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Using Tech Talents to Make the World a Better Place

June 29th, 2016

Submitted by Riley Anderson

I came up with the idea for theDesktop 2016-05-02 14-17-20.png “Grammar mistakes we all make | How not to look stupid” video idea when I made a spelling mistake. I had prior experience from playing Minecraft with lazy people who don’t take the time to spell. But when I got a chance to do a video about it, I saw it as a huge opportunity to make the world a better place by correcting common mistakes people make with their grammar. In the video I cover five mistakes people make. Those including there, their and they’re, its & it’s, proper apostrophe usage, proper capitalization and comma placement. These are some errors I have noticed are plentiful.

I wasn’t able to get into detail because the video wouldn’t get as many views as it did because people don’t want to watch a long video about mistakes. I could have made a video with long explanations and a really boring video but as I stated before nobody would have watched it. I got an amazing three views in the first twenty four hours. I was able to do this service project because I built a gaming computer back in the summer of 2015. I wouldn’t have been able to do it as well or easily if I haven’t built my own computer with the proper hardware and capabilities.

Here is the video


An Interview with Betsy Ross: Tips for Family Fun on July 4th

June 27th, 2016

By: Susan Ragsdale

originally published at

This Independence Day, families across the U.S. will be on holiday and celebrating with cook-outs, baseball games, waving of flags, family reunions, all types of outdoor fun, and fireworks. To help get your family fired up to celebrate the day with a little more “oomph,” I thought a mock interview with historical figure Betsy Ross might shed some light on why the 4th is such a memorable moment in our family history as a country.

Betsy is widely credited with making the very first American flag. She is going to fill us in on what every family needs to know about this important day in American History.

Susan: Besty, what’s the story behind the 4th of July?

Betsy: In 1776, we were in what is known as the American Revolution. On July 2nd of that year, we declared independence from Great Britain. It was a huge decision! We considered ourselves as independent states, no longer part of the British Empire, officially on that date.

To help explain the decision, our Congress scripted a Declaration of Independence. It covered the reasons for pulling out from the British Empire as well as asserting what we believed to be certain natural and legal rights that we all held. I think today you call them “human rights.” The Declaration was signed on July 4, 1776, and it is the primary document in the founding of our country.

Susan: Can you relate to us a “human” moment during all this excitement?

Betsy: (laughs) Well, I remember John Adams told his wife Abigail that July 2nd would become the most memorable date in history, since that was the day that independence from Britain was declared. He missed it by two days!

Susan: That’s really funny! How did everyone celebrate the 4th? How did families remember this history-making moment during the next several years?

Betsy: Well, to continue to quote John, he thought it should be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by acts of devotion to God. And, he thought it should be “observed by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and fireworks, from here on out.” So, he may have missed the date, but he was pretty close on predicting how the event would be remembered from year to year.

Susan: He was almost right on target, wasn’t he? Two more questions: First, is there anything else we need to know about what was going on during that time? And second, what would you suggest that families do today to commemorate the 4th?

Betsy: Glad you asked! As far as honoring our history, why not include a little quiz in your family’s celebration to remember what went on during those exciting times? That’s a great way to honor our heritage and to have fun together. Perhaps families might do a game show –Family Feud style or whatnot. Here’s a link to a fun quiz that you can do on-line together or print off to use with others.

I would recommend that you follow John’s ideas for celebrating the 4th and think about how you can make the time together meaningful. Here are some tips to help guide you!

Actively honor the day. Attend a parade; talk to a veteran; do flag crafts where you draw pictures of the flag and write freedoms you have that you are grateful for in the stripes; re-read the Declaration and talk about how it served as a code then create your own family code; visit those who don’t have the day off (policemen, firemen, etc.) and take them treats – lunch, brownies or healthy snacks and thank them for their service; or, hang the flag.

[Downlad: Activity – Create Your Own Family Code!] Pictured above: An example of a “Freedoms List” activity

Spend time together as a family. Grilling, picnics, making homemade ice cream (one family I know has a homemade ice cream competition), going to a movie or playing in a community baseball game – spend time together and remember to be grateful for the freedom you have to be together and that you are free to do as you like.

Play games. Use a red, white and blue theme for games. Consider a game of tug-of-war with red, white and blue bandanas marking the middle. Use the game’s title to talk about the “tug” the colonists must have felt in their desire to be free and independent and then relate that to today (what freedoms are we still working on?). Create your own ring toss game with the colors. Have a relay race where participants run to a designated spot, tie on red bandanas, put on blue gloves and a white hat, run back, disrobe and the next person puts things on, runs, disrobes, runs back and so forth until one team wins.

Light up the skies! Put on your own fireworks display or watch someone else’s. Bang pans, make noise or have a bonfire.

Tell Us:–>What are some of your favorite Independence Day traditions?

Happy Birthday!

June 25th, 2016

Our Great Group Games book is officially nine years old, and it has remained on the publisher’s bestseller’s list since its first year. It’s been a big hit with schools, camps, youth organizations, churches, and businesses all over the country. We’ve been SO blessed to hear stories about the ways YOU are using our games. You are PLAYING WITH PURPOSE – using games to shape values, relationships, skills, and leadership styles.

THANK YOU for all your support in this project. If you were here, we’d give you a slice of birthday cake! So why don’t you go have a Hershey’s Kiss, and celebrate with us!

Welcoming Flowers

June 22nd, 2016

By Emily Jo Justian

Inglewood neighborhood in Nashville Tennessee has had quite a few new people move in, so I thought it’d be nice to do something for four of those people.  Now growth rate was I found too high and so that’s the reason of me picking four new people to give the notes and flowers to take to everyone (I also don’t have that much money).

The plan was to write out three simple notes (seen is photo one) on April 25th but that plan was pushed to April 29th.  The notes would then be attached, using twine, to a small arrangement of flowers that were picked from my mom’s garden.  My mom drove me around the neighborhood and helped me figure out who is new to the neighborhood.  We tied the flowers to the mailboxes with their notes attached.



Helping Youth Find Their Sparks

June 20th, 2016

What are you doing when you lose all sense of time and are surprised to see how much has gone by? What gives you energy? What’s your day like when you get to DO the thing you love to do most in the world? What’s your day like when you DON’T get to do it?

This was the kick-off of our training yesterday with youth directors.  We spent time together looking for clues to our inner fire and how we can help the youth we serve find theirs.

Passion. Energy. Meaning. Purpose. Sparks. It goes by different names but it is at its root that “thing” that gets us up in the morning excited about the day. The idea of it is universal. It’s what every human being wants in life – that “thing” that makes us feel alive, is energizing and gives our lives personal meaning and value.

For many, this journey to discover their spark is done in solitude, can take a lifetime, or may be discovered by happy accident. The work of discovery is rarely done in community or out loud with intention. It’s just not normal dinnertime conversation in restaurants or homes. When we meet people, we ask “what do you do?” and conversations tend then to move into ones on the “doing” tasks of our lives. Seldom do we ask, “What do you live for? What makes your eyes light up?” or “What is your bliss?

Beginning the Sparky Journey

In our training, we focused on how to change that paradigm and to begin those crucial conversations and offer deliberate activities to provide opportunities for youth to discover their own unique inner passions.

A first step is to simply have conversations with youth about what matters to them, and to really listen to what they have to say and clarify. Ask questions. Don’t assume you know where they’re going. Let them tell you. And, make the conversation two-way. In telling YOUR story of what you love, they may find clues to follow for themselves.

Next, build in activities in your youth program that lets them think about what they love, dislike or are indifferent about trying or doing. Remember the game Take a Hike? We rewrote that old game into Sparks Walk for our upcoming book, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Teams: The Essential Handbook for Youth Leaders. When someone is in the middle of the circle, she calls out “take a hike if you love to . . . (play basketball, build engines, go to the beach, listen to others)” and everyone who loves that “thing” scrambles for a new spot in the circle and not to be the person caught in the middle.

Simple games like that provide a way to think about sparks in an interactive setting. And you, the youth director, can listen for activities mentioned and note which ones you can offer as part of the program, or talk about further with your youth.

Offer a variety of things. Pique their interests. Look for sparks to emerge.  Look for where they perk up with a sudden smile, or by straightening up or leaning forward. Watch for facial and body language that shows they are engaged.

In deliberately taking these steps, you are helping youth begin a crucial part of their journey, the journey to discover their inner fire, the “thing” that fuels them, their sparky selves. And they’ll know they’re not alone. You’re there to support them and help them in their discovery.

“Each of us has a fire in our heart for something.  It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.” – Mary Lou Retton

Add Some Challenge Into Your Group’s Day

June 17th, 2016

Our newest product, Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar® with Free Spirit, has four categories of brain influencers: music, movement, challenge (20 seconds to be exact) and the wild card category. (The wild card category lets us slip in several brain boosters such as conversations, humor, and novelty). What we love about this is that groups can have fun, play together, de-stress and do something good for their own personal well-being all at the same time.

This game is classified as a “challenge” brain booster. It is pretty easy to see why!

The game: Have everyone stand and grab 2 objects. Raise one knee and balance the objects on top of each other on your knee. See who can go the longest without lowering their knee or dropping the objects.

balance on knee

Sounds simple enough, right? Try it! These teenagers did – and 20 seconds is a lot harder than it looks.  Watch:


Click to order:

Excerpted from Brain Boosters for Groups In a Jar® by Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor, copyright © 2016. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; All rights reserved.



Simple Acts of Kindness

June 15th, 2016

written by Tatyana Natal

Mr. Joe lives alone, but he has “kin-folk,” as he calls them, that take care of him. They take him out sometimes for lunch and the like, usually to Burger King since that’s his favourite place to get a meal from. Sadly, he is mentally challenged. He used to work as a mail messenger for about 30 years in (I believe) the Batman Building. His parents used to live in the same house he lives in now, and he’s been in this neighborhood since the 1950s. He also went to the East Literature high school and middle school (or what ever it was called back then), which is where my brother went for 5th and 6th grade. I don’t remember him there, but my mom told me he was at my 4th birthday party. Apparently he gave me five dollars. A few years ago, or perhaps longer, there was a tornado in our area, which uprooted a tremendous tree across the street. Afraid, Mr. Joe asked if he could come over to our house. While the tornado tore through the sky, he slept on the couch, unaware that the storm was now worse than before. He unwittingly peed on the couch, and it took my mom over a month to clean the huge spot. That was the last time he came over.

Whenever he sees someone he knows walking down the sidewalk or trying to mind their own business and get inside his or her house, he starts talking to them. It doesn’t matter how many times he has to call their name; he will get their attention and hold a conversation for however long he can with them. Also, he stays either on his doorstep to speak to the person or on his side porch. There is no variation. It couldn’t matter any less to him how many people can hear what he’s saying. He’s slightly deaf as well, so whoever is talking to him has to yell twice as loud in order to be heard.

Our elderly neighbor, both across the street and down the block toward the west, was given a piece of cake and a Burger King lunch. My mom decorated the two-layered chocolate hazelnut frosting covered cake, but I baked it. It was for our dog Gabby’s tenth birthday. The cake was understandably nearly two days old, but it is safe to assume that it has been since devoured. As previously mentioned, we took him a lunch on the 29th. He loves Burger King and gave us the order, which we took to his house. Overall, I hope he was satisfied by such a simple deed. I certainly was.

I’m Not an ATM! Teaching Tweens about Money Management

June 13th, 2016

By: Ann Saylor

originally published at

You know the families with spoiled kids who are always throwing money at leisure without concern? And the families who control their children’s spending down to the penny? When it comes to money, it’s best to avoid both of those extremes. But there is a happy medium! It’s all about finding the right opportunities to talk about money. Here are some easy do-at-home or on-the-go tips for helping tweens understand money management. Read more >

Look for opportunities to talk. When your tween accosts you with the “I want this; I want that”, open up dialogue about spending, giving, and saving. Here are some of the conversations that we’ve had in our family lately:

  • “You only have $5. If you spend it on this, then you won’t be able to do that. Why don’t you take some time to think about how you’d like to spend your money, instead of making an impulse buy.”
  • “Would you rather spend your gift money on arcade games that will only last a few minutes, or save for something you can enjoy longer? Which would be more valuable to you over time?”
  • “The Sullivans have money to spend on that, because they’re not saving for a vacation this summer. Think about all the things you’re looking forward to when we get there!”
  • “I know you’d really like to have that, but you don’t have the cash for it right now. Why don’t you put it on your wish list for future gifts or purchases?”

Dip your toes in the water.

Do you have 10 minutes to spend on a financial activity with your family? Try one of these creative ways to explore financial topics:

Dive in deep.

  • If you’re looking for a comprehensive and engaging way to teach preteens and teens about money, visit for a free resource from Capital One and Search Institute. They talk about how to make positive money choices, how to avoid common money traps, how to reach toward financial dreams, and where to find resources to support you in making money choices.

Nonfiction books!

June 10th, 2016

Melissa Taylor always shares great book lists!  Check out her latest post:

Searching for interesting and compelling nonfiction books for kids? Here’s a wide variety– from easy picture books to more challenging illustrated, informational tomes. You’ll find something for all readers and interests in this round-up from 2016.


Helping a Neighbor in Need

June 8th, 2016

From Isaiah Spurlock:

For my leadership service project I helped out an elderly member of our church named Mr. Dean. Mr Dean had a section of gravel next to his shed that he had previously tried to move but was unable to due to age. The pile of gravel took about two hours to move and amounted to two truck loads to remove from his yard . After we removed the gravel it have him space to plant a garden for this upcoming season and he was very excited and impressed. I felt that this was a very humbling exsperience for me and I enjoyed helping a member of our community



Why Every Family Should Have Traditions (and Ideas for Starting Them!)

June 6th, 2016

By: Susan Ragsdale

orignally published at

Pizza Fridays. “Chick Flick” Mondays. Attending college basketball games. Making fudge for Valentine’s Day. Hunting for Easter baskets in the house. Watching black and white horror movies the whole week of Halloween. Telling what we’re grateful for at Thanksgiving. Shopping for stocking-stuffers Thanksgiving night. Putting out the Christmas village. Winter sledding. Making my grandmother’s Jam Cake. Sausage pinwheels for every celebratory breakfast we ever had. Taking walks in the neighborhood. Playing Rook. Having homemade soup every ballgame night (so we wouldn’t overeat before running!).

These are just a few of the traditions and rituals in my family – most involved food because that was one of my mom’s sparks. Cooking was how she expressed love. These activities were things to look forward to for the holidays and during the week.

Traditions are the “glue” of family togetherness and the fodder for creating fond memories and strong family identity. They can be big things or little things, done within any family year to year (or shared from generation to generation). They can take a week or 5 minutes. There are no rules to family traditions–except to have fun! You don’t have to do the same things that another family does. You can create moments that are distinctly and uniquely your own.There’s no wrong way or right way to go about it. There’s just what your family makes happen.

I was fortunate enough to have experienced firsthand the value of having meaningful traditions and routines ingrained into our family life. We regularly shared in family meals and spent time together doing activities from shared interests (which, by the way, research tell us are powerful things to do to strengthen families).

Traditions can be super-easy to incorporate into busy lives. Below are some simple ideas to spark your thoughts on what traditions you might want to think about adding into your own family time:
1. Homemade Pizza Nights – My husband and I both had this tradition growing up every Friday night and continue to practice when possible to this day (with a movie).

2. Home from School Greetings – Make it a ritual to ask your children about the best, worst and funniest parts of the day and share yours, too!

3. Dog Pile On Dad – With youngsters, nothing is more fun that to dog pile on dad.

4. Daily Send Off – Jake and his Dad created their own special “send off” salute for whenever one of them was leaving the house. Handshakes or salutes can be as cool or as silly as you want.

5. Adopted Phrases – Consider an established back and forth verbal routine. Ours started when my mom asked, “What am I going to do with you?” after I did something silly. I spontaneously answered, “Keep me!” She laughed so hard, and somehow, that became a ritual just for us.

6. Messages – Put notes in lunches or use a white board to leave messages of love or quotes of encouragement to each other.

7. Park Exploration – Mark the transition to spring by greeting it in person with a stroll, bike ride, or run in the park.

A few ideas to enrich the holidays . . .

1. Queen (or King) for the Day – I knew that every birthday, I got to pick the meal AND the cake. It was my day. That was our tradition.

2. Mother’s Day – Make a special plate or mug that is used only for Mother’s Day, then make and serve mom breakfast in bed. We spelled out “mom” with crescent rolls.

3. President’s Day – For over 25 years, my friend David gathers with extended family for a three-day weekend of playing cards and board games. It is during this game-a-thon that family recipes are passed down from generation to generation as teenagers come of age and learn how to make home-made noodles and other key recipes that are religiously prepared every time at this weekend event.

4. Thanksgiving/Black Friday Reversal – Some very close friends celebrate see a movie on Thanksgiving Day and have the big meal on Black Friday – less stress, more peace and more time to prepare.

5. Christmas – We read aloud Dickens’ Christmas Carol every season to remind ourselves of what is important and to keep perspective during the holiday chaos.

Are you on Pinterest? I’ve pinned some of my favorite craft projects on my virtual pinboard. Some I did as a child, and some I do today with the kids in my life. Check them out here. Enjoy!

Tell Us: –>I want to hear from you! What are some of the traditions your family has that you really love?

__________________________________________________________________________________________Image via Hammer 51012 on


Crafting a Song . . . About Shoes

June 3rd, 2016

shoe songshoe song

In the picture:  YMCA camp counselors look at their “shoe tower” to get inspiration for the songs they would create next.

The song I created that day went like this:

Shoes to hike, shoes to swim, shoes to dance all day. 

Oh, what fun it is to run a road race all   the way – hey!

What could your group create?  A new commercial for Nike?  A tribute to New Balance?  A vote for sandals?  Try it out and let the creativity begin!


Click to order:


*Excerpted from Brain Boosters for Groups In a Jar® by Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor, copyright © 2016. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; All rights reserved.


National Service Dates for June

June 1st, 2016

Launch of summer hunger-relief programs

Let’s Read. Let’s Move! summer initiative

Great Outdoors Month (100th Anniversary of the National Park Service)

Regional Convening, Indiana (June 7 – 10)

National Convening on Volunteering and Service in Detroit (June 27 – 29)

Monsters and Voting

May 27th, 2016

On the Bookshelf: ‘Monster’ shows politics isn’t so scary

Editor’s note: On the Bookshelf is an occasional feature about books of interest to politically minded readers.

Paul Czajak

With the 2016 election campaign in full swing — and arguably one of the more contentious — who better to teach young kids about voting and politics than a big, blue, playful monster in a new picture book called “Monster Needs Your Vote”?

Written by Paul Czajak and published by Minneapolis-based independent publisher Mighty Media Press, it’s the fifth book in the “Monster & Me” series.

“It’s a whimsical, nonpartisan story about voting and democracy, but it also talks about the values that make America great and kind of brings us back to our roots,” said Nancy Tuminelly, publisher of Mighty Media, which approached Czajak about writing the book. The book, aimed at 2- to 6-year-olds, is scheduled for release in paperback June 14, with a price of $6.99. The hardcover edition is available now for $16.95.

“Mighty Media really cares about kids and their future and we dutifully understand the weight that politics holds on that future,” Tuminelly continued. “In anticipation of our rabid extremism during this tense election cycle, we thought our social-conscious “Monster & Me” series seemed like the perfect venue to inject some good old-fashioned messages of democracy and standing up for what you believe in back into the hearts of Americans.”

Finding a cause

“Monster Needs Your Vote,” aimed at 2- to 6-year-olds, is scheduled for release in paperback June 14. The hardcover edition is available now. (Image courtesy of Mighty Media Press)

When Czajak was approached about writing the book, he struggled to find an issue that kids could relate to — it certainly couldn’t be taxes, health care or gun control. One day, however, his young son asked him why he couldn’t vote, and the idea for “Monster Needs Your Vote” was born.

As the story goes, election season is here and Monster is ready to vote but discovers he’s too young. He decides, “Why not run for president?” He attempts to run on frivolous platforms — like more desserts and longer summers — but people aren’t relating to his causes.

Monster becomes frustrated and almost drops out of the race until he discovers a cause worth supporting — saving libraries. (Of course, he eventually realizes that he’s too young to run for president but sticks with his goal of saving the local library). Written in humorous, read-aloud verse, the book encourages kids to take a stand and fight for what they believe in. Tuminelly also believes that Czajak got across the message that politics too often ends up being about what a party wants; not what the people need.

“Paul brilliantly delivered a classic tale that has turned out to be a timely and greatly needed lesson in civics and social studies on this lower level and also that appeals to adults,” Tuminelly said.

The book is drawing positive reactions nationally. Czajak has received letters from a former U.S. president, a former first lady, a current presidential candidate, a secretary of state, and congressional representatives from around the country — both Republicans and Democrats.

Making a difference by engaging kids

The “Monster & Me” series represents Mighty Media’s commitment to deliver books that foster children’s curiosity, imagination, social awareness, and sense of adventure. The series has sold 100,000 copies to date, and the publisher has more than 20 more Monster books in the pipeline.

“We’re nationally distributed with books available at Barnes & Noble,” Tuminelly said. “That’s a big thing for an indie publisher. We call ourselves the ‘little publisher that could,’ because we’re going up against many large publishers with a lot larger budgets.”

Of the series’ books so far, “Monster Needs Your Vote” is the timeliest, and Mighty Media is reaching out to kids and families. The publisher is offering a supplement to the book for parents and teachers.

Mighty Media is also partnering with Kids Voting Minneapolis, a community-based, nonpartisan affiliate of the national Kids Voting USA, to teach kids that their voices matter.

“Kids Voting Minneapolis has a theme, which we just love,” Tuminelly said. “It’s ‘Vote Young, Vote Forever.’ We feel if kids can get involved at a younger age, they will stay engaged and listen and be part of their community … and country as they go forward.”

Mighty Media also sponsored Minnesota Public Radio’s recent “Rock the Cradle” event at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which drew 10,000 people. The publisher sponsored a story time and provided a voting activity for kids to learn about “needs and wants” and have their photo taken with Monster. The publisher plans to hold more events throughout the year.

“Our biggest dream would be to have this book in every kid’s hand in America,” Tuminelly said. “Of course, we don’t quite have that deep of pockets. And we know the political season is going to come and end, but we don’t feel that’s the end of this book because of the values and messages that it has. It will go farther.”

What inspires the author?

Czajak, who lives in New Jersey with his young family, never planned to be a writer. In fact, he got an “F” on his first college-writing paper with the words “Get a tutor” scribbled across the top. He became a chemist and worked in that field for 20 years.

After having kids, however, they inspired him with all kinds of ideas for picture books. “My wife finally just got sick of me saying, ‘Hey, you know what, that’s a picture book [idea] and that’s a picture book,’” he said.  “She told me, ‘Stop talking about it and just write it down,’ so I did and the rest is history.”

Mighty Media connected Czajak with Los Angeles illustrator and animation storyboard artist Wendy Grieb to do the illustrations. She has worked for Disney, Nickelodeon and Sony and worked on Disney Channel’s “Phineas and Ferb” TV show.

So what does Czajak hope to accomplish with his “voting” book?

“I hope kids start to get involved and understand elections at an earlier age,” he said. “It’s one thing to start voting at 18, but it’s another thing to really understand what it’s all about. And I feel that we take kids for granted and they’re much smarter than what we give them credit for at an early age. They understand that they want to be heard.”


Read more:

The Universality of Play

May 25th, 2016

One of our partners in our research on play and its power is the Humphrey Fellowship Program at Vanderbilt. It includes a group of educators who come to Vanderbilt for a one-year program from around the world. Every year we are part of an exchange with this group – teaching and learning new games from each other.

One of the games we learned from them made it into our latest product, Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar®. Known as the Rooster Game, it is definitely a game that works on balance and endurance thus fitting into our “movement” brain booster category. For us in America, it may very well feed into or since of “novelty” as well.

Enjoy this game that we learned from our friend in Russia.

Rooster mime. Hold one foot to make the rooster’s tail. Fan the other hand above the head as the rooster’s comb. Pairs compete, gently tapping elbows. Who can hold this pose the longest without letting their foot down?*

 roosterjar2Click to order:

* Excerpted from Brain Boosters for Groups In a Jar® by Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor, copyright © 2016. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; All rights reserved.