The sci-fi hit Gravity was bumped off its orbit this weekend, after spending three weeks leading at the box office. But the thriller’s questions linger. Perhaps its most poignant moment comes when character Ryan Stone laments that she doesn’t know how to pray, that nobody ever taught her. Which raises the question: Is the ability to pray inborn? Is it something everyone has? Or is it something that must be learned? Taught?
The Rev. Carole Crumley is an Episcopal priest and program director at the ecumenical Shalem Institute, which for 40 years has offered support and training programs for Christian contemplative living. She differentiates formal prayer, which must be learned, from a more loosely structured encounter with the divine.
“I always look at the scriptures,” where, she points out, “the disciples say to Jesus ‘teach us to pray.’ ” Having grown up Jewish within the life of the synagogue, they surely knew the structured prayer, she says, but they saw that Jesus often went off alone to pray in silence. They wanted to learn this more open, direct, responsive way, and people today often want the same.
But while prayers can be taught, Rev. Crumley believes the yearning for God is innate. “We could say that people are born with this desire – that God has planted that desire in us and that our hearts are restless until we are caught by God. Many people experience that connection in an unmediated way,” through nature, for instance. No matter what their faith, adults can help themselves and their children foster that connection, simply by setting off like Jesus did for some regular quiet.
Like many spiritual directors, she suggests people take at least 20 minutes a day – maybe more, maybe less (“there’s nothing magical about 20 minutes”), and be silent, with the intention of simply being open to God. Scriptures, other sacred readings specific to one’s faith, even a candle, icon, or prayer word, can help the focus return to the intention when distraction inevitably strikes.
There’s no need to expect any outcome from your 20 minutes, she says. “Simply trust that God is at work within you and in your life.” In Christian tradition, Jesus “is the pioneer opener of the pathway” to God, she says, while in another faith tradition, there will be another way. The kind of community available in a prayerful church is essential, she says.
For kids, the focus on God can come in pint-sized moments – during naturally occurring times throughout the day, and perhaps with whatever faith helps a family might like – a bell, a word of explanation, a little prayer. Dinnertimes give the opportunity for a bit of structured attention to God. And while at bedtime an adult might examine the day with a mind to when God may have felt close or distant that day, kids don’t necessarily need such analysis. Natural questions – such as, what was the best part of your day? The worst? – set the pattern of discernment in motion.
“Kids are natural contemplatives. They are just awed by the world – thunderstruck,” says the priest. So are grownups, sometimes, even when an experience doesn’t seem like prayer. “The sunset can be a mystical experience over and over again for someone,” she says. “Sometimes words are unnecessary.”
Hey kids: Forget boring nature. Get a new plastic toy instead!
That’s the basic message behind this new Toys "R" Us ad touting a surprise outing in which they took a busload of kids and let them each pick out any toy they wanted in a Toys "R" Us store.
Giving a free toy to kids in need is great. What’s not so great is the way Toys "R" Us chose to frame this special outing, both to the kids and to viewers of this “make all their wishes come true” promo.
The kids are told they’re going on a field trip to the forest, and get on a green bus with “Meet the Trees Foundation” painted on the side, along with a faux ranger, who tells them, “We’re not going to waste any time. Let’s play ‘Name that leaf.’ "
The camera pans to yawning kids, and we’re all invited to ridicule this totally lame field trip, until the actor rips off his fake ranger uniform and announces, “You know what I like more than trees? I like toys. We’re going to Toys "R" Us, kids!”
The kids erupt into screaming, jumping, joyful chaos.
Every kid loves toys. In critiquing this ad, I’m not trying to be a killjoy who says that toys – especially for kids who don’t have much – are a bad thing.
But as a parent who cares deeply about getting my kids outdoors, and who worries about the millions of American children who rarely get outside or have a chance to interact with nature, I find the setup of the ad troubling.
I also find it ill-informed, based on adults’ preconceived notions of what must be “fun” or “boring,” rather than on kids own sensibilities. Anyone who has spent much time with children who do get to go to the forest, and have free play with dirt, sticks, trees, and stumps, knows how much they love it.
Give them an experience in nature with a gifted educator who can show how exciting catching a water bug, or finding an earthworm, or trying to construct their own nest can be – as opposed to an actor deliberately trying to make nature “boring” – and you’ll see kids with shining eyes and an exhilarated sense of discovery.
They may not be screaming with the out-of-control abandon they exhibited at the mention of Toys "R" Us – even kids have learned when they’re supposed to be really excited. But I would argue that the joy they get from that natural experience is far deeper, more long-lasting, and will pay much greater dividends over their lifetime than any object they bring home from the toy store, which more than likely will be both broken and forgotten in a short time, another casualty of our throwaway culture.
In his landmark book, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," Richard Louv documents the degree to which we as a society – and especially our children – have become disengaged from nature, and the harm that it causes.
The percentage of children who live close to school and walk or bike there has declined 25 percent in the past 30 years, and only 20 percent of kids live within a half-mile of parks or playgrounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Children have fewer hours of unstructured play, are often not allowed to play outside due to safety concerns or neighborhood association restrictions, and are consuming more electronic media than they used to.
Poor and urban kids – the same kids that Toys "R" Us is targeting in its ad – are even less likely to have access to green space or to a truly natural area.
And yet, research consistently shows how vital that time outdoors is, and time engaging with the natural world, whether in a tiny green patch in the midst of a city or an unspoiled and protected forest. Time outdoors reduces obesity, improves academic learning and behavior, and helps gets kids excited about learning. The Children & Nature Network catalogues a convincing amount of research showing myriad ways in which connecting with nature can help children.
Our society teaches young people to avoid direct experience with nature,” writes Mr. Louv in his book. “Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature – in positive ways.”
I’m fortunate to live in Colorado, with beautiful open space a short walk from our front door, and a plethora of green space and mountains. My kids – aged 4 and 6 – regularly hike, play in fallen leaves, hunt for roly-poly bugs, and get excited when they spot a Cooper’s hawk or a Stellar’s jay. I can think of few times I’ve seen them more genuinely joyful than when they’re playing outside. I know how fortunate we are.
But I worry about the many children growing up totally divorced from nature – whether they live in a city or suburb – and who have never experienced the joy of being in a forest. Field trips of all sorts – including to natural places – seem to be decreasing, pushed out by the pressures of testing.
It was generous of Toys "R" Us to give toys to a group of needy kids, and possibly savvy of them (despite the negative comments that have been appearing in response to the ad in their Facebook feed) to film the experience and document their generosity.
But if they really want to make a difference in the lives of those kids, perhaps they should have taken them on that promised field trip to the forest.
Daylight saving time ends early Sunday and some scientists – and parents – say that for the good of tired, grumpy kids and parents everywhere we shouldn't return to it again in the Spring.
Why? Because saving less than four bucks in electricity per American household is a bad trade for messing with our kids’ circadian rhythm , forcing them to tick when they ought to tock. Circadian body clocks are set by light and darkness, scientists describe them as the molecular cycles regulating when humans feel awake and when humans feel sleepy, as well as the hunger and hormone production timetables.
According to a 2007 Current Biology article, research shows that the long-term effects of daylight saving time are drastically decreased productivity, decreased quality of life, increasing susceptibility to illness, and being just plain tired and grouchy, Live Science reported.
The report tells us that when daylight saving time ends or begins, most people never adjust to that bi-annual alteration to Mother Nature’s body clock.
"When you change clocks to daylight saving time, you don't change anything related to sun time," explained lead researcher Till Roenneberg of Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. "This is one of those human arrogances – that we can do whatever we want as long as we are disciplined. We forget that there is a biological clock that is as old as living organisms, a clock that cannot be fooled. The pure social change of time cannot fool the clock."
I’m with Ronnenberg on this one, having lived on a sailboat for five years with kids and without clocks.
During the years when we rose and rested with the rise and fall of the sun my kids and I were bright and chipper. We rarely got sick and the only grouch we knew lived on Sesame Street and was named Oscar.
However, when we all moved back to land – and to daylight saving time – the alteration in all of us was very obvious because from that day to this we never seem to catch up on our sleep. Obviously, there were other changes in our land lubber lives.
But the week after the time alteration is always the worst for me and apparently others in the time-traveling world, according to a 2012 report in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Playing with the body’s natural rhythm has the immediate result of sleepiness leading to a loss of productivity and an increase in "cyberloafing" in which people actually gravitate to the computer instead of working, says the report.
According to Business Insider, “Night owls are more bothered by the time changes than morning people. For some, it can take up to three weeks to recover from the sleep schedule changes, according to a 2009 study in the journal Sleep Medicine. For others, it may only take a day to adjust to this new schedule.”
In the lead up to the clocks returning to standard time, I have always made their bedtime a little later each night so that when the time does change, they won't be as grumpy.
However, there is little you can do to control the fact that your child may continue to wake early and then get so tired after a week or two of the extra-early start to the day that they start to sleep longer.
It eventually evens out but for parents the transition can be a misery.
Today we also have the influx of technology which has resulted in those added daylight minutes given by daylight saving being taken away by League of Legends, Minecraft, Facebook, and YouTube.
Therefore, this morning as I tried to explain the benefits of daylight saving to my youngest of four sons, Quin age nine, I found myself letting him talk me out of it.
Quin has his own solution, “Science says changing my clock makes me grumpy, slow, and messed up and the law says some states like Hawaii and Arizona don’t have to do it so my vote is to move to Hawaii on Sunday.”
That’s not happening. So, we are staying up late to watch Ruff Ruffman on PBS and hoping for the best.
Please wear the Yoda hat. You see, this is your first Halloween and instead of buying you some cute off-the-rack animal suit I decided (as if there were extra credit parenting points awarded) to crochet a Yoda hat for your Halloween costume. I know now that I was wrong. You don’t like to wear hats. You are dexterous enough at 11 months-old to rip them from your head with your chubby little fingers. I forgot this, since the last time you wore a hat, you couldn’t use your thumbs.
But, this hat is different. It took mom an embarrassingly long time to crochet this hat. And it will make people laugh, and you love to make people laugh, right? Like last week, when I put you in that fleece bear suit on that cold morning. Sure, you were emasculated for the first few minutes, but when you saw how much people enjoyed seeing you in it, you liked it. They were laughing with you little man, not at you. I promise.
So it will be with the Yoda hat, you will see. So many folks will feel great joy seeing you in your costume, it will be totally worth it in the end. And here’s the thing, I have built ties on each of the ear flaps that will be employed if need be. I don’t want to resort to threats, but this is kind of big deal. Because, as mentioned earlier, mommy spent hours working on this “fun” and “easy” craft project (she will show you the calluses on her fingers!) so that she could hold in her heart the lasting memory of your first Halloween, and look like a total champion for hand-crafting a major piece of the outfit. Do you know how hard it is to CROCHET Yoda ears? Seriously little dude, just wear the hat.
We have one day left until the big event. If need be, we can practice wearing the hat in installments while you get into character. I am here to help. Just let me know what you need, as long as it involves wearing the Yoda hat, and I will deliver.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Lane Brown blogs at Mudlatte.com.
A viral video of an emotional baby, moved to tears by her mother's serenade, reminds us that there’s so much more to babies than blowout diapers and drooly teething.
This video, reported the Canadian news outlet TVA, pictures 10-month-old Mary Lynne Leroux being sung Rod Stewart’s classic ballad, “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” by her mom, Amanda, in Val Gagne, Canada. It highlights the innocence and emotional depth of babies in a beautiful way.
Among the diaper changes, schedule balancing, and stress, many parents forget the sweet, simple beauty of little moments like this. But it’s so important to take a step back. Breathe. Pay attention. These moments do pass – for sure – but if you can savor them, they'll become nuggets in your mental memory album. Among all the necessary tasks, the most essential one is making time to connect with your baby. It may not feel urgent, so it can easily get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Music can be so moving for adults – why wouldn't a baby also make his or her own deep associations with music, and react accordingly? I feel the confidence-inspiring quality of India.Arie’s “Video," the tragic, wistful tone of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” and the strut-your-stuff happy feel of Smash Mouth’s “Walking on the Sun.” Similarly, I see my six-month-old respond to the music that is a staple at our house. Music connects us as a family and promotes deep bonding. My daughter can’t get enough of it. Whenever my husband or I put some music on, she smiles really big, kicking her fat little legs. She belly laughs when my husband, who is Mexican, twirls her around the kitchen to salsa music as I make dinner. She immediately stops crying and sits peacefully when I sing hymns to her during our daily drive to daycare. When her grandma starts singing her lullabies on Skype, she stops whatever she’s doing and bolts toward the iPad.
Take a few moments to connect with your family today – you might even be able to sing a few bars of Raffi’s “Baby Beluga” as you load the dishwasher or fold some towels. Maybe it’ll make doing an otherwise forgettable task into a magical moment. You won't regret it.
One of the first things many new parents learn these days is the craft of swaddling their infant children. I, for one, remember with a feeling almost approaching fondness the moment during parenting class when I had to demonstrate for all assembled how to swaddle a doll in a theoretically sound manner. (I did it, more or less, a rare personal triumph over my own lack of spatial relations skills.)
Swaddling is great. It has a way of transforming a wildly flailing, highly annoyed noise-emitting little vortex of fuss into a sweet, restful, convenient-to-carry bundle of joy – the kind you'd always anticipated bringing into your lives, and have been somewhat disappointed to see only intermittently among all the diaper changes and random meltdowns.
But – like basically anything baby related – the practice has a recently renewed sheen of controversy. Via BBC:
Writing in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, Prof [Nicholas] Clarke [of Southhampton University Hospital] argued: "There has been a recent resurgence of swaddling because of its perceived palliative effect on excessive crying, colic and promoting sleep.
"In order to allow for healthy hip development, legs should be able to bend up and out at the hips. This position allows for natural development of the hip joints.
"The babies' legs should not be tightly wrapped in extension and pressed together."
Fear of hip damage runs side-by-side with other concerns about infants overheating (ah, the often grandma-instigated temptation of adding that second ... and third ... and fourth blanket) and a raised risk of crib death. Granted that the concerns largely focus on improperly restrictive swaddling (and/or parents who place swaddled infants to sleep on their faces, who are hopefully a small-to-nonexistent percentage of the population) but it's still scary stuff.
So: fantastic. Swaddling is the best way to help your infant sleep and make your lives as parents feel manageable, and it's also, of course, dangerous. Throw it on the pile of stresses of being a new parent, along with exclusive-to-the-point-of-exhaustion breast-feeding, controversy over co-sleeping, and the ambitious and almost certainly overstated diaper-free fad that seemed to be sweeping one small, extremely well-documented part of Brooklyn earlier this year.
The controversy over the safety of swaddling isn't, of course, new – the practice has gone into and out of vogue many times over the years. Early this year, Huffington Post noted a back-and-forth over the practice taking place in day cares, where a pitched battle was and still is being fought about the balance between absolute child safety (fears over hip problems or swaddled babies struggling with loose blankets or ending up on their faces) and child happiness (getting adequate sleep).
All that written, there is, thankfully, some agreement on methods of swaddling that avoid some or all of the risk: If you're a parent of an infant well-and-truly freaked out by all the back and forth there is a nicely written resource on the website of Britain's National Childbirth Trust that provides an overview of the practice, the risks, and (most helpfully) how to do it right, including a video called "How to Hip-Healthy Swaddle your Baby."
What’s tan and white and red all over? The giraffe riddle on Facebook that has reawakened users’ primary school fascination with riddles and jokes that has lain dormant since age 10.
While many people sigh with frustration when sent yet another social media joke I tend to take the Milton Berle perspective that, “Laughter is an instant vacation.”
The "giraffe riddle" that’s popular on Facebook is a viral social media game in which users change their Facebook profile pictures to giraffe pictures if they've incorrectly answered a riddle.
While many have wondered if this is some kind of Trojan horse virus or data collection scam, UPI assures readers it’s just a joke.
“It’s 3 a.m., the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors! It’s your parents and they are here for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread, and cheese. What is the first thing you open?”
I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice to say my 9-year-old, Quin, is deeply disappointed that my profile picture is still of me and not a giraffe.
Quinny is, however, thrilled that I shared the riddle with him because it gave him the perfect excuse to rattle off every riddle he has ever heard as I drove him to school this morning.
There is a phase of childhood I like to call “groaning pains” that happens in elementary school when our kids suddenly develop a fixation for riddles and bad jokes, retelling their favorites until we think we can groan no more.
Because I posed the giraffe riddle I had to suffer Quin’s favorite riddle in return: “What’s brown and sticky?”
After you’ve gone through everything from molasses to poo, he informs you with great ceremony, “A stick!”
“Ha! Get it? A stick is brown and it’s a stick so it’s sticky? Get it,” Quin will say that every single time he tells that joke.
Because Quin is 9 this is a current phenomenon, which his three older brothers got over years ago.
The giraffe riddle brings back good memories of my own childhood, when my Great-Uncle Charlie Sectish, would come to visit.
Charlie was one of those rare people who never exited the joke phase.
The man had a gift of both memory and delivery.
Part of the fun of Charlie’s delivery was that he always laughed so hard himself, a great rasping chuckle that came upon him so powerfully that he’d have to mop his balding pate and dab his eyes with a handkerchief.
If Uncle Charlie were alive today he’d skip answering the giraffe riddle in favor of answering it with a joke of his own. This is the one I recall him telling me:
A man and his pet giraffe walk into a bar. It's about 5 p.m. As the night goes on they really tie one on. Finally, the bartender says: "Last call." So, the man says, "One more for me... and one more for my giraffe." The bartender sets them up and they knock them back. Suddenly, the giraffe falls over dead. The man throws some money on the bar, puts on his coat and starts to leave. The bartender, yells: "Hey buddy, you can't just leave that lyin' there."
To which the man replies: "That's not a lion, that's a giraffe."
OK it’s not a teen-appropriate joke, but that’s what made it even funnier back in the day.
This is my giraffe joke:
Q: What do you get when you cross a giraffe with a hedgehog?
A: A six-foot toothbrush.
I only recall a fraction of the jokes Charlie told me in my youth, but I remember he made me laugh long and hard.
That phase would have come and gone for me had Charlie not embedded in my spirit the value of a good laugh. He gave me a lifelong ticket for that “instant vacation” and as the mother of four boys, my mental bags are always packed and ready to take that trip.
The New York Times, in an article almost certainly painstakingly designed to set off a tizzy of online clucking and hand-wringing, has presented the newest in precious parenting trends: board books for teething babies that reprise important works of classic literature and evoke a pre-pre-pre-Ivy League appreciation for classic art.
The Times says that they include: "... classics like “Romeo and Juliet,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Les Misérables”; luxuriously produced counting primers with complex graphic elements; and even an “Art for Baby” book featuring images by the contemporary artists Damien Hirst and Paul Morrison."
The obvious reaction to this trend is to roll one's eyes and go back to reading "Five Fluffy Alpacas" once again. This would be counterproductive for a number of reasons, not least of which that the challenging subject material is likely to be entertaining to the parents and start a general expectation that kids will rise to more rarefied educational topics from time to time. Our fear of going above our kids' heads sometimes leads us to provide nothing that they can reach up to; see, for example, this analysis of a federal survey of students. It depicts a vast number of children in America who feel under-, rather than over-challenged by their work.
The heart of The New York Times board books story may lie in its closing quote from author and mother Cindy Hudson. While she doubts that kids will benefit from the prep school subject matter, she does suggest: "anything that encourages that interaction between babies and parents is a good thing. That’s where the learning and the bonding comes from.”
In other words: If you're more stimulated by reading a board book version of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men" than "Pat The Soft Ducky" or "Everybody Spits Up," then there's a good chance that your children will be more stimulated, too.
Of course, the whole discussion prompts consideration of what our own favorite classics might be like if rendered as board books and read to curious, impressionable children:
Kafka's "Metamorphosis:" "Well, no, we don't know how he turned into a bug – that's sort of beside the point ... well, no, he didn't drink a potion. I mean, he might have. Sure, he drank a potion."
Dante's "Inferno:" "Oh, no, don't worry, you're not going to end up being chewed upon by one of Satan's three giant mouths ... unless of course you don't clean up your toys every night."
Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago:" "Well, yeah, I think some of them get out. Actually, sure, everybody gets out. It's just a tough time but they all stick together and get through it. You know what, let's just read 'Metamorphosis' again."
I've long considered zoos and animal parks to be "animal jails." This doesn't represent any principled stand against animal suffering (as a lifelong non-vegan, I'm vulnerable on that front), but rather a dislike of the general "free creatures penned up" vibe and a quite-possibly overly empathetic imagination.
A new film, however, is putting fuel on the flame of those who harbor lingering suspicion of the practice of charging money in return for exhibiting captive animals. "Blackfish" raises questions about SeaWorld: namely, whether its practices are humane for the animals, and safe for handlers and animals alike. In the process, it raises larger questions about animals in captivity everywhere.
The film presents quotes and perspectives like this one shared on CNN:
"I am not at all interested in having my daughter who is 3-and-a-half grow up thinking that it's normalized to have these intelligent, highly evolved animals in concrete pools," said John Jett, a former SeaWorld trainer, who said he grew increasingly concerned about the stressful conditions the animals were living under at SeaWorld. "I don't want her to think that's how we treat the kin that we find ourselves around on this planet. I think it's atrocious."
That said: While conditions, financial models, and effectiveness vary from zoo to theme park to circus, there are still a number of good reasons to keep taking your kids to them.
1. The parks have improved
Through accreditation work done over the decades by organizations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, zoos and animal parks have been held to ever-evolving standards of animal welfare that reflect improving knowledge of animal habits and habitats. The number of animals stuck in concrete pits has declined over the years as more and more effort is taken to re-create – as best as is possible in captivity – the aspects of life in the wild that give animals satisfying lives. Terms like "ecological psychology" and "landscape immersion" reflect an interest in climbing beyond the very base of Maslow's hierarchy, a psychological theory of human motivation put forth by Abraham Maslow, and trying to satisfy some of the higher needs of animals and observers alike.
Outside pressure (from films like "Blackfish") can play a positive role, too. SeaWorld's response to the film "Blackfish" has been combative (this lively back-and-forth between SeaWorld and the filmmakers gives you a sense of the feisty tenor) but knowledge that outside observers care deeply about the welfare of captive animals – and are willing to write or make movies about it – can only up the pressure and stakes on organizations to get it right and keep moving forward.
2. They help animals in the wild
Animal parks (and their donors) represent motivated organizations that have a vested stake in preserving wild habitats and populations of animals. As a counterweight to poachers and developers, they're a critical voice on the scene.
3. They're legitimately educational
Book and Web searches are fine and dandy, but to really gain an appreciation for the miracle of biology that is an elephant, or octopus, or ostrich, it really helps to see one in the flesh. It gives the mind something concrete to hang all those fun facts and scientific observations upon, and it stirs the imagination, too. There are far worse ways to stimulate young minds than putting them in close proximity to an alien life-form, and letting them sort out all the differences between animals and people – and all the shared ground, too.
4. They help preserve endangered species
Saving threatened species takes time, money, and advanced educational training, and animal parks, zoos, and aquariums are among the few places that bring all those assets to bear on the problem of species extinction. To what extent is it OK to monetize another species? How about if some of the money goes to preserve its future? These aren't easy questions to answer, and they're loaded with shades of gray, but they give you a sense of the kind of calculations ethical zoos and other wildlife parks have to go through on a regular basis.
And beyond work done to preserve the long-term viability of species, animal parks also often serve as refuges for injured or otherwise vulnerable animals.
5. Visiting animal parks is a family-friendly activity
Few places are so tolerant of the antics and volume levels of kids as animal parks – it's a safe space for moms and dads who want to spend quality time with their excitable, moody, sometimes high-intensity little ones. Simply giving parents a place to decompress and hang out with their kids is a serious social benefit that shouldn't be overlooked.
So, how often will I be taking my son to the zoo? As infrequently as humanly possible, if I have any say in it. But if my zoo-loving wife wants to lead the charge, she's got my support.
Parents who want to help boys who are reluctant writers may want to learn more about Bitstrips, the new free interactive comic strip app sweeping the Facebook landscape.
The app called Bitstrips launched its 1.1.7 version for iPhone, iPod, and iOS users this week as well as on Google Play for Android users. According to the International Business Times, it currently has more than 10 million users.
Bitstrips is a customizable avatar-creation tool on the Web that lets users create and share comics of themselves and others with personalized messages.
As a parent I saw two opportunities in this new app: 1. Connect with my teens in the cutting edge technosphere via adding them to my playlist of avatar/characters for the strips. 2. Connect our youngest son, Quinten, age 9, to writing.
Quin is mainly an A student with the exception of writing, which is a steady C.
I can tell you firsthand that difficulties in writing can be devastating to a child's education and self-esteem. Despite all his successes, what he sees as “epic failure in writing” and communicating his ideas on paper hurts Quin’s learning.
In a meeting before the start of the school year here in Norfolk, Va., I was lucky to find we had a new principal, Dennis Fifer, who has a keen understanding of boys and writing issues.
He listened to the teacher describe my son’s inability to put his thoughts onto paper and suggested to the teacher that Quin be allowed to make his own comic strips instead.
Mr. Fifer explained that most boys lag behind girls in both handwriting and story writing. It’s sometimes called “pencil anxiety” because the coordinative lag in handwiring in boys leads to reluctance to use that pencil to write. He suggested a keyboard in place of a pencil and a comic strip in place of an essay.
Quin loved the idea of drawing his own strip in place of his regular essay for school.
However, this was not a perfect system. Quin’s first essay on the assigned theme, “Believe in yourself, dream big, inspire others,” ended up featuring him as a Minecraft character creating a portal from our world to the game world to defeat pollution and coastal flooding via the Lego League of Justice.
I realized Quin couldn’t get the hang of it by simply reading the Sunday funnies or a comic book because he is so literal in his thinking that he could not make the leap from someone else’s imagination to using his own.
Enter Bitstrips and a daily example of how mom and his favorite big brother, Zoltan, are living in an alternate comicverse on Facebook.
You can either download the free app to your mobile device or access the app on Facebook, or on Android, or on iOS via app stores or Google Play. Bitstrips for Schools offers teachers the program for classroom use.
Then create an avatar of yourself based on your appearance with customizable hair, clothes, facial features, and body type. Next, choose from numerous pre-made scenes and scenarios.
You can also create avatars for friends who haven’t already signed up for Bitstrips, which Quin did with great glee for his brothers, me, and his father to include in his adventures.
Kids can add the script by typing in his own dialogue and captions or see them randomly generated.
You could almost hear an audible “click” when Quin saw the first strip generated.
“Oh! I get it,” Quin said looking at a comic of a cartoon me and Zoltan on a see-saw. “I don’t actually get the jokes, but I get it. Can I try?”
It’s actually good that he doesn’t have his own Facebook account because it’s forcing him to think outside himself when writing stories.
It’s a relief that Quin is engaged in writing and storytelling. Perhaps it’s a greater relief to see that the avatar he made of me represented more of his ideal than my reality. Win-win.