Lucky Bamboo Crafts and Summer Days

We are all squeezing out the last drops of summer and as we move toward the school year, students of all ages will have their staggered (and perhaps staggering) returns to the routines of academic success. Our own lives change too, as we facilitate all the stuff that goes into their launches. I’m in a good spot. My daughter is a sophomore in high school. Old enough to get her act together on her own with minimal effort on my part, but young enough that I avoid a long college road trip with a tearful goodbye. I’m savoring these times.

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts activity has been a little sleepy over the summer but I had one wonderful workshop to teach about the history of kite making in China and make a simple diamond kite, a requirement for summer fun. The simple instructions can be found in my book. The always enthused head librarian Deb shared ancient Chinese kite-themed poetry that she had gone and researched!

The kids were a beautiful bunch and loved running outside afterwards with a kite ready to take flight. I even met lovely twin girls visiting from Australia, and since their mum was kind enough to buy a book, there may be Australian Chinese craft activities going on as we speak.

This is when I also start planning for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Keep checking the events calendar for my appearance dates. I’m giving myself a challenge of figuring out a new craft for this special holiday, or at the very least, giving an older prototype a new flourish.

Since schools and organizations are starting up again and we are all knee-deep in planning, I hope multicultural activities and events will be part of your array. Feel free to contact me if you’d like ideas on how to infuse Chinese culture and crafts into your plans. But first, have (another) ice cream, put your face in the sun, and enjoy these last summer days.

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.

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.

Chinese Adventure from Coast to Coast

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The foliage is still splendid in Maine, and the apple trees are weighted down with the last weeks of their bounty. This time of year never gets routine for me, as I drive along and see the doorways dotted with bright orange pumpkins and the frosty mornings give way to golden, glowing afternoons.

But just a few weeks ago I was far from New England, in the San Francisco Bay Area taking a long overdue trip to visit several close friends. A leisurely day in Chinatown was at the top of my list and my wonderful friends Andrea and Dan were ready to rally. We wandered for hours, and each shop, business and historical building was rich with culture and tradition and fueled my curiosity. I never tire of learning about the artifacts, artwork, symbols and products that are quintessentially Chinese. After a sumptuous dim sum lunch I gathered up my Chinatown purchases (research, right?) and headed back over the Bay Bridge with my friends. Oh my, what a day!

This week I am attending the Maine Chinese Conference in Bangor http://www.bangorchinese.com/CONFERENCE15.HTML, where I’ve been invited to be a keynote speaker about ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’, as well as a workshop leader. I look forward to being part of the synergy of foreign language educators, professionals from China, exchange program directors, and Chinese culture experts from around the globe. I’ll be walking the crafty side of the aisle, and will contribute my experiences of bringing crafts into the Chinese language classroom. There will also be exhibitors offering everything from Mandarin tools to educational opportunities both here and in China. All this in Bangor, Maine you ask? Why yes! I’m sure I’ll come away with new friends and many fresh ideas and opportunities to continue on my path of Chinese crafts and culture.

Crowdtivate Craft Kits

I’m jumping in here with a brief post to announce the launch of my (first ever) crowdfunding campaign for craft kits with the Crowdtivate platform. I was very lucky to have support from my Singapore friends with putting it together and getting it live. Marketing has never been a strong point for me but it was time to stretch a bit. Only 56 days left to get on board! Also I would love to hear from you with any feedback about this Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts “kit” concept. Yes, I’m ready to make it grow! Here is the link to my campaign page: https://www.crowdtivate.com/projects/view/4261. Many thanks!

Learning Mandarin…. Maybe

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Now that my daughter is settled back into school and learning is a focus around here, I’m thinking about one of my own goals- I want to learn Mandarin. This is not new, just deferred over and over again with many fits and starts. Life has gotten in the way for me, with several months of unexpected “down time” as far as starting new pursuits in earnest and having the time and energy for them. But I’m hoping to move beyond the day-to-day of my job, mum commitments, and essential tasks and try to stretch again.

Why? Admittedly, I have a very “what’s the point?” nature and am proprietary with my time. I know Mandarin will not be essential for any of my upcoming plans. But who knows what new plans may emerge as a result of getting my feet wet? I certainly will travel back to China eventually… and with some language under my belt perhaps I can be a cultural participant vs. a confused tourist. As with Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, knowing some Mandarin will reinforce to my daughter the importance of our multicultural world view, attitude and life.

I would also love to reach out to my local Chinese community more, and in their native tongue. There are lots of events and “practice Mandarin” roundtables and also our local Confucius Institute that can bolster this effort. Our high schools and colleges host many Chinese exchange students and teachers that would always embrace another Chinese speaker.

What will be the plan… online tools and videos? (Including Fluentlee.com, a great online real time language instruction site). Classes or immersion with a private local teacher? Pinterest is a good source to get started and I’ve already rounded up some helpful pins on my ‘Learn Mandarin’ board. I’ve put a couple of apps on my iPad too…. now the commitment! Yes I hear the collective sigh… don’t we all have those many goals as we turn the page, or the season, or the life change, or the birthday or the year? But that’s what makes us feel alive, and reminds us that the future can be full of wonder and growth (at any age!).

And how about my Chinese twelve-year-old? Well the reality is she has embraced learning French with such ease and determination, I don’t want to break her stride and insist on a “come with” on this language journey. Maybe she will catch the fever later on. She definitely embraces the idea of being a world citizen, but that seems to be spread across several continents, not exclusively Asia.

Ok I’ve stated my plan. It’s documented in the e-world and for now, I have run out of excuses. Have you or your kids taken on Mandarin and why? How have you learned and what has made it fun and kept you motivated? I’d love to hear from you!

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.

Kids as World Citizens

Map from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts
Map from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts

Recently my 6th grade daughter had a World Fair celebration at her school culminating from months of research and hard work. It was a gala evening where every student in her grade had a country represented with a tabletop display, interactive presentation, and oral knowledge to share with the crowds of family members. Did my daughter pick China? No, Ethiopa!

As I wandered from student to student, I was reminded again of the great opportunity parents and educators have to open up the world to kids and how eager and receptive they are to learn more, more, more. My teacher training was in elementary art and in the classroom I had it made. Each culture has such a rich history in handicraft, textiles, painting, sculpture…. the list is endless for curriculum ideas. But the bigger view of what a country symbolizes, reveres, and its unique mark on history is well within the capacity of understanding, even for young kids.

I know sometimes adults feel “art challenged” when working with kids. When you are using Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, perhaps a good place to start is with the Gateway to China section, exploring Chinese culture and sharing the factoids…. even jumping on to your tablet to dig deeper with specific topics on China or where questions are raised.

Then you may find that selecting and starting an art or craft project will happen more organically, based on the curiosity and interests of the kids and you all will have more confidence to be wonderfully creative.