Send anyone this way to read along, but for permission to reprint, please contact Gail.
© Gail Underwood Parker

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Caring Heart: Boomerang Children [failed reunification]

The primary hope of foster care is that it will be temporary, that the broken family can be healed, educated, and eventually reunified.  In reality that does not always work. Sometimes, like a boomerang returns to its sender, the reunified child comes back into care.

Boomerang Children [failed reunification]

He is coming back tomorrow.  He must be so sad.  He wants to be with them so badly, but they need to be the right kind of parents. He wanted it to work with his parents. We all did.  I think they tried.  I guess they just weren't ready or ale.  The caseworker called and asked if we would be wiling to let him come back here. This way he will at least be returning to a family he already knows, who already cares about him, not a new set of strangers.  Guide our words as we pick him up tomorrow. Help us not to sit in judgment of these people he still loves so much.  Help us comfort him, and make him feel welcome.  Give him peace, acceptance, and strength to rejoin us, knowing that the real peace and acceptance will take so, so long. Give us the strength to face the new wounds on his heart and the effect this failed reunification will have had on him. He needs us for now.  He needs this family.  Let  him allow us to be his family. Amen.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker   Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Quick Takes: Stop Fights with Humor

Since I talked some this week about playdates... here is a unique [some might even say bizarre] way of settling disagreements between friends or siblings.  I find that humor is a wonderful way to diffuse anger.  The tough part is finding a way to work humor into that angst ridden atmosphere.  

Here is a way to settle an argument that actually has giggle potential, sometimes even gales of laughter... The next time two are arguing...say over who gets "X" or who goes first or whatever the disgreement du jour is.  All you need to do is have two oranges of relatively equal size on hand at all times to settle the argument and shift the mood. Here are the rules:

Battle of the Oranges:
Each warrior is armed with a tablespoon on which an orange is placed. The hold the spoon with one arm/hand and put the other arm/hand behind their back. At the "go" signal, each will try to knock the opponent's orange off the spoon. But... they can only do it by using only the hand which holds the spoon and orange. The winner is the one left with their orange on the spoon!

Give it a try... My kids used to ask for best two out of three, but by three they were usually giggling and laughing, the original difference not forgotten, but no longer as important as conquering the orange challenge. 

Image credits:,,

Friday, July 29, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Sand Castles

I was remembering last night what it was like to squat on the sand at the edge of the ocean trying to build a castle and moat with beach pails and plastic shovels. I hope many of you had similar opportunities.

My brother and I or my sister and I would try to stack castle turrets onto sandy castle walls, then scoop out moats so that the occasional wave would fill the moat to out pleasure before they came closer and stronger, and stronger and closer until the walls and turrets would start to cave in to the incoming tide, smoothing out the sand until there was no trace of our masterpiece.

Here are some of the many more elaborate sand castles you can find .

Just google sand castles or sand castle winners under Google images. They've gone way beyond "mere" castles now .. .  as these portraits and mythical beasts show.

Even their castles are amazing and spectacular,

BUT--I suspect I had just as much pure fun as that small child with my more modest efforts, giggling and playing innocently in the summer sunshine.

Nearly 60 years have passed since my first years of sand castle memories, but I can still close my eyes and see my father's large hands scooping out sand and helping my small hands learn how to pack and plan the walls, turrets, and waves.

 Today make a date to build a sand castle with your child... whether you too are at a beach...

or far far from a beach

or even in a backyard or playground!

Create that joy,     that moment,    that memory  for your child...

anything can happen,  but magic is almost guaranteed !

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Parenting Tips: Friends and Playdates-pt 2

Just a quickie today as I rush out the door. A warning about playdates.  Being ahead of the curve is a huge advantage in helping prevent playdate implosions... so today I offer:

Don't Beware of joy but Be aware of joy!

This is not what it seems.. I mean two things: 1- When natural joy occurs, celebrate, congratulate, and make a mental note of what was happening so you can try to build that in another time. AND 2- Keep your ears attuned to the difference between natural joy and that spiralling silliness/joy that experienced parents dread.  [You know, the one where your mother would come in and sat "Settle down, kids, or someone is going to end up hurt or upset!"] When you hear that kind of joy, know that it is time for you to step in before the spiral switches to negative.

Image Credits:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Soapbox: Norwegian Tragedy... Reach Out

Like everyone, I have been both heartbroken and shocked at the recent tragedy in Norway.  I just sent one of mine off to a week at camp. How many hundreds of thousands of us in the United States do that each summer?  It is almost too much to bear to try to put myself in the place of any of th Norwegian parents and families who sent their children, their siblings, off to camp only to get the news of the shootings last weekend.  For today's soapbox I challenge all of you reading this to take a step to making the world smaller.  Think of those Norwegian families as our neighbors.  They are.

Take the few moments needed to send them a message that we care.  We wouldn't hesitate to send a card or make a phone call or send an email if it had happened a family on our street. Even if we had never met them we would reach out. Let's shrink the world and treat the people of Norway like neighbors that we just haven't had the chance to meet. Reach out to them. Think what it would mean to you to get word from around the world if it had happened here.

Here are some choices and below them are the addresses of the five Norwegian Embassies in the U.S. and which states they sere.  Do it... please.

1. Send a message to the Norwegian Embassy in Washington on Facebook.
2. Send an actual real sympathy card... in the good old fashioned mail [see contacts below].
3. Make a phone call to an embassy and leave a message that you care [same contacts below].
4. Have all your friends sign a card and send it.
5. Have your faith congregation all sign a card and send it.
The Norwegian Ambassador's name is Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strommen

Addresses, Emails, Phone and Contact Info---

The Consulate General in New York serves New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Royal Norwegian Consulate General New York
825 Third Avenue, 38th floor
New York, NY 10022
Phone: (212) 421-7333
The Consulate General in Houston serves: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Florida and Alabama as well as Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Jamaica.
3410 West Dallas Street
Houston, TX 77019
Tel.: (713) 620-4200
The Consulate General in San Francisco serves: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Royal Norwegian Consulate General San Francisco
Office hours for visa: 9:30 am - 12 noon. (Wednesdays closed). Note: phone enquiries are also limited to the visa hours. Office hours for passports: 09:30 am -11:30 am and 13:30 pm -15:00 pm, all weekdays.
20 California Street, Sixth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94111-4803 USA
Phone: (415) 986-0766
The Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. serves: Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Bahamas.
2720 34th Street NW
Washington, DC  20008
Tel:  (202) 333-6000
Fax:  (202) 469-3990
Image Credits:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Friends and Playdates--pt 1

[To my steady readers... Sorry I am late posting. I thought I had set this to autopost. :-(]

Children who have experienced a lot of disruption in their childhoods often have difficulty knowing how to play with friends.  They often did not have a lot of traditional childhood activities and fewer opportunities to learn how to play with friends.

I found that my kiddos would self-destruct shortly after a friend arrived for a playdate, often sabotaging the event themselves. I found a few strategies that helped my kids learn to negotiate ordinary friend time.
Here are two.

1. Start at an outside event.
  Invite a friend to come with your child or your family when you go for an activity... a movie, a playground trip, a trip to the kids museum, a ballfield, even just on a walk.  This lets the two play and interact without having to manage the activity themselves. It lets you observe and figure out where your child's weaknesses are [sharing?, conversation?, what?] It also lets you observe the potential friend watching both for the same thing and for things the child enjoys doing. This helps a lot when you plan how to move to a playtime at home.

2. Start small.
 When you have the friend over to your house, plan for a short time. A whole day, even a whole afternoon may be too much for some children. I like to start with an invite for either an hour, or lunch, or supper, or even only an hour including the meal. I usually have the two play in the living room first [within my hearing to sense how its going], then we either fix and eat a snack or lunch, then if everything is going well let them have the last 1/3 of the time playing together outside, or in their room. I have a reason to step in every 5-10 minutes to keep them posted on how long before I take the friend home so they are ready and prepared. At the end I offer to help them put everything back together, picking up toys etc with them. This accomplishes three things: a-- They know I expect it done, b-- They know that I expect them to do it together, and c- I am there at this higher risk time to help with the possible mood shifts from either picking up or the end of the playdate.

On Thursday's Parenting Tips I will give some small warnings about friends and playdates and next Tuesday's Focus on Fostering I will explain the "Play Planner" that helped my children finally succeed  with friends over to play. See you then!

Image credits:,,blog

Monday, July 25, 2011

School Bell: Tree Science Craft

All joking of last weekend's Weather Rock put aside, there are other science activities that can sometimes capture the reluctant scientist.  Here are a few summer activities to try. [Be sure not to check out poison ivy or sumac or oak!]

Take a sheet of white paper and some crayons to a park or other place with different size, type of trees.  Place the paper on the tree bark and color the paper with a crayon, capturing images of the rough or smooth bark. Collect different kinds of bark rubbings. Older kids may want to label each rubbing with the kind of tree and where they found the tree [plus of course, like any good scientist keeping records.... add the date and their name!]

Tree/Plant Conversations:
Go for a walk in a place, neighborhood, or park with different kinds of trees.  Talk with your child about what they see. [If you have binoculars or a simple magnifying glass, bring it and show them how to use it.] Help them see the details that make different plants and trees individual.  Here are some ideas to start....Is it a tree or a plant?  A flower or bush?  Why?  Are there blossoms? [single or several on a stem, clusters? All same color or different shades?]
Are there needles? [Are the needles in groups or not? Are there cones? What shape?] Are there leaves? [Are the leaves pointed or rounded? What shape are the leaves? ] IS there bark? [Smooth or rough? Light or dark? Peeling? Vertical or Around?] Are the leaves sharp? smooth, scratchy, long or short?]

Photography Match:
Help your child take pictures of different kinds of trees [or bushes or even flowers] that you see in your area, a park, or on a trip. Help them make a scrapbook of all the trees or plants they discovered.  They will learn observation of differences and similarities, especially if you've already helped them during tree conversations. 
Have your child take separate pictures of the tree trunks, the tree branches, and the leaves. Do this with several different kinds of trees.  Print the photos and mount on 3x5 or 4x6 index cards. Scramble and make a game of trying to match the right bark, branch pattern, and type of leaf . Go back to the original trees if you need to check your guesses.
Research online to determine the name of the kind of tree and put that on a fourth card. This makes sets of four for each type of tree.  Try to get enough different sets you can play card games like old maid with them by gathering sets of each tree's components and name.  [Maybe take a pic of a tree stump or dead tree for the old maid card?]

Keep a Tree Trunk Journal:
Pick a tree and follow it through the summer.  Observe and take notes about what you see. Date each visit.  Ideas of things to look for:  Insects on the bark. Changes in the bark.  Fungus or lichen or moss on the bark. Signs of birds or woodpeckers.  Signs of squirrels, chipmunks other animals. Signs of humans?
What kind of things are growing around the base of the tree trunk?  How tall are they now?  How tall are they in a month? Can you reach around the whole tree trunk?  How many people do you need to reach all around the whole tree trunk? Are there blossoms? leaves? seeds? cones? Do they change or disappear? What other things can you track?

Remember, the goal is to help them observe, think, and record..... and to have fun with you while doing it!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Quick Takes: Weather Rock

This is for all your kids who have NO interest in science.... 

1. Have them search around and find an absolutely, truly fine rock.  
2. Place the rock outside in a special place of honor.
3. Help them chose ideas from the list below to fit your region.
4. Print them on "Direction Sheets."  
5. Post your directions.  
Aaaabra  cadaaaa   bra.....
               * * *
            *         *  
<-<- P O O F ->->  
You have just made and installed an authentic...
 "Maine Weather Rock" ! !   

Enjoy!  :-)

Weather Rock Directions
Rock dry – fair
Rock wet – rainy
Rock swaying – windy
Rock with shadow – sunny
Rock with no shadow -- cloudy
Rock dusty --dust storm 

Rock white – frost or snow
Rock bouncing – earthquake
Rock under water – flood
Rock flashing - lightning
Rock missing - tornado
Rock cold - winter
Rock wet, mossy or grassy- spring
Rock hot - summer
Rock covered by colored leaves - fall

Image credits:,,

Friday, July 22, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Cool Gadget

I found this little gizmo online and fell in love. It's the kind of gadget that my father used to LOVE getting and using.  Seems a lot handier to keep handy in a purse or pocket [or even on a desk] than a 12-inch ruler!

It is called a "constrained ball" and was designed by a young South Korean engineering product designer named Giha Woo. [click on "Profile"]

Deceptively simple, the fixed but rotating wheel only allows the pencil or pen to move in straight lines, making it possible for anyone to draw great straight lines, whether drawing randomly or underlining text or whatever.  To top it off there is a sensor that measures distance with a readout built in.
Too good to be true?  Why have I not bought one for all my geeky or steadiness-challenged friends?  That's the catch...

As far as I can tell it is only a prototype or something similar. I have been totally unable to locate any place that sells or distributes them. When I found this last week I searched and found a contact email for Giha Woo and have sent an inquiry.  His comment page is filled with eager customers!  I will let you know if I hear back.  In the meantime.... go forth and invent something equally enticing.... you may make millions!  After all....anything can happen!

Image credits:
[You will find the constrained ball on the second or third page of his 2010 album]

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Parenting Tips: Movie School?

On Monday I promised another idea today that would help kids maintain their comfort with routines, accountability, and the school skills of observing, thinking, and recording.  Tonight I suggest making a routine of one night each week being Movie/Television Night with the family gathered around some very specially chosen DVDs or movies.

Parents.. your job is to enjoy the time with the kids but also posing questions that will challenge your kids to think, making comments that support their observations, and celebrating the excitement of their discoveries. Help them see the wonder, experience amazement, and feed their curiosity. Plus... it is great family time once a week. [Maybe even break out the popcorn or ice cream!]

For less than the price of going to a family cartoon movie, or the latest sequel.... you can purchase these DVDs to own.  But, check out your local library or video lending store. Find some non-story based, fact filled, visually stunning DVDs or videos.  Often you can check out a few episodes online to see what DVD works best for your family. Many can be downloaded for under $2 per episode. Here are a few examples that my kiddos have loved and learned while loving them.

from the Eyewitness series: Based on the amazing DK Eyewitness books, this series will fascinate the whole family... my kids started with the "Pond and River" DVD [under $10].

from television:  Try Discovery Channel's Time Warp Season 1- two DVDs [10 episodes on each]..$13. Each episode the hosts film common and uncommon actions in super slow motion and give us a peek at what happens too fast for the human eye to see.  Whether it is an arrow piercing and breaking a row of 3 water balloons, a simple drop of water, a pool shot, or any of the other ideas... this series is going to surprise everyone. If that doesn't sound like something your kids will like browse around...The Discovery Channel will have something else to entice even the most stubborn... "Mythbusters," "How Its Made" or "How Do They Do It?" are my kids' long-time favorites!

Try a travel series:  We got "South Africa" from Questar's Best of Travel series, but there are all kinds of travel DVDs so I suggest renting these before buying to be sure the narration style and degree of detail fits the age and interest of your children. [My kids loved replaying over and over the "Safari" section but would fast forward through some of the description of Cape Town]

Note: I got each of these for about $10 used, but even new they are between $15-$20.

Soapbox: Domestic Abuse

Maine has a criminal history to be envied. We have the lowest violent crime rate in the country and the lowest prison incarceration rate per capita in the country.  However we are horrified, and should be, by the proportion of violence in our state that is domestic violence. Of the 31 Maine homicides in 2008, 65% were domestic violence related.  Of the 25 murders Ain 2009, 35% were domestic violence related. The proportion has continued to improve steadily since the 2008 mark, but it is still much too high. And last month we were all shocked when an 37-year old estranged husband murdered his kindergarten-teacher wife, 8th grade son and 6th grade daughter before committing suicide.

[People were shocked that he was out of jail on bail after being jailed for violating a protection from abuse order. He had been charged with threatening his wife and children in June of 2010.  He was prohibited from possessing a gun, yet he obtained a shotgun to commit the crimes.]

So I listened with interest to last night's news.  Our governor [who I have often criticized on other issues] was actively calling for the immediate resignation of a man who is one of the state economic advisors high in state government policy.  Why?  He was arrested on charges of domestic assault last weekend after neighbors called the police disturbed by the loud arguments next door. Saying "Domestic violence is a serious crime with far-reaching consequences" the governor insisted on the man's immediate resignation from the man's influential position. By this morning news reported the man had indeed resigned [although he  maintains the charges are all a "misunderstanding" ].

I am sure some will be shocked and complain about innocent until proven guilty etc., but I am pleased to see someone take a firm stand of zero tolerance. I have heard it said that it is up to men to make it clear to other men that domestic violence will not be overlooked or  ignored.  I don't care who or when or where or why as long as people speak up and take action to stop this slow motion disaster. And while we are at it, let us remember the other victims of domestic violence.... the children.

Just think...

Without domestic abuse, most foster parents would have empty beds.
What a wonderful dream ...
Imagine a day when it is not Borders going out of business,
but foster parents
.... no longer needed.

Wouldn't it be wonderful.

Image credits:,,,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Weather Reward Chart

So, are you tired of sticker charts and math flash cards? Entice your children with the responsibility of a weather chart.  Make a chart that tracks information each day about the weather.  Maybe just sun, rain or both for little kiddos, add temperatures at a certain time of day for older kids, or wind, or other details, based on their age.

Yesterday I talked about getting your kids to follow routines, be accountable, and to observe, think and record. Challenge them to keep a daily record of the weather details you have chosen.  They are to go/look outside at a certain time/s of day, observe the conditions, come back and record it on the chart you have either made together or given them.  A weeklong simple sheet is seen
at right, but you can also make one yourself that involves the child being more involved in the recording and the choices on a grid or table.
For younger children: You can have them either draw a picture or circle a picture to record their results or simplify it even further.  For example on the four image choice chart at left, they could put a sticker, star, check, or whatever in each box and keep track only of the totals, not distinguished by which day.

If you want to reward them you can do it for following the routine dependably and/or for observing and recording accurately.

The learning bonus is how you discuss the results of the chart at dinner, family time, or individually as the chart grows.  Examples-- depending on the child's age:
Addition: Add the sunny days + the cloudy, but dry days.
Subtraction: Subtract the rainy days from the total days recorded.
Fractions: What fraction of the week was sunny?
More advanced: Make graphs to compare weather.
          Ask the chid for predictions.
          Have the adolescent design their own format for tracking [see example]
          Maybe have them listen to the weather forecast and compare the forecast to what happened.

To keep things fun... make have a schedule of fun mini-treats depending on how many nice days there are in the week....

Have fun with it!  The purpose is not to turn them into weather forecasters.  The purpose is to keep them watching, following directions, thinking, writing, observing, and taking on and following through on a responsibiity. All great study skills hidden in a light-hearted summer activity.

Image credits: [weather chart choices worksheet]
             [four choice weather chart]
             [more advanced, more independent, complex chart]

Monday, July 18, 2011

School Bell: Keys to Summer Learning

Three things you can give your child to help them maintain school skills during the summer are:

    1- Routines
           Absent the consistent and predictable routines of a school day, the summer's looseness makes re-entering school a challenge.  Provide elements of patterns and routine to your summer days and the transition back to school will be smoother. They won't be the same as during the school year, but the days can still have a routine that fits summer.
    2- Accountability
            True, you aren't likely to be assigning "homework" or giving detentions for missed deadlines. But, if you want them to find it easier to follow through on school responsibilities in September, be sure to provide opportunities during the summer for them to do "projects" and be accountable for finishing them on schedule.
    3. Opportunities to think, observe, and record.
           Whether it is history, literature, science or more... thinking, observing, recording and three of the four things key to learning in my opinion.  [The fourth is practice.] Give your children as many opportunities as possible during the summer to think, to observe, and to record.

Check back on Tuesday [Focus on Fostering] and Thursday
[Parenting Tips]. I'll give some examples of specific projects to gives kids a chance to do the three keys above.

Image credits:,,,

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Caring Heart: The First Night

As has been my habit since last fall, I continue to reserve Sundays for meditations on the challenges of parenting and in particular parenting foster, kinship, adoptive and special needs children. Not that we who do that would ever feel overwhelmed, or helpless, or frustrated, or lonely, or in need of help! Noooooo.  By request, here is my meditation for the first night with a new child.

The First Night

Oh God of all, you have brought this person into my care tonight. He is sleeping now, but what will he be tomorrow? Will he be timid, angry, sad, frightened? Will he understand what is happening to his life? He is supposed to be with parents who will love and care for him until he is grown. What has happened in his life that makes that so impossible? Will he understand why he is with me and not those he believed would love and care for him? Give him strength and comfort, Lord,for all that has been and for all that is to come. In the midst of emotional turmoil and so very much change for him, give me the words that he needs to hear. Guide my actions that they will comfort and guide him through this transition. Strengthen me for the days ahead whether short or long, few or many. Give me the resources to be what this child needs, and to provide what this child should have had and has not. Be with me, Lord. Be with his family. Be with him. Amen.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker   Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Quick Takes: Creative Rewards #41-45

Today's quick take is five more creative rewards for your kids. Except for last month [when I forgot] this is a once a month feature to come up with alternatives to stickers and food and purchases for treats and rewards.  Examples are for a mix of ages and genders and locations. Adjust for your own kids and your own region. [Creative Rewards #1-40 can be found if you search "Rewards."] 

41. Go to an outdoor concert

42. Have a squirt gun fight

43. Visit a new playground

44. Have a kids cookout

45. Water fun time [hose, sprinkler, etc.]

Watch for the next installment of creative reward ideas next month.

Image credits:,

Friday, July 15, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Old-Fashioned Silliness

Have some fun teaching your kids some of the old games that kids would play to pass the summer days. Think of your childhood games, or even your parents or grandparents. Try them with your kids.  Don't be afraid to look silly... that's half the fun.

Try hula hoops: I admit to remembering when they first came out 50 years ago.  They were only $1.98 and we spent hours and hours developing skills and tricks!

If you can't think of any or need something without shopping try these old favorites:

Tin Foil Ball and Cup:
Crumble tin foil into a ball and attach it to one end of a piece of string about 15-30 inches long. Tie the other end to the handle of a plastic mug. Holding the mug by the handle swing the cup so that the ball swings out of the mug into the air. Now try to catch the ball back in the mug. It is harder than it sounds!
Move a Penny with your Nose:
Lay flat on the floor on your back. Balance a penny on the tip of your nose.  Twitch your nose and move your lips but NOthing else. Don't wiggle you head or move your hands or feet or you body. No cheating.  Can you make the penny fall?

Air Football
A large dining room table is perfect for this game. You will need a ping pong ball. Divide the children into teams. Each team takes an end of the table. The ball is placed at the center of the table. Both teams blow the ball with all their might, trying to blow it off the table at the end of belonging to the opposing team. You can also try this with a balloon but a ping pong ball works best if you can.

Image credits:,,,,