Global Maker Kids

Another summer is here and some fresh ideas and activities are a must to enjoy the balmy days and less structured time with your kids. Summer camp and program leaders are also brainstorming and locking down schedules. I always like to get in the mix with a few thoughts so this can be a joyous and creative time with opportunities to grow and make, with a global twist. So how do you be a maker? It seems to be everywhere.

I just walked into my local library and was greeted by this display which featured several “maker” books for kids. Ok I am first to admit the “maker movement” seems like an overdone buzz phrase since my whole existence has been in a “maker space”. But even if it’s a rebranding of inventive creativity, often used in schools (the too cool for school ones?) and usually in relation to STEAM curriculum, I can still glean some good inspiration from the concept with only a slight smirk. Especially since much of the synergy seems to be focused on a world view of kid power. 

So what does this have to do with Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts? The “making” has of course always been for me about exposing kids to world culture through embracing their creativity. Over the summer, that can take many forms. So here are a few ideas that sit well with summer days:

Volunteer– Ok, very general, but as I heard the the thud of school being out for my teen, I knew I had to be creative about perhaps suggesting something worthwhile for her open summer schedule? She is volunteering as an assistant at an amazing writer’s book making camp at The Telling Room, an organization that develops young talent with an international focus. Look around… you’ll inevitably find ways for your kids to dip their toes into new experiences while offering some help. Win, win!

Museums– Don’t let the school field trips be the only historical and cultural exposure your kids get. Staycation or vacation, look around and find current exhibits, even at the smaller, quirky and often forgotten museums. It’s a great activity for those too hot or too rainy days. (And our town offers free day passes to many. Check around!)

Camp– If you are a director or counselor, there are so many ways to make and learn… (and of course any of these can also be done at home or the summer cottage!). Grow an ethnic vegetable garden, learn and make international games, make an instrument, have a world culture “fair” or dinner… and crafts, crafts, crafts!

Recycle and repurpose– If you’re going to make, you need stuff, right? Put a bin somewhere this summer and toss in cartons, leftover paint, scraps, string, paper, cans with lids (instant drum?), and any odd little bits that can help inspire makers. It will be ready for your kids and their friends and cousins when they feel creative. Good idea to do a “quick grab” smaller bin with basic supplies nearby, (scissors, tape, markers, glue gun, etc…) as well… to save YOU time hunting around the house when you’d rather be drinking iced tea!

I was also lucky enough to write a guest post for Globe Trottin’ Kids which tells a bit about my journey (if you’re new here) but also collabs with a wonderful website and blogger that is committed to all these virtues I’ve described. Please check her out!

Enjoy, explore, and keep in touch!

Duanwu Festival and a World for our Kids

Lucky Bamboo Crafts dragon boat

Hello and Happy Spring… As we thaw out in Maine,  I’ve tried to keep my mind on planning events and sharing new crafts, but I can’t seem to shake my anxiety toward the instability in today’s world. I wake up with it and go to sleep with it. What happened? Well we know what happened… wars and changes in many governments and seemingly endless destructive world upheaval that feels completely overwhelming and out of our control.

And the suffering is real… including millions of children worldwide, as well as those foreign-born who happened to want to make America their home in recent years. So many are being dealt an unfair hand. How do we teach our own kids to be world citizens, embrace and share our many cultures and religions, and just be kind and compassionate when they see the daily barrage of exclusion, deprivation and suffering of innocent families that is not only visible, but accepted?

This is a sensitive issue for my family, having a child that IS foreign-born and was immigrated through a smooth and non-discriminatory process to live the American dream. We can’t give up on believing everyone can do better, take action, and somehow change the course of our future. Shouldn’t this country set the example for the world stage?

Ok, sigh, now on to happier stuff…. Duanwu Festival time! This year the holiday celebrating the legacy of the Chinese poet and scholar Qu Yuan falls early-ish on May 30th so make your plans! This is a great time to get outside and find where there might be dragon boat races near you. Often they are pushed forward to the summer and I’ve linked a few in the New England area below:

Boston Dragon Boat Festival is June 10-11th

Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival is August 5-6th

Riverfront Recapture Dragon Boat & Asian Festival  is August 19th (I’ve offered crafts at this event for many years)

Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Races & Taiwan Day Festival is September 9th

You can also check out my Pinterest pages with lots of great pins of dragon craft activities, Duanwu traditions, and recipes for delicious glutinous rice dumplings (zongzi). The team sport of dragon boat racing is a great example of unification and camaraderie of people from all parts of the globe and different ethnicities. Even if simply enjoyed as a spectator, sharing this kind of cultural event with your family can help us all be shoulder-to-shoulder in appreciating and encouraging diversity in our communities.

Year of the Rooster- Holiday Fun

Happy Holidays to all my blog friends. Whether you are a teacher, festival organizer, librarian or just a family member interested in Chinese culture and crafting, thank you for checking in! The last couple of months have been busy with all kinds of activities, Lucky Bamboo Crafts events, work with my higher education job, parenting a high school freshman, and of course the unexpected. Jury duty, cleaning up early winter blasts; I’m in ‘ready for anything’ mode for sure!

I’ve posted a free project template for a ‘Year of the Rooster’ lucky money envelope (hongbao). Simply click back to my homepage and enjoy! I’ll be leading Chinese New Year crafts locally with our Portland, ME organization event, as well as with Boston Chinatown Main Street at their Chinese New Year Cultural Village. Although I will not be visiting Peabody Essex Museum this year because of a schedule conflict, I’m making a large dragon head and parade costume for an interactive activity they will offer to their Lunar New Year visitors for the kids to embellish. Then they will parade the dragon. Great idea, Caryn!

And of course with Christmas and Chanukah this weekend we can all step back and take a break from the routine to celebrate. That’s an order! Along with family fun, I use the time leading up to the new year (and then the lunar new year) to reflect and plan. (Well ok, I’ll also be blinging up a dragon head!). It’s been a wild ride in recent months with domestic politics and world turmoil. Finding that calm, peaceful, purposeful place in our lives is challenging. I’m a bit wrung out. But what choice do we have but to be hopeful, generous and kind, even in small ways. Our kids are counting on us.

Summer Sun and Chinese Dragon Fun

Jennifer DeCristoforo
Dragon Boat & Asian Festival, Hartford

Lucky Bamboo Crafts have been part of the fun over these summer weeks. Life is a little slower, the weather is divine, and what better time to enjoy sharing crafts and Chinese culture with kids.

In July I headed to the Bangor Chinese School with my daughter to lead a workshop during their Chinese Dragon Camp. We made kites and chops in one short session which was pretty ambitious, but the kids ranged up to high schoolers and were great listeners and workers. They enjoyed coming away with authentic projects to bring home and share with their families. We loved walking the hallways beforehand and hearing intensive Mandarin classes going on in room after room. Dancers practiced in every corner. The camp was so alive with culture.

Dragon Camp, Bangor, Maine

 

 

 

 

 

This month I was in Hartford, CT again for the Dragon Boat & Asian Festival along the river. This year was extra special as my good friend Alison came up from Greenwich, CT and joined me. The kids made dragon boats, chopstick cases and other simple crafts. This is always a spectacular event of races, performances, activities and food.

JenHartfordd JenHartford2 JenHartforda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that I’ve shared craft projects with all ages, sizes of group and types of event, I am much calmer, more confident and let each event simply unfold. But just a small “pearl”… the constant in being successful has not changed since I first rolled out Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This would seem obvious, but I’m quite methodical about starting my supply list early, bringing ample quantities of the craft for a big crowd, and always throwing a little something extra in.. coloring sheets and crayons, origami paper, etc.. so there are choices for all ages. A craft session can really crash and burn if there is a whoops like glue sticks forgotten or insufficient pre-prep of a craft that makes the project too time-consuming and frustrating for the kids.

The summer has been glorious on every front for me and the upcoming autumn days will be bittersweet, as my daughter enters high school. At 14 she is a wonderful partner and helper with craft events and in life, but it’s hard not to be aware of the fleeting time that has passed since I first started developing this book. She’s a young woman and I say that with pride and astonishment. As you start corralling school supplies and reviewing team schedules with your kids, I wish you a good transition and will be back soon with education-focused ideas.

Learning Chinese

blogyoutube

Hello, friends! Before you assume this is yet another “think out loud” pledge to myself to learn Chinese (yawn), I promise you I am posting some useful information. There are so many good ways to take on the study of a new language, and you’ve read about my foray into learning Mandarin. I continue to be committed to daily lessons….. on YouTube. I’m so impressed with the huge variety of great teachers and language lists that can be accessed so easily. I have not drilled down much with getting subscriptions because I simply can’t decide on one site I want to follow sequentially. So I’m basically “skipping rocks” on the surface for now, just pulling up all sorts of videos. As I advance, this may get frustrating and if so, I’ll get more structured with one or two complete courses in earnest.

Some considerations for my lesson choices are attention level, daily mood, level of difficulty, cultural context, repetition technique, situational conversations, association with visual Pinyin, and time I have to spare at each sitting. Here are  just a few of my current favorites with a link to a sample of a video lesson from each:

Yuting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX3xCsoTbDs is a charming and funny instructor with an animated personality and cute video production techniques. Her “Top 25” style videos are great for picking up essentials.

Ben from Learn Chinese Now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raG_Ysu3b4A usually pairs with a female instructor, and their discussions that support the language learning are always helpful to fully explain the concepts. He has a pleasant, straightforward style.

Fiona from Mandarin Made Easy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bze1eKu5Aac is a lively and upbeat instructor who uses a variety of formats from solo and paired lessons (I especially like Gwilym) to “day in the life” visits and experiences around the world including her Taiwanese culture.

Mike from Learn Chinese with Mike https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy8SHpbQ004 took some getting used to, with his “cool dude” laid-back style. But his lessons are done well with thoughtfully organized content, and as he writes on his whiteboard, you feel you are right in his garage(!) with him.

Yangyang with Yoyo Chinese https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxeLo3hVe0w is one of the most polished and comprehensive teachers. She barrels through an impressive series of lessons, but her presentation style doesn’t vary much, so I watch her channel when I’m just in the mood for nuts and bolts.

I’ve also been streaming podcasts when driving for long stretches. Although I haven’t explored much in this arena, one I like a lot is Dimsum Mandarin http://www.languagedomus.com/courses/view/2/dimsum-mandarin. Chung has a well-paced and articulate style and you can download free podcasts or subscribe.

Hopefully this will give you a head start on trying some new resources. I don’t think it’s one size fits all so you will find your own favorites as you explore the many great channels. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep at it with the hope that you can teach an old dog (or middle-aged mom?) new tricks. Kuàilè de chūntiān!

Staying Put

Author Jennifer DeCristoforo and daughter; Photo credit: Dennis Welsh Photography
Author Jennifer DeCristoforo and daughter;
Photo credit: Dennis Welsh Photography

Maine is an official “Vacationland” right now. Better yet, I get to enjoy it as the ultimate “stay-cation”  with my daughter. I am never more proud and happy to welcome guests, enjoy the festivals, assure people the lobster is not overrated, look out at the sparkling ocean and boast about Maine until even the Chamber of Commerce feels like an under-performer.

Then the world taps on my shoulder. There’s the wonderful new friend from Hong Kong (Maine in the summer) that found my book on Pinterest. Also in Maine now, my dear Singapore friends that we visited on their turf not long ago. And I sense my 12-year old feels the same tug as does her mother. As she turns the corner from child to teen, she wants it all. She feels so grounded and secure in our small Maine town, and cherishes her friends and school. But she talks of the future… with wanderlust that keeps her suitcase at the ready. “When is our next trip?” (Quebec City in a couple of weeks). I also wonder what conversations she has with her few but close adopted Chinese friends… do they ponder who will get back on another trip to Asia first? And her Dad and I have accepted that her college experience will be in D.C. at the very closest.

But with these thoughts my heart also fills with grief… the “world” just doesn’t seem to be doing too well right now. The level of suffering… from war and terrorism to children scrambling into the U.S. desperate and alone…. all results in senseless death on a grand scale. As a parent it is tough to navigate; do I shelter my daughter from this world she wants to discover or have her gradually step foot on to real street?

For now in the glorious summertime, staying put, body and mind, gives me a breather. I can be selective and grab just the good stuff that ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ and international friends offer from the world experience. I can volunteer with my daughter in our local Somali refugee community and see some happy outcomes from a war-torn nation. And as for the harsh and  relentless newsfeed, we can turn it off when it gets to be too much. If only that were true for everyone.