship, a Van Gogh painting of sunflowers or a coy Mona Lisa will remain famous – and fame is always thrilling to be around.

Learning from the best

But why do we care about fame? It comes down to how we learn. As a social species, we traditionally learn from others. This means we’ve evolved to pay attention to those who have made noticeable achievements. While these days celebrities’ claims to fame may be fleeting and superficial, artistic masters have skills we want to emulate.
For teens with a keen interest in art, being able to see what they can’t see in a photograph – actual size, true color, individual brushstrokes, a lumpy texture – is a reason to get excited. It’s also a reason behind the demand for art museums’ teen-focused programs.
“We are happy to welcome a lot of teens in our museum,” says Sarah Broekhoven, education curator at the Van Gogh Museum. “Most of them come in school groups or with their families.” Like many museums, this one offers guided tours and special activities for school groups. Others go even further: the Met, for example, offers Teens Take the Met! nights, a blog with teen-written posts, a teen internship program, teen-only workshops, and more.

A rebel with a brush

Teens also connect with the rebellious stories behind these works and their artists. While it seems strange to consider these now-iconic paintings as radical, they often were.
At Canada’s Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Patricia Boyer is the educational programs officer for schools and families, and helps host tens of thousands of high school students each year. “Teens often find the art pretty intense,” she says. “We will talk about the courage that these artists had, how they were kind of rebels in a way, in their society – even Monet, whose paintings seem very pretty and easy to like.”
What was radical about Monet and his cohorts? First their style, which was loose and quick compared to the hyper-realist artists who were the rage at the time. Also their content, which shifted from stiff indoor portraitures and still lives to outdoor impressions of everyday people and places. Even the size of their paintings changed – instead of being huge works fit for castles and churches, they were often made smaller to fit in normal homes. These weren’t paintings for the rich. They were paintings for the average person.
“This was shocking at the time,” Boyer says. Teens identify with this urge to push against the norm. “They understand that sometimes we have to stick to our ideals, even if it’s not the easy way to go. And they can relate to this idea.”

Selfie-worthy

The list of reasons to love masterpieces goes on: teens can learn about history, link what happened in the past to current events, ponder what life’s about, be inspired to apply creative ideas to their own lives.
It’s no surprise, then, that my daughter Maya clicked selfies before the Met’s various Van Goghs. (“Eighteen!” she counted.) That on this one international vacation, we visited the Met, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where we wandered an exhibition on the colourful, music-infused art of Marc Chagall. That in past trips, we’ve targeted Paris’s Louvre and Centre Pompidou museums. That her next top vacation wish is to go to Amsterdam, specifically to visit the Van Gogh Museum.
And who am I to wonder why this art excites? For when Maya was done with the Van Goghs, I had her snap my photo beside my own favourite piece: the sweet bronze statue of Edgar Degas’ 14-year-old dancer. It was, I admit, a thrill.

Why Being Judgmental Comes Naturally and How to Curb It

It’s our job as parents to teach our kids about differences and how to approach life in a non-judgmental way.

I just got back from an amazing trip to Alaska. That part of the country is so special and nothing like I have ever seen before. It’s truly a different culture and way of life out there with small towns, minimal materialism, living off the grid, and very cold and wet weather.

Although I was in awe of the incredible nature we saw and the science and history we learned, I found myself having thoughts like, “How can anyone live here?” and “What do they do for fun in the middle of nowhere?” and “I could never stand that weather.” Then I wondered why these judgmental thoughts were filling my head.

I’ll be the first to admit that my biggest flaw in life is that I am too judgmental. Sadly, this attribute has gotten me into trouble in my relationships quite a bit over the years. Let’s just say that I may have been too honest at times with friends regarding issues that did not sit well with them. I also tend to see the flaws in others before I see their positive traits.

How did I get this way? I can tell you without a doubt that I come from a long line of judgmental relatives. My grandparents passed it down to my parents and they passed their outlook on to me. Fortunately, I recognize this as a problem in my life, and am now concerned that I will pass the “judgmental gene” to my children. Because I know firsthand how being judgmental can hold us back and cause stress and disappointment in our lives, I am trying very hard to do what I can to break this cycle and give my children an opportunity to see the world in a less judgmental way.

Why we judge others

We all make numerous judgments throughout our days, even if we don’t always realize it. Judging is a natural instinct that humans formed a long time ago to defend ourselves from situations that could cause us harm. We needed to be able to make quick judgments based on our observations to decide how we should react.

However, over time this instinct became less necessary for survival and is now part of our social behavior. We now tend to judge other people and situations because we do not understand them. When we are not familiar with someone or something, we become fearful and our immediate reaction is to judge them in a negative way to “protect” ourselves. We want to feel safe, so we label others as right or wrong, good or bad. Many times this judgment is due to a lack of empathy and compassion based on behaviors we learned from our upbringing (yes, our parents!).

The problem with being so judgmental is that it can put a strain on our relationships and eat away at us internally. When children grow up learning to judge the world in a negative way, this can affect how successful and happy they are throughout their lives. According to Healthy Place, “snap judgments, arbitrary thinking, and social pigeon-holing become the customary methods of rejecting that which is different or disagreeable. This narrow mindedness has devastating consequences in the areas of interpersonal problem-solving and tolerance for authority, while it also sets up the child for a variety of social problems as they age.”

In addition, psychology experts believe that being judgmental of others is actually a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. When we notice our children exemplifying this type of behavior, it can be a red flag to dig a little deeper to find out what is really going on with them. Your daughter may be complaining about the skinny girls at school because she is unsatisfied with her own weight. Your son may ridicule the math whiz in his class because he is struggling with math and feels inadequate.

What we can do about it

Children enter this world with compassion, a natural and automatic response that has allowed humans to survive throughout history. The human brain is wired to respond to others who are suffering because helping them makes us feel good. However, even though children have the instinct to help others and be open-minded, it is our job as parents to teach them about differences and how to approach life in a non-judgmental way. Here are some tips for raising less judgmental kids:

Avoid judgmental language

Our kids absorb everything we say and do. If we use judgmental language, they will too. If they hear racist, sexist, biased, and critical statements about others, that will become their norm, therefore it’s important that we are mindful of the language we use.

Be careful not to make everything either right or wrong. Instead of saying “it’s wrong,” try saying, “I disagree.” Consider using “It’s socially unacceptable by some people,” as opposed to stating that something is “right.” Also, try to avoid labeling people as “good” or “bad.” In most cases, what we think is bad is just new to us, so we are worried by it. You can have an open discussion about different issues to explore it from various angles and come to a conclusion together, or agree to disagree.

Travel to new places

Although I had some judgments about others on my trip to Alaska, overall this experience opened my eyes to how others live and my views about them. It also inspired me to dig deeper into my judgmental attitude with this article, so it worked! If you can, take your children with you on trips to other cities, states, and countries. Having these types of experiences will truly broaden their perspective.

Expose your children to diverse people and situations

Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and take your kids to new places they’re not familiar with. A wonderful way to do this is to volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen, hospital, retirement community, school for children with disabilities, or out in nature. Providing opportunities to interact with all types of people will give them a chance to see how other people live and make them feel good about helping others.

Use facts, not opinion

People become judgmental when they’re unable to distinguish between facts and opinions. Avoid presenting your views and opinions about everything to your children. Instead, have a discussion based on facts and observations so that they have the chance to form their own ideas. When you do give an opinion, be sure to tell them that that’s what it is.

Celebrate differences

Let your children know that everyone is unique and special in their own way. They will meet people who look and speak differently from them. Take the time to tell them that it’s okay to be different and talk to them about the differences they observe. Explain that it’s not okay to judge others based on things like race, speech, and clothing. Expose them to various religions, cultures, appearances, and illnesses. Some great ways to do this is by reading books, watching shows and movies, attending multi-cultural events, and trying new cuisines. The more they interact with other types of people, the more they will accept them.

Reflect

As I have learned, many times our judgments are actually about us, not them. Train your kids to question their own judgments so they can discover what the real issue behind their thinking is.

Find teachable moments

You won’t have to look very far. Today the news if filled with examples of how judging others can get ugly. From bullying to nasty messages on social media to stereotypes and racism to hate rallies, we have endless opportunities to teach our children how to change course and be more open-minded to accept all people and experiences in the world. Do you best to keep an open and honest dialogue with your children at every age.