Monthly Archives: March 2020

Introduce Kids to Poetry During National Poetry Month

Fun Books, Movies and Activities to Try

April is National Poetry Month, a great time to introduce children to poetry through books, movies and activities.


“Pocket Poems,” selected by Bobbi Katz, illustrated by Marylin Hafner, is a great start for young children. The collection features short poems from famous and lesser-known poets, with child-friendly illustrations.

“The Usborne Book of Poems for Young Children,” selected by Philip Hawthorn, illustrated by Cathy Shimmen, includes poems from dozens of poets, with full-page color illustrations.

“The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry,” edited by Martin with Michael Sampson, is a terrific overview of poems on a variety of subjects, colorfully illustrated.

“Splish Splash” by Joan Bransfield Graham, illustrated by Steve Scott, is a collection of concrete poems (poems in specific shapes), all relating to water.

“A Jar of Tiny Stars: Poems by NCTE Award-Winning Poets,” edited by Bernice E. Cullinan, highlights the best modern children’s poets.

“April Bubbles Chocolate: An ABC of Poetry,” edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Barry Root, contains 26 short poems with realistic art.

“Emily Dickinson’s Letters to the World” by Jeanette Winter uses fanciful artwork to introduce children to Dickinson’s work. “Grassroots” combines poems by Carl Sandburg with nature paintings by Wendell Minor.


“Classical Baby: The Poetry Show” (2008) is a lovingly animated 23-minute video with poems by Shakespeare, John Keats, Gertrude Stein and more, read by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Susan Sarandon.

“Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who” (2008) is a playful feature animated film, with the voices of Jim Carrey, Steve Carrel and Carol Burnett, based on the children’s classic.

“A Child’s Garden of Poetry” (2011) is a 27-minute collection of poems by greats like Dickinson, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Frost, performed by readers like Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson, with animation and live footage of children.


Create and decorate a paper pocket to carry a short poem, using this handy template. Our librarian had children do this as well as writing rain poems by putting words inside the droplets of a printed-out picture of an umbrella in the rain.

Grade-school children may be inspired to write poems by reading “Ten-Second Rainshowers: Poems by Young People,” edited by Sandford Lyne, illustrated by Virginia Halstead. The collection features free-verse poems by children in grades 3 through 12.

Look for online interactive National Poetry Month activities for grades K-12 from, helping kids to write and appreciate poetry.

Originally published on the Yahoo! Contributor Network

Art Helps Philly Dad Connect with Autistic Son

As a father, Ron Schwoyer was frustrated with his inability to connect with his autistic son: “I would point out something beautiful, neat, funny, or whatever, and Kevin would often react in a contrary or negative way. Almost like he was closing himself off from the world.” He worried that Kevin, the oldest of three children, was “missing the good things in life.” But all this changed, thanks to a painting and a vision.

Ron, 45, of Richboro, Pennsylvania, described Kevin’s painting titled “Why Does My Head Feel This Way?” as “a Van Gogh-ish depiction of what he felt like. In a way, it was unsettling to me, with swirling dark colors … almost like an angry-looking storm cloud.” The painting was a revelation.

For Ron’s wife, Robin, the painting offered a way to connect. She related, “In 2005, I started having ‘flashes’ and visions of me riding around in a blue van covered with colorful puzzle pieces and doing art shows.” When she met Svetlana Gradess that summer, Robin shared her vision of doing art with Autism Spectrum children . Gradess, who loves children and artwork, felt called to help. HeARTS for Autism was born.

HeARTS for Autism , Ron said, differs from other programs for ASD children, because each event offers activities for the ASD person, the siblings, and the parents. The program has branched into other areas, such as dance, movement, and yoga .

Ron is essential to the program’s success. During the initial flurry of activity, Robin said, “Ron would joke that if you stood still in our house for more than a few seconds, you got painted and turned into an art display.” When they began the family programs, Robin was constantly busy with phone calls and emails. Ron helped with the kids as she tended to the needs of other families. His work as an engineer made it possible for her to volunteer.

Gradess added that Ron does everything from volunteering with the kids during monthly events to hauling needed supplies. She said, “He has a wonderful, peaceful, and grounding presence.”

In addition to his job and volunteer work, Ron plays in a Beatles cover band , Shabby Road. He said that he “Forrest Gump”-ed his way into the band, practicing on drums in the studio when they showed up to rehearse. They mentioned they were looking for a bassist and had a bass handy. So, he jammed with them and was asked to join.

Life is very busy for Ron, now that the kids have moved out of diapers and into recitals, concerts, and softball games. “It’s great to be part of this, watching them grow, watching them playing violin or cello with their school orchestra.”

He’s a different sort of father from his dad, who worked shift work : “I was ‘in sync’ with him only about once every three weeks. Thankfully, I am home every night. I am fortunate to be present and to help them with homework (sometimes I feel so smart ), helping them get through a difficult musical passage, going ice skating, or getting a big hug after a long day.”

Thanks to HeARTS for Autism , he’s finally managed to connect with their eldest son. Ron said, “Happily, Kevin in the last few years has matured into a curious, scholarly person. I had been concerned that he would never know who I was.”

Alyce Wilson is a Philadelphia-area mother who writes about people and events in Greater Philadelphia.

Originally published on June 10, 2011 on the Yahoo! Contributor Network

Philly Area Mom Fights for Adoptees’ Rights

Imagine not knowing who your mother is, what your genetic heritage is, or how you might be connected to history. Imagine having difficulty getting a passport or driver’s license. For adopted individuals, this is an unfortunate reality, since many states prevent them from accessing their original birth certificates. But if mother and activist Amanda Woolston, 26, can do anything about it, that will change.

Woolston, who lives in the greater Philadelphia area, is a stay-at-home mom, part-time student, and activist by night. She takes care of blogging, corresponding with other activists, letter writing, and other activities after her sons, 2 1/2 years and 4 weeks, go to sleep. The issue is personal to Woolston, who was adopted, but it was because of her children that she became an adoptee rights advocate.

Her birth state allowed access to her original birth certificate, but she was aware many do not. Soon after her first son was born, she decided the issue was too important to be silent about. She explained, “If I lack access to the document that connects me to my roots and ancestry, they’re missing out on part of their roots and ancestry, too.”

Woolston founded Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights Advocates with several friends and fellow advocates to promote change in this portion of adoption law in Pennsylvania. She is also the Pennsylvania state representative for the Adoptee Rights Coalition.

She said, “Most people may be aware that President Obama recently released his original birth certificate for public view and that there are about 12 states that are considering or who have considered requiring a candidate running for public office to show their original birth certificate. This is something most adopted people cannot do. While everyone can now see President Obama’s original birth certificate, there are six million people in the U.S., the adopted, who cannot even see their own.”

Woolston explained that “upon decree of adoption, an adoptee is given a new birth certificate with their adoptive parents’ names on it, and the original is sealed.” This often takes place even in the case of open adoptions, regardless of the birth mother’s wishes.

Through her activism, Woolston supports legislation and provides education. She also has participated in annual adoptee rights demonstrations at the National Convention of State Legislators.

In her work, Woolston has heard stories about the children of adoptees and how not having access to their heritage has impacted them. She said, “While my children and their children will have knowledge of their heritage through me (a good friend of mine traced us all the way back to the Revolutionary War and the Mayflower!), many other descendants of adoptees cannot say the same.”

As a mother and a woman, Woolston said she fights “alongside and for all of the mothers who have surrendered to adoption who want people to know that they do not want to be hidden in shame. I fight alongside the mothers, both those who have surrendered and those who have adopted, who believe strongly that their sons and daughters should be treated like everyone else.”

She says her activism has taught her to value justice and equality for everyone. Woolston hopes to pass those values along: “My hope is to raise my children to be strong individuals who will advocate for what’s right, no matter what cause is that is important to them.”

Alyce Wilson is a Philadelphia-area mother who writes about people and events in Greater Philadelphia.

Originally published in 2010 on the Yahoo! Contributor Network

The Best Attractions for Kids in Historic Philadelphia

There’s more to see in historic Philadelphia than the Liberty Bell. Kids will love these attractions in the historic district, also known as Old City.

Franklin Square

If you have small children, make Franklin Square, 200 N. 6th Street, part of your visit. Within easy walking distance of other attractions, such as the Betsy Ross House, 239 Arch Street, the park is packed with activities. Ride the Parx Liberty Carousel, play miniature golf at a course filled with miniature versions of historic Philadelphia buildings, or play on the playground, which includes a toddler section. There are fees for the carousel rides and the miniature golf, but the playground is free, as are the storytelling benches around the central fountain, where you can hear a tale from real-life raconteurs. The park also features food stands and (thankfully) restrooms!

Independence Seaport Museum

Whether your child loves transportation, history or science, the Independence Seaport Museum is guaranteed to entertain. Admission is $13.50 for adults; $10 or children, free for ages 2 and under, and AAA discounts are available. The museum houses attractive, well-lit exhibits on topics ranging from sea exploration, to ship building, to a hands-on exhibit about how boats work. For my 4-year-old, the main attraction were the numerous intricate models of real ships. Admission includes a self-guided tour of a World War II submarine and a steel warship, first launched in 1892.

Fireman’s Hall Museum

A museum dedicated to firefighters was an easy sell for my preschooler. The Fireman’s Hall Museum, 147 N. 2nd Street, packs centuries of history into a relatively small space, a former firehouse. For my son, the highlight were the firefighting vehicles, ranging from 19th-Century hand-pumps to a 20th century gas-powered engine. There’s also an exhibit on fire safety, firefighting coats and boats to try on, and oodles of info about Philadelphia firefighting history. Admission is free; donations requested. The gift shop offers some great toys and souvenirs.

National Museum of American Jewish History

The National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall E. (at the corner of 5th and Market streets), features state-of-the-art exhibits on the history of Jewish-American citizens. Admission is $12 for adults and free for children 12 and under. Kids can pretend to ride west in a covered wagon, sit in turn-of-the-century school desks, and don masks for a ballroom dance. We visited for the current special exhibit on baseball, a must-see attraction for both boys and girls. In addition to focusing on Jewish players, the exhibit addresses other “outsider” groups, such as women and African-Americans. A family guide at the exhibit entrance includes activities and discussion questions. A computer interactive game allows visitors to field balls from baseball’s greats, and a pitching mound in the concourse invites you to pitch like Sandy Koufax.

Originally published on the Yahoo! Contributor Network

A Busy Mom’s Guide to Exercising

Getting Them Involved Makes You Both Happier


As the mother of a 4-year-old boy, I know how challenging it is finding time to exercise. Not long after bringing him home, I learned the easiest way is often to get him involved.


Babies love to be held; it’s great for bonding and helps them feel secure. As an infant, my son loved riding in a baby carrier as I shopping, walked or engaged in household tasks. While he cried when I tried to do one of my exercise DVDs, he giggled and lit up when I engaged in workout moves similar to these exercises from Even though he weighs a lot more nowadays, I still sometimes lie on my back and do “baby presses” with him, as he shrieks in delight.

Another activity started then was taking walks around our neighborhood, pushing him in the stroller. I’ve found this to be a great way to coax him into taking a nap, especially on a warm summer day. Of course, for babies too young for sunscreen, you’ll want to be sure to use a hat and clothing to protect against harmful rays. I found a sun shade that would attach to our stroller, which provided additional protection. A friend of mine, an amateur athlete, bought a jogging stroller and has even participated in a 5K with her little guy!

Toddlers & Preschoolers

As my son became more mobile, our options increased. I rented several kids’ exercise videos to find the ones he liked best. Our favorites are now a permanent part of our routine and a fun way to exercise together. I’ll ask my son if he wants to “have a party,” and we’ll groove to “Sesame Street Get Up and Dance” or “Curious Buddies: Let’s Move.” Thanks to that video, my son grew interested in yoga, so we got the Gaiam video, “YogaKids 3: Silly to Calm.”

Any activity that involves movement is great for you both. In addition to dancing, we go to a park and kick or throw a ball; play tag; or go swimming. He loves playing hide and seek, happily racing around the house for a half an hour or more, trying out new hiding spaces or searching for me. Remember: even though playing may not be as intense as an aerobic workout, movement of any kind helps you burn calories and helps your little one to tone muscle and improve coordination.

originally published in 2005 on Yahoo! Contributor Network