Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Month and as a high school librarian, I have seen my fair share of stressed out teens. How can we help our students alleviate anxiety and stress? While we cannot take the place of trained and certified therapists, we can offer a listening ear or a word of support and encouragement. We can also provide some tools and comfort for promoting good mental health.

Here are five simple ideas for promoting and augmenting mental health. Each is implementable through library programming or makerspace activities.

Stress Balls – Sometimes you just need to squeeze and squish something. Follow directions for hydrating Magic Beadz. Instead of a bowl, use a water bottle, this will make the straining and pouring beads into a balloon easier. Place beads in a balloon and tie a knot at the top. Start squishing! Alternatives to Beadz: use rice, beans or play dough. Some instructions call for flour. If (ahem, when) the balloon breaks, the mess is of astronomical proportions.


Positive Pencils (link) – Everyone needs a reminder. You are strong! You are brave! You’ve got this! Positive affirmations can increase feelings of self-worth. Research shows us that thoughts have a direct impact on emotions and feelings. So, make them positive!

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Social Robots (link) – Hasbro’s Joy for All companion pets can provide comfort to students in school without having to deal with allergies or vet bills. This is great alternative to live animal pet therapy programs.
companion-pet.pngJournaling – Write down thoughts, dreams, and questions in a daily journal you create for yourself. Using Modge-Podge craft glue and images cut from upcycled magazines, cover a marble or spiral notebook for a creative personalized journal. Journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression, among other benefits.
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Jump Ropes (link) – Daily exercise is good for overall health, both physical and mental. Even just a little activity is beneficial. Make these upcycled plastic (plarn) jump ropes as a fun way to exercise.

Also, check out this resource – 12 Resources to Help You Address Mental Health in Schools.

Stay healthy! Stay strong!

Social Robots

Robots & Us: Can Robots make us feel better?

My husband has been hospitalized for the past 8 months. In the course of that time we’ve had our fair share of mechanical interventions. From ventilators to feeding delivery systems, programmed machines have improved our quality of life.

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Nate’s Get Well Bot is a ‘robot’ designed (albeit, by a 3 year old) to make Uncle Alan feel better. Worked like a charm!

This got me thinking. Can robots make us ‘feel better’?

I’ve been on the look out for other ways robots can make us feel better – not medically but more along the lines of social-emotional well-being.

Companion Robots

We’ve experienced multiple therapy dogs over our stay and recently a therapy bunny. Many of these service animals only visit on certain days and depending on the unit (for example, the respiratory care unit) they may be banned. What to do when you need or want a companion, but don’t have access to a live, furry critter? Companion robots.

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Hasbro Joy for All (https://joyforall.hasbro.com/en-us) –  is “designed to bring comfort, companionship and fun to elder loved ones. With realistic fur and pet-like sounds – and sensors that respond to petting and hugs with familiar pet-like actions – Companion Pets deliver a soothing, joyful experience that inspire smiles, laughter and fond memories for people of all ages.” We own the silver cat and he (Bingo) spends his days with my husband. Not only does Bingo provide comfort and companionship to my wheelchair bound husband, he also brings joy and comfort to me. Best of all no vet appointments, clean ups or allergy attacks!

I think this product would make a great addition to our other stress reducing activities and plan to purchase one for our school library.

BUDDY (http://www.bluefrogrobotics.com/en/buddy/) – “is the revolutionary companion robot that improves your everyday life. Open source and easy to use, BUDDY connects, protects, and interacts with each member of your family. Not content with being just a companion, BUDDY is also democratizing robotics. BUDDY is built on an open-source technology platform making it easy for global developers to build applications.”

There are other “social robots” such as Jibo (https://www.jibo.com/) and Pepper (https://www.ald.softbankrobotics.com/en/robots/pepper). I’m more partial to the furry robots than the humanoid robots.

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I was fortunate to meet Dr. Julienne Greer, a senior lecturer at UT Arlington, while attending the Texas Library Association Conference (2018) in Dallas. She had several robots with her and she explained her work with the theatre arts department in relation to the computer science department. Fascinating work being performed across the country. If you want to read more about Dr. Greer and her work in the emerging field of social robotics and human-robotic interaction (HRI), check out this article: Why we want our robots to like us. In the future, I think we’re going to being hearing a lot more on the topic of human interactions with emotional robots. I can’t wait!

OneWord

OneWord2017: Compassionate

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Last year, like many others, I participated in the #OneWord challenge. One Word is a unique way to reflect and focus on something meaningful to you in the upcoming year that can be expressed in one word. My 2017 ‘word’ was compassionate.

I thought I knew and understood compassion. But it wasn’t until I found myself in the neurosurgical ICU holding my husband’s hand praying he would survive the weekend that a whole new experience opened up to me. It is in this experience that the depth of compassion fully struck me.

Much of my writing and work with youth revolves around compassionate making. Where we actively use our makerspace to create items for others with the hope of alleviating suffering around the world. While I thought I knew compassion and how to inspire and share compassionate acts, it has been the past four months that have given me a new perspective and deeper understanding.

My husband is a well-respected physician in our community. Over and over again I’ve been told by patients and colleagues how much they admire his kindness and compassion.   Since this past August, it has been his turn to be the patient and the recipient of kindness and compassion.

Healthcare Providers

Day in and day out, millions of healthcare providers demonstrate compassion on a daily basis. My husband, myself and our family have seen and experienced the beauty of compassion in a healthcare environment. Even when my husband  transferred to a different unit on another floor, nurses and aides from the previous unit would visit on him and check up on me. Such beauty in dedication and caring.

Therapy Dogs

There is a new place in my heart for those who train and work with therapy dogs. Thanks to these caring, dedicated people, patients stuck in healthcare facilities can feel a loving connection even though they are away from their own furry family members.

Nate’s Get Well Bot

Even our three year old nephew tried to help. It’s not typical to bring a three-year old to an ICU unit, but Nate wanted to visit Uncle Alan and my niece wanted to ensure my well-being. Leery at first because he didn’t understand all the beeping machines, his mother explained the machines were robots to make people better. Later that evening Nate decided he needed to design a robot to make Uncle Alan better. Never underestimate the depth of compassion our youth have.

Blood Donors

During the course of my husband’s extended stay, probably due to multiple blood draws during this time, he required a blood transfusion. We host an annual blood drive at my high school every year and I can honestly say I never really thought about the act of donating blood and specifically how it affects the patient and his/her family. I want to take this time to thank each and every blood donor for their precious gift – giving of themselves in such a selfless act.

Friends

Over the months, there have been so many kind and compassionate friends, co-workers, colleagues and acquaintances who gave gifts, provided kind words of encouragement,  food and copious amounts of wine and chocolate. I truly experienced compassion on a daily basis.

Youth Makers

As you can tell from my previous blog posts, I embrace a maker mindset and specifically sharing that enthusiasm with youth mostly in the form of making for others. We were delighted to be the recipients of some creative youth maker activities, especially our Hanukkah gift from students at Bais Yaakov. It’s not fun celebrating traditionally home based holidays in a hospital setting.

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#OneWord2018?

What will 2018 hold in store for us? No one ever truly knows. Perhaps, my one word for 2018 should be gratitude – gratitude to be alive, gratitude for compassionate people in our lives. I am grateful for so many things I previously took for granted. Though, I must admit, I was leaning towards patience for this year’s word as I know this journey is not over. Perhaps should fill my 2018 #oneword plate with  gratitude (and a side of patience).

 

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Happy New Year

 

An ELL Holiday Gathering

The week before holiday break an teacher of ELLs and I hosted a bilingual story-time in our high school library. We chose a holiday classic, The Grinch who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. We found many of our students are unfamiliar with Dr. Seuss and common words and phrases such as ‘don’t be a Grinch!’

In addition to this literature based activity, we included cultural and tech activities. And to round out the festivities, a little gastronomic experience as well. Students sipped hot chocolate with whipped cream and nibbled on snacks consisting of Santa cookies and homemade brownies. Students were treated to a VR Santa experience which they enjoyed immensely as a field trip to the North Pole was not in our budget!

None of our students had heard of Chanukah dreidels so we taught them how to play. Using a simple instruction sheet the students, even with limited proficiency, were able to follow along and were delighted to learn how to gamble albeit with Hershey kisses.

All in all we celebrated together and through food, conversation, and friendship we embraced similar traditions while learning new ones.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

A Mother’s Daughter

The week before holiday break an ESL teacher and I hosted a bilingual story-time in our high school library. We chose a holiday classic, The Grinch who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. As part of the festivities we provided hot chocolate with whipped cream and snacks consisting of Santa cookies and homemade brownies.

My daughter, an education major off for winter break, made the brownies while I was at work because I didn’t have time and needed the help. I reflect on this and I’m reminded that I am my mother’s daughter. My mom, a retired first grade teacher, used to ask my sisters and me to cut out shapes and items for her class or bulletin board.

Having grown up providing classroom assistance and now requesting it from the next generation, I wonder will my daughter’s children follow suit.

Just something I ponder over tea and leftover brownies.

#NotAtAASL

#NotAtAASL: Makers With a Cause Conference Session Resources

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This past week scores of library professionals descended upon Phoenix. Though scheduled to attend and present, I was not among my colleagues this weekend. While transferring between healthcare facilities and advocating for my husband, I viewed numerous tweets and posts of arrivals, keynotes and conference sessions. My husband suffered a brain bleed, decompressive craniotomy and AVM resection, followed by surgery for a VP shunt. Yes, he’s a hot mess. Though not participating in person this year, I knew I was in the right place; beside my husband of thirty years.

My session, Makers With a Cause, was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Sharing our successful MakerCare program at Islip High School is something I enjoy doing. Indeed, you can find our program mentioned in the following titles:

 

Since I was unable to attend AASL, in addition to the above titles, I have compiled a list of resources that serve as the basis for my presentations. Granted if you want the full picture, you’ll have to wait for my book, Makers with a Cause: Creative Service Projects for Library Youth (Libraries Unlimited, 2018).

Resources:

School Library Journal: Struck by Tragedy, a NY High School Heals Through “Compassionate Making”

The evolution of our MakerCare program at Islip High School.

Ideas + Inspiration from Demco: How to Inspire Students to be Compassionate Makers (Seymour)

Great go-to guide to starting a compassionate maker program.

Gina Seymour Blog

Search this site for numerous project ideas and anecdotal stories.

Islip High School LibGuides: The Compassionate Maker

Project ideas with instructions and images.

Laura Fleming: Out of the Box Approach to Planning Makerspaces

Compassionate making along with many other creative ‘out of the box’ makerspaces.

Change Makers

Those of you who follow this blog know about our MakerCare program. We use our school library makerspace to create items for others. We model and encourage empathic behaviors inspiring students to make a difference in their community. This is the cornerstone of our program: compassionate making. Using our makerspace to nurture compassion and empathy; to bring help to those in need.

 A member of our teaching staff approached me to ask how the MakerCare program worked. I explained, it’s really simple, if someone sees a need and there’s a way for us to help, we’ll do it. That’s when she shared with me her situation. Her nephew, diagnosed with cerebral palsy, was in need of bibs; could we help make some? She brought in a sample and it was a simple straight stich, two pieces of fabric sandwiched between a washcloth. We could handle that.

 While the library makerspace has two sewing machines available to all, I have to say many of our projects are successful due to our FACS sewing teacher, Mrs. Stevens. Her sewing class has already participated in Little Dresses for Africa and has made catnip toys for our local animal shelter. Some of her students are fast learners and find themselves with extra time, so how better to fill that time than in service to others. So, FACS students pitched in. In all, a dozen bibs were sewn and given to the family. MakerCare is flexible in that we open service opportunities to all, be it a class, club or individuals. All are invited to make a difference.

 We are at the end of our school year ending with service to a staff member and donations to our elementary school.

Over the past year we have:

·         helped African school girls (Little Dresses for Africa)

·         shown random acts of kindness (I Found a Quilted Heart)

·         written to support our troops and veterans

·         offered comfort to hospitalized children (Sending Smiles)

·         made numerous dog toys and catnip toys for our local animal shelter

·         made a plarn sleep mat for the homeless

·         made plarn jump ropes for one of our elementary schools

·         sewed cerebral palsy bibs

·         participated in Youth Uplift Challenge (Students Rebuild)

·         provided handmade greeting cards to HS community

·         hosted a #make the holidays gift event

·         hosted a mental health break from mid-terms (and upcoming finals)

·         hosted Art Therapy with graduate art therapy students

It feels good to make a difference in the lives of others. I am grateful to have had the privilege to work with youth who not only care, but also are determined to be the change.