The Radius of Hollow

I am not a poet.  But when my son was injured in a hockey game this week, it seeded an odd inspiration to write a poem about an important life lesson.  Pain and disappointment are part of the human experience, an inevitable part of life.  I witness this on almost a daily basis because of my work in human rights, but I also know it as a person who has sometimes experienced it. I want my son to understand that, while many things are outside of his control, how he responds to adversity is almost always within his control. I want him to know that learning from his disappointment will build courage and resilience – “sharp edges” for life.

I am not a poet, but, in truth, anyone can write a poem.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Radius of Hollow

Two players collided at
Mad hockey speed.
Fully padded – protected – and yet
My son was cut open.
Steel blade freshly sharpened,
One swift, true stroke that
Slashed through the sock,
Bit hungrily into his tender skin.

My own son, down
On his knees in the cold.
A supplicant pleading.
Or praying.
Blood pumped out and
His white sock bloomed crimson.
His heart’s blood,
Congealed dark on the ice.

I remembered his tears,
That morning they posted the team.
His name was not there.
He was in.
But then,
In a flash,
He was out.
He was the last to be cut.

A skate’s blade has twin edges.
In the center, a valley:
The radius of hollow.
Dull edges, you fall.
Yet sharp edges require
A rift through the core,
This concave depression.
The radius of hollow is what gives you control.

No need for stitches, coach said.
It’s not deep. But it hurts.
Violet and sallow-green blossoms on pale skin.
An angry contusion that will resolve.
Rough edges of torn flesh
Will adhere.
Up! Back on the ice, my son!
These wounds will heal.

Childhood Treasure

Little House

Recently, I bequeathed one of my childhood treasures to my eight year-old daughter – my box set of Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My daughter Eliza had to first prove herself worthy; I refused to pass it on to her until she had finished reading both Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.  

Little House in the Big Woods is the first “real” book that I can recall reading.  My grandmother Lillian started off reading it to me, but somehow, somewhere around the family goes to the “sugaring off”, I found myself reading it to her instead.  For the rest of my childhood, I read all the books in this pale yellow box again and again.

Even as a child, I picked up on the fact that Ma’s attitude towards Native Americans was racist and cruel.  It seemed wrong to me that Laura’s only occupational choices were schoolteacher or wife.  My daughter and I have been talking about these things as well.  It is a part of our history that is better to acknowledge than to ignore.  But my daughter likes the books because they include so many details about life in a very different time.  The books aren’t about heroes, but about ordinary people. Laura and Mary, Carrie and Grace, Ma and Pa, even Jack the dog are vividly alive for her.  Maybe next summer we will have to take a mother-daughter field trip to Walnut Grove, MN to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.

The real treasure for me has been watching her discover the same joy in reading these books that I experienced as a child.  Maybe one day, she will pass this treasure on to her own children.

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure.

How Do You Define Family?

Liberian brothers at the Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana.

A Few Reflections On How We Define “Family”

We had just dropped off my old friend Erik and his unwieldy crew at the airport, when my daughter Eliza let out a dramatic sigh from the back of the minivan.

“It’s pretty much BORING without our cousins!”

Curious, I launched into a lengthy cross-examination to determine why she thought they were our blood relations. She went along with the questioning for a while, mumbling one syllable responses out of the corner of her mouth as she gazed morosely out the window at a long, undulating line of sunflowers. Some kind person, in the interest of beauty, had planted them along the highway.  Now they were more than six feet tall, so large that you could almost see the Fibonacci sequences in their bright spirals. Even from a minivan with a six-year-old pouting in her booster seat in the back.

After several miles of this, Eliza suddenly sucked in air until her cheeks were full.  She then blew it all out, frustration personified.  I watched her in the rearview mirror as she put everything in her small, defiant being into these words:

 “Because!  I just FEEL like they are.”

How do you define family?  Is it common ancestry? Shared experiences?  Mutual commitment? Living in the same household? Common values?  The people you know you can count on for support? The people you know you can get into a knock-down-drag-out fight with but they’ll still love you?  People who you feel deeply connected to even though you rarely see them?  All of the above?  Or none of them at all?

The boys in the photo above are brothers I met at the Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana.   Their mother Kebbeh considers them her sons, although only the oldest is her biological son.   The younger boy and his little brother (not pictured) are her neighbor’s sons.   The neighbor had gone back to Liberia with the first wave of resettled refugees, with the promise  to send for the boys after she got settled. They never heard from her again.   Post-conflict Liberia was dangerous, so they fear the worst.  But they really don’t know what happened to her.   So Kebbeh is raising the boys as her own, feeding and caring for them, sending them to school.  They are family.

When I was in Buduburam, I met a woman called Ma Fatu who ran a cook shop on the main thoroughfare of the camp where many of the refugee-owned businesses were.   The street had no name, of course, but the Liberian refugees called it “Wall Street” because so many financial transactions were made there.  Ma Fatu has a feisty personality.   I think she would have  been equally at home as the proprietor of a saloon in the Wild West or a grogshop in Regency England.  She took a lot of pride in her cooking and in knowing her customers.  She’d eye me critically as I tucked into my jollof rice and say, “I know what you white people like to eat.” Then, the next day, she would dish me up a heaping serving of jollof vermicelli.

I had noticed that there were several young people helping in the cook shop, washing dishes, waiting tables, whatever needed to be done.  It was only on my second trip to Buduburam that someone told me that they were not actually her children.  During the war in Liberia, her husband and her biological children – her entire family – had been killed.  Over the years at Budububuram, she had taken in several young people who had also lost everyone.   In the face of all this loss, Ma Fatu had created a new family.  In a refugee camp – miles from home and without even the possibility of legal recognition – she had forged familial bonds of love and support.

Like every parent, I’ve got a stockpile of my kids’ drawings of our family – stick figures showing Mom and Dad, Brother and Sister.  Sometimes Grandma and Grandpa and/or Cat and Hamster.

When you are young, the definition of family is very narrow and also very immediate.  But as you get older, you develop deeper relationships with people who are not related by blood.  In many ways, you create your own family of the people who give you what you need to flourish.  Like the heliotropic sunflowers, you turn to the light, needing full sun to thrive.  If you don’t, you wither away.

 I’ve had this discussion about the definition of family with a number of my former asylum clients.  Under U.S. immigration law, your family is defined as your spouse (only one – your first spouse), your children by birth or legal adoption, and your parents.  Of course, many people in the world use a broader definition, with half-siblings, cousins, and children adopted without legal recognition counting as immediate family members.

One of my asylum clients once said to me,

“I feel so sorry for you Americans.  Your families are so very small!”

I had never really thought about it that way before.  But I could see her point.

Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that,

“The family is the natural and fundamental unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Back when the UDHR was adopted in 1948, it is doubtful that the drafters envisioned even biracial marriage, much less same-sex marriage and the multiple forms of family that exist today.

But the bigger point, I think, is that no matter how you define “marriage”, the push for the changes in the legal definition has happened because of thousands – maybe millions – of personal decisions by individuals to define their closest relationships as “family”.  The reality is that there is a very human need to live in a family social structure – the natural and fundamental group unit of society.  The law can better accommodate that reality but regardless of what the law says, people – like Kebbeh and Ma Fatu – will create their own families.

Maybe my young  daughter is right. The true definition of family is a very personal one, self-defined by each of us.  The definition of family maybe really IS the people who you feel like are your family.

So I think the real questions for each of us then become:

How do you define your family?

What does your family mean to you? and

Wouldn’t we all be better off if society and the State protected and supported all of our families?

12 1/2 Clichés I Want My Kids to Live By

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You’ve heard ’em all before. Clichés are a popular form of expression used throughout the world.  There are many sayings that are so overused that we barely even notice them anymore.  I started to think about clichés recently because of The Loud Talking Salesman guy who works in the office next to mine.  He seems to speak entirely in clichés. The wall must be thin, because all day long I hear him on the phone with clients telling them that “at the end of the day” “it’s a win-win situation” etc etc.   (I’ve never met him, but if I ever do, I’ve already planned what I’m going to say:  “Working hard?”  To which he will most certainly reply, “Hardly working!”)

Once I started actually paying attention clichés, I noticed that we are not only constantly verbally but also visually blasted with them.  Clichés are plastered all over the place, on everything from bumper stickers to throw pillows to Pintrest. Some clichés are silly or sappy or just plan wrong.  But if you stop and think about it, some of them make a whole lot of sense.

Many clichés are, in fact, the moral equivalent of Tootsie Pops – they have a sweet, chewy truth at their center.  Some of them are actually pithy, shorthand statements of deep wisdom.   Some clichés embody true lessons about living an ethical, fulfilling, righteous and joyful life in community with other humans.  In some ways, these clichés are shorthand for the life lessons that I am trying to teach my children so that they will grow up to be citizens of the world, fully empowered to exercise both their rights and their responsibilities.

So on the theory that “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice,” I decided to write down some of the clichés that I want my kids to actually remember and use when I’m no longer around to nag them.

“From those to whom much is given, much is expected.” 

One of the most misquoted sayings of all time, I’ve seen this clichés attributed to everyone from Voltaire to Bill Gates’s mom.  While  John F. Kennedy did say,  “For of those to whom much is given, much is required,” the saying actually comes from the Parable of the Faithful Servant (Luke 12:48) in the Bible.  “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”

The point for my children is this – you have been blessed with intelligence, a loving family, comfortable home, health and so much more.  You each have different talents and strengths.  It is your responsibility to use  your gifts not just for your own benefit, but also to help others.

“You are what you eat.”

If you eat garbage, you feel like garbage.  I’m serious – eat your fruits and veggies, kids!

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“Think before you speak.”

Or send an email or post something through social media.  Count to 10 in your mind before you open your mouth.   Write it out, but wait until the morning to send that email.  Hurtful words, once said, are hard to take back.  Of course, the corollaries to this cliché are:

“If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

and  

“If you are thinking something nice about someone, go ahead and say it.”

OK, that last one is technically not a cliché since it is not overused.  I count it as half cliché since I made it up myself when I was 18.  I was a camp counselor and I lived in a cabin with another counselor that I didn’t get along with particularly well.  But one day, when I was brushing my teeth, I heard her singing in the shower.  She had a beautiful voice that I had never noticed.  As I brushed my teeth, I remember thinking that I should just tell her.  Why keep those nice thoughts to myself just because I we didn’t like each other?  It was hard for me, but I did tell her.  I was surprised how appreciative she was at the compliment.  And while we never became friends, we did get along fine for the rest of the summer.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”  

Don’t just sit around wishing or waiting for things to change things.  YOU can create change yourself through your own actions.  (This quote is usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, although there is no reliable evidence that he actually  said it.  Gandhi did say “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”)

It’s worth pointing out that Dr. Seuss wrote the same thing more directly in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

“Don’t Postpone Joy”  

No, I don’t mean the “go ahead and buy those really expensive shoes to make yourself happy” kind of joy (although it is important to treat yourself somtimes.  I mean the “Daddy quit his job and moved to Minneapolis to be with me”  kind of joy.   Because your Daddy did do that.  He didn’t have a dramatic boombox scene like Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, but it was the same kind of going after love and joy thing. (This reminds me to add Say Anything to my list of Movies I Want My Kids to See.)

And while we are on the subject:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.  

I know that this one is often up for debate, but I think it is true.  Even if your heart ends up getting broken in the end, the experience of loving another is worth it.  It is worth taking a risk.

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“The best way out is always through.”

Robert Frost is credited with this one.  Rather than avoiding a problem,  it is always best to confront it directly.  You can spend more energy fretting about it than it would take to just deal with it.  In the long run, it is less painful to just do what you need to do to get through it.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.”

I don’t have much to say about this one other than I believe it in, deep down in my bones.  The same goes the the next one:

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”

speak

“Better late than never.”

It’s never to late to fix past wrongs.  Remember Darth Vader and what happens at the end of Star Wars Episode VI?  Redemption.  But it is also never to late to go down a different path.  Every day has the potential to be a fresh start.  As George Eliot wrote,  “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

“Always look on the bright side of life.”

It’s been my experience that a positive attitude really does help you in life.  Everyone gets down and has rough patches; that’s perfectly understandable.  You don’t have to be cheerful all the time.  But in the macro sense, try to be an optimist.  It’s a worldview that will get your farther in the long run.  As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity.  An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

 TO BE CONTINUED …

I’ve got more clichés I want my kids to live by, but I’d love to hear from others about clichés that hold important life lessons for them.   I will end with, not a cliché, but a quote from A. A. Milne.  Christopher Robin is talking to Winnie-the-Pooh and he says (in your mother’s voice):

“Promise me you’ll always remember:

You’re braver than you believe,

and stronger than you seem,

and smarter than you think.

P.S. Also remember:

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Rainbow Looming Our Way To Gender Equality

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There are little plastic rubber bands all over our house.  On my way upstairs this morning, I noticed them strewn on the stair treads like colorful flower petals after a spring storm.  That’s because my 11 year-old son spent more than an hour yesterday at the top of the stairs, “where the light is good”, perfecting his starburst bracelet on the Rainbow Loom.   Technically, it’s his 8 year-old sister’s, but his Rainbow Loom will be arriving tomorrow via Amazon Prime.  He used some of his Christmas money to buy one for himself.

Anyone with kids in elementary or middle school will understand what I’m talking about, but this is something worth talking about even if you don’t have kids.   The Rainbow Loom has been popular for months. What is striking for me as a parent, however, is that this is a toy that is equally popular with both boys and girls.  Of the more than $3 million in sales since August, almost half of the Rainbow Looms reportedly were purchased for boys.

I first noticed the Rainbow Loom’s gender-neutral popularity last month at a PeeWee hockey tournament.  Since the tournament was out-of-town, the team and their families were all staying at the same hotel.  I noticed that all of the younger siblings – especially the boys – were prodigious Rainbow Loomers.   A group of younger brothers, all 9 and 10, were Rainbow Looming by the pool.  Later that night, they were Rainbow Looming at the rink before the game.

“Do the guys on your team like to Rainbow Loom, too?”  I asked my son.  He’s one of the youngest on his PeeWee team; most of the boys are already 12.

“Sure,” he said.  “But we didn’t have much time for it this weekend. You know, because we had to focus on hockey.”

Before my oldest son was born 14 years ago, I thought I could raise my kids in a gender-neutral way.  I had a wide range of toys on hand for him to choose from, including a baby doll.  But he and his younger brother showed no interest at all in playing with dolls or stuffed animals or Barbies or anything like that. When I caught them drop-kicking the doll, I finally gave it away to a more loving home.   By the time our daughter was born, we had no toys left that could be characterized as stereotypically female.   That is, until the day that I found her cradling a Darth Vader action figure.  She was kneeling next to a bowling pin that she had put to bed with a Kleenex for a blanket.   The premise of my nurture v. nature theory having been blown out of the water, I took her to Target and let her pick out a baby doll.  At eight, she is still taking excellent care of her “family”.

The bigger lesson for me was that kids will choose to play with what is interesting to them.   My kids inherited a substantial Hotwheels collection from my brother, but the boys never played with them much.   My daughter has always enjoyed playing with the cars, although she often plays with them differently.   Sometimes I’ll find them all lined up by color, for example.  Instead of making car noises like “Vroom! Vroom!”, the conversations I’ve overheard coming out her room are about relationships.  “Oh, Baby car!  Are you lonely? Do you want to park by Mommy car?”

Toy choice is the single most sex-typed behavior that children display.   Sure, my daughter chooses the stereotypical feminine toy most of the time.But the point is that she should be able to play with any toy and in any way that she wants to, regardless of what our society traditionally dictates as the appropriate gender-based toys.  And that goes for her brothers, too.

This holiday season, my daughter and I talked a lot about the gender-based marketing of toys.  It’s especially noticeable in the toy section – some stores even have aisles blatantly identified with pink for girls and blue for boys.   On the same toy aisle where she picked out her first baby doll, we noticed a ultra-pink display for “Lego Friends”.  My daughter, unimpressed at this new line of Legos marketed to girls, observed that,  “I don’t get it. It seems like they should just sell all the Legos in the same aisle.”

Which brings me back to the Rainbow Loom, a toy that has grown tremendously popular without much marketing at all. Rainbow Loom is popular because of word of mouth and YouTube.  Kids decided it is cool and fun to Rainbow Loom, and they shared that information (along with the colorful, plastic bracelets) with each other.

I witnessed something similar last summer when my son and the other boys at camp were obsessed with fingerweaving.  I have a mental picture of a group of them, all 11 and 12 years old, sitting around and fingerweaving during their free time.  In the middle of the circle was a huge mound – yards and yards and yards – of their collective fingerweaving.  Every once in a while, someone would call out, “I need more yarn!” and someone else would make a run for the craft room.  Fingerweaving was cool and fun in their social context and everyone, regardless of sex, was doing it.

I see the same phenomenon with the Rainbow Loom.  When tween boys are making jewelry at the hockey rink, you know it is not a popularity bogged down by gender-stereotypes.

“Why do you like to make things on your Rainbow Loom?”  I asked my daughter.   “Because it is creative and fun!” she replied.

When I asked my son the same question, he replied,  “Because it’s fun.  And creative.”

That pretty much says it all.   In a gender-biased world, they found a gender-neutral toy that they both love for the same reasons.   So I ordered them each a new package of 1800 colorful little rubber bands.  I won’t even mind picking them up off the floor.

The Rainbow Loom – and the kids that have made it wildly popular – give me hope.  Hope that this generation will keep our society moving, slowly but surely,  towards gender equality.

Best of My 2013 Facebook Status Updates

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And when I came downstairs this morning (after a second night of being up half the night with a sick child), THIS is what I saw when I turned on the light.

December 31 – the last day of the year. Time to take a few moments to reflect on the highlights of 2013.  Some technologically forced reflections have been available for weeks to help with this task.  This, for example, appeared on my Facebook timeline:

2013

Jennifer Prestholdt

A look at your 20 biggest moments on Facebook.

Learn more.
Share Your Year.

Frankly, it looked suspiciously like 2012, but with more directives and a slightly larger font (and now in United Nations baby blue, I might add).

Year in Review
Jennifer Prestholdt
A look at your 20 biggest moments from the year including life events, highlighted posts and your popular stories.

But this Year in Review app most certainly does not accurately reflect  my “20 biggest moments from the year”.   Some of the pictures were not even from 2013!  So, in what has become an annual tradition, I’m taking charge of my Year in Review and creating my own”Best of My Facebook Status Updates”of some of the funniest moments for me in 2013.  (And if you like this post, you can also check out Best of My 2012 Facebook Status Updates and Best of My 2011 Status Updates.)

Best of My 2013 Facebook Status Updates

#25      The fifth graders are studying puberty, so the dinner conversation was interesting. It was a spectacularly unfortunate coincidence that we grilled tonight – and tubular meat products were on the menu.

#24      Some families set a place for Elijah. Our family apparently sets a place for Trouble.

Photo: Some families set a place for Elijah. Our family apparently sets a place for Trouble.

#23:

Eliza (age 8):  “Are you drinking barf?”
Me: “Yes. I threw up in the smoothie machine and added a banana. Now I’m drinking it.”
(Pause)
Eliza: “Is this called ‘sarcasm’?”

#22  I’m helping my 7th grader study for his Tom Sawyer test. So I showed him the classic Rush video. To which he responded, “Mom, this is not really helping.”

#21       In 5 minutes, I have to give a lecture on international human rights mechanisms to a class at the U of Iowa Law School. Unfortunately, I just figured out that since it is via Skype, they will all see how messy my office is. Gotta go stuff some documents in the closet and sweep some files under the rug…

#20     “When in doubt, add cheese.” This is the kind of advice I give to my daughter.

#19     Positive things about below zero weather: I stuck the tragically unchilled bottle of wine outside for 5 minutes. Now it is cold (and DE-licious!)

#18

Mom, when I grow up – if I’m a teacher – on the first day of school I’ll pull down a map of Europe and say “I see London. I see France.”And I’ll be wearing, like, really bright pink boxers or something and I’ll have my jeans low.

So then I’ll turn my back to the class and pull down another map and say, “Class, what else do you see?” And the kids that raise their hands and say, “Mr. ___, I see your…”

Well, that’s how I’ll know who the troublemakers are.

#17     Note to self:  Be careful doing laundry this week.  Very, VERY careful!

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There were 2 pockets. Each pocket held 17 snakes. How many snakes in all?

#16    My flight out of Delhi was cancelled, so I was re-routed through Paris. Perhaps the only major airport in the world that smells of fresh-baked croissants at 6 am in the morning!

#15

“Simon, turn off the TV.”

“I can’t, Mom! Everything I need to know about life is on Dr. Who!”

#14     Home! And, as always when I return from the developing world, I am feeling so thankful for clean air, hot water, high-speed internet, urban planning and traffic control – and a democratic system of government that is not perfect, but which functions smoothly and provides us with services without corruption. Perspective is a valuable thing.

#13     Lady behind me at the grocery store:  “Girl!  You’ve either got a big family or you’re done shopping for 2013!

#12      First week back at school update:

Eliza (grade 3):  “What’s the difference between fiction and non-fiction again?”

Simon (grade 6): “Non-fiction is real. Like Facebook.”

Eliza: “So what is fiction?”

Simon: “It’s fantasy, it’s not real. Like Facebook.”

#11   The Polly Pockets were willing to sacrifice their heads for the opportunity to skydive off our back balcony.

Photo: The Polly Pockets were willing to sacrifice their heads for the opportunity to skydive off our back balcony.

#10

“Mom, do you have a name for our toilet?”
“No.” (pause) “But something tells me you might.”
“Yeah. Our toilet is named Bob.”

#9     (The next day)   I have been informed that the gender of our upstairs toilet “Bob” has been reassigned. Depending on who you ask, she is now either “Tina” or “Betsy”.

#8     Well, at the request of one of my sons, I bought ramen noodles for the first time in 25 years. Still the same price – 29 cents. The way I figure, it’s never too early to prepare them for college.

#7

 Eliza: “Hannah says that when I grow up, I should be a doctor.”
Me: “I concur.”
Eliza: “An American Girl doctor.”
Me: “I retract my previous statement.”

#6     Still life with retainer.

Photo: Still life with retainer.

#5     I could have done without these 6th grade boys and their dinner discussion. All you need to know about it is that their creation myth involves the planet “Poopiter” and explains why there is so much cosmic gas in the universe.

#4     I made the mistake of taking my 11-year-old son with me when I was shopping for bras. With having to yell so many times, “Don’t touch that!” and “Stop squishing it!”, I ended up accidentally buying a nursing bra.

#3     I sent my 13yo son to camp with two pairs of shoes.   Somehow, he managed to come home with just one.   One shoe, that is.

#2     I very much appreciated that the employees stocking shelves at the downtown Target let me participate in their “Churchill-off”. I only made it two rounds (they were still going when I went to check out) but I got to use the only two Churchill quotes that I can ever manage to remember:

        1. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

        2. Lady Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.”

            Churchill: “If I were your husband, I would take it.”

#1      It’s just not a holiday in our family until someone gets a pie in the face.

Photo: It's just not a holiday in our family until someone gets a pie in the face.

Thanks for reading The Human Rights Warrior!  See you in 2014!

Happy New Year from Sullivan's Island, South Carolina!
Happy New Year from Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina!

Human Rights Day Activities To Do With Your Kids

This post was originally written for World Moms Blog.

IMG_1800Every December 10, people around the world celebrate Human Rights Day.  The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles.  As we have done on World Moms Blog before (see 10 Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day), we’re sharing some ideas for simple yet meaningful ways for your family to celebrate the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.

1.  Make a World Wishes Dove with your family.  Cut feathers from white paper or colored construction paper.  Have everyone in the family decorate and write their wish for the world on a feather.    Cut out the body of a dove or other bird and glue all the feathers on it.  Once decorated, your bird will be a beautiful and hopeful expression of your family’s hopes for our world.

Template for a doveImage Source
Template for a dove
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2.  Play a game that helps kids understand human rights.  Blind Trust (from ABC – Teaching Human Rights):  In pairs, have one child blindfold the other and have the sighted member of the pair lead the “blind” one about for a few minutes. Make sure the leading child is not abusing the power to lead, since the idea is to nurture trust, not to destroy it. The “leader” of the pair should try to provide as wide a variety of experiences as possible, such as hav- ing the “blind” partner feel things with his or her feet or fingers, leading with vocal directions or even playing a game. After a few minutes have the children reverse the roles and repeat the process so that the “leader” is now the led, and the “blind” partner is now the sighted one.

Once the activity is over, allow the children to talk about what happened. Discuss how they felt – not just as “blind” partners but their feelings of responsibility as “leaders” too. This can lead not only to a greater awareness of what life is like for people with sight (or hearing) disabilities, but to a discussion of the importance of trust in the whole community. This can lead in turn to a discussion of world society, how it works and how it can fail to work too.  (teaches about Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 28; Convention on the Rights of the Child articles 3, 23)

3.  Learn about how children live in other countries.  For example, you can learn what kinds of food children in East Africa grow and eat from the Lessons from Africa resource created by the British non-governmental organization Send A Cow (also check out their website http://www.cowforce.com).  You can download the  powerpoint  about typical East African food.   You can also print out some of the recipes for things like chapatis and pepper soup to make and try for yourself.

4.  Find out what kids and teens can do to help stop child labor.  The ILO’s Youth in Action against Child Labour campaign has ideas, information,  videos and other resources to help young people take action to end child labor.

5.  Play Human Rights Twister to teach about cooperation, respect and inclusion.   Make a “Twister” game in which kids spell out key human rights words using their feet and hands.  Draw a grid with 6 columns and 5 rows with marker on a  large piece of cloth (like an old sheet) or plastic (like a plastic tablecloth). You can also use chalk to draw it on the ground. Write the following letters in the grid:

(blank) W X Y Z(blank)


Q R S T U V

K L M N O P

E F G H I J

(blank space)A B C D(blank)

Ask the children to name some rights and list them on a large piece of paper or whiteboard. Underline a key word in each right from this list of rights in one word:

Dignity            Education            Equality             Food            Freedom            Home            Love (from parents)            Name

Nationality          Opinion          Participation (in decisions that affect us)          Play          Protection          Religion

When you have listed at least 3 or 4 rights, have the children spell out the key word in the human right from the list by placing their hands and feet on the  appropriate letters of the “Twister” game.  When 1 child’s hands and feet are in place and the word is not yet completed, ask another child to join in  to complete the word. If the hand or foot of another  child already covers a letter, the player just has to touch the child that is on that letter.  When a letter is too far to reach, invite another child to join in.  (This activity and dozens of others to teach about human rights values and peaceful conflict resolution are available for free download in the Canadian organization EquitasPlay It Fair Toolkit. )

6.  Make toys and play games that children play in other countries.  Many kids throughout the world live in poverty and don’t have money to buy toys and games.  They make their own toys out of recycled materials that they find.  Your kids can try making a football (soccer ball) out of recycled plastic bags or a toy car made from a plastic bottle.

You can also  make and play the Sudanese game “Dala” (the Cow Herder Game).  In many parts of the world, games mimic everyday life; this game mimics the Sudanese practice of bull herding.  Sudanese people play it on the ground, using sticks to make the lines and pebbles or seeds as “bulls”.

7.  Ask the question “What Does a Child Need?”  Have your child lie down on a large piece of paper and trace their outline on the paper.  Ask your child(ren) to name this paper child. Discuss and decide on the mental, physical, spiritual and character qualities they want this ideal child to have as an adult (e.g. good health, sense of humour, kindness) and write these qualities inside the outline. They might also make symbols on or around the child to represent these ideal qualities (e.g. books to represent education). Talk about what human and material resources the child will need to achieve these qualities (e.g. if the child is to be healthy, it will need food and health care); write them down on the paper outside of the outline.  You can also read a simplified version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, German, etc.)  When children hear an article that guarantees a child each of the needs they have listed, they can write the number of the articles next to that item. Circle any needs identified but not covered by the Convention.

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8.  Read some books with strong female characters.   Non-discrimination and equality are key concepts in international human rights law.  Yet girls and women are generally not been portrayed as equals to boys and men in literature.  A Mighty Girl has compiled several great lists of girl-empowering books, including Top Read Aloud Books Starring Mighty Girls,  Top 100 Mighty Girl Picture BooksTop Graphic Novels Starring Mighty Girls, and Top Mighty Girl Books & Films on Women’s History.

9.   Get creative and enter your work in a contest with a human rights theme.   Local, regional or international contests are powerful activities for getting youth involved and learning about human rights.  Take action by entering some of the contests listed here on the Youth For Human Rights website.  (You can also learn more on the website about their educational programs, projects, awareness campaigns and human rights outreach campaigns.)

10.  Make a Human Rights Day card.  You can give the card to a friend or member of your family.  Or you can make multiple cards to decorate your house.   My eight year old daughter (that’s her self-portrait in the background) made this card for all the children of the world.

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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:  You’re on your way to a great Human Rights Day!  If you are a classroom teacher or homeschooling your kids (or if you just want to dig deeper), you can find tons more ideas through the following resources:

My past posts on Human Rights Day activities:

United Nations Cyber Schoolbus – human rights activities and information about the United Nations’ work

ABC – Teaching Human Rights – practical activities in English, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Advocates for Human Rights’ Discover Human Rights Institute – human rights education lesson plans and curriculum

Human Rights Here and Now  – human rights lesson plans and resources

Raising Children With Roots, Rights and Responsibilities – activities for preschool and young elementary children

UNRIC’s Human Rights Education website –  great source for multimedia on human rights!