medicines without prescriptions

Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar® on Tour

August 24th, 2016

We asked different agencies who work with youth (both in school and after-school) to take Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar, test it out and tell us what they think.  Today’s review comes from a teacher at Cameron, a Lead Public School.


Brain Boosters has been a lifesaver for me this semester. My school leadership council has been having a hard time connecting with one another as well as being motivated to participate in the group. I use Brain Boosters for Groups In a Jar® with them everyday now and they LOVE it! I use it at the start of our meetings to get their thinking and enthusiasm going and sometimes at the end as a fun way to close our meetings.


I have also recommended it to other teachers at my school because it is so quick and easy to grab and go! We have an advisory period each week and Brain Boosters has been an awesome way to connect and have fun with our advisory groups. I love that there are over 100 activities, it is fast and easy, and most of all TONS of fun! It is so much better than having to look up different games and icebreakers online and sifting through all of them to find what I want. ALL of the activities included in the jar are age-appropriate, easy to understand, and take just a few minutes to do. They are all different, unique, and don’t take any planning. I have even used these activities at Professional Development with my co-workers. I highly recommend Brain Boosters to any one working with groups both teens and adults!

– Ashley Parker, Cameron, A Lead Public School

See a sample of Brain Boosters in action below (the leadership council assisted in the making of the video):



Click to order:

10 Resources with Free Lesson Plans

August 8th, 2016

guest post shard by

During our process of expanding our science lesson plans section on,  we uncovered some *wonderful* resources! Too good not to share. :)

In an effort to spread helpful and trustworthy information to the public, here’s a great list of 10 resources we think educators and youth workers will find useful.

We are passing on what has been shared with us.  Here you go:

The Ultimate Guide to Satellites for Educators: 35 Lesson Plans and Activities for K-12

The Young Meteorologist Program’s Educator Exchange: Science Lesson Plans

Engineering the Future: The Educator’s Guide to Building and Construction

Earth Science Lesson Plans

Make a Splash in the Classroom: A Hands-On Curriculum with Lessons and Activities on Swimming and Pools

Marine Education Lesson Plans and Resources

22 Dog-Themed Lesson Plans for Teachers

EPA Lesson Plans: Climate Change

Kids’ Guide to Forest Fires

Rainforest Alliance School Curriculum

Go and Do

July 20th, 2016

Reading Hershey, Here! At Saddle Up! or making an onsite visit to a similar program in your area can help your youth follow in Jesus’ footsteps by

  • becoming more aware of persons with special needs;
  • being more willing to reach out and include those teens;
  • looking for ways to serve such individuals either now or later in their lives;
  • embracing opportunities to be advocates for people on the margins.

Your youth may also wish to volunteer in such a program. What might that look like?

Talk with your local center ( to find what they need. At Saddle Up! youth groups (including college students on alternative spring break) have trimmed or planted trees, weeded, cut new trails and maintained established ones, removed rocks from arenas, washed horse blankets, cleaned grooming tools, painted fences, and, yes, flung poop! (That one is a favorite!) Flinging poop away from fence lines out to where the field harrow can take care of it is definitely a service! Plan for two to three hours. Be sure to contextualize the fun with the larger goals.

Some centers also welcome individual youth as volunteers. At Saddle Up! youth can be on their own at 16. If a parent volunteers with the student, he or she may start as young as 12. You can help by identifying the opportunity, encouraging the support of parents, and inviting your youth volunteer to talk with you—and also with the group—about the experience. Most centers require training and a commitment of some period of time.

The benefits of connecting your youth to these programs are great. In addition to the goals listed above, young people gain community service hours, which are often required in high school. Individuals who serve consistently have received references as they apply for jobs, especially as camp counselors. Some have also discovered not just a career choice but a calling related to issues around disabilities.

Hershey says to tell you he’s here to help!

Hershey Here!


—Crys Zinkiewicz, today’ s guest blogger, is the author of Hershey, Here! and is also Hershey’s Pony Pal, one of her various volunteer jobs at Saddle Up! Crys’ career was as an editor of resources for youth ministry. To contact Crys or to order the book, visit


A Horse, of Course!

July 15th, 2016

Look around. In your youth group are there any teens with disabilities? More likely, not, for two reasons:

  • Only 5–7% of young persons, ages 5–17, have special needs. Although seemingly small, it’s definitely a significant number.
  • All too often a disability leads to social isolation, especially in the teenage years. Those youth become increasingly “invisible.”

In church we talk the talk about being inclusive, about accepting others; but we expect people to come to us. You are in a position to help your youth walk the walk, to reach out to young persons who are otherwise marginalized.

You have a surprising helper—horses!

Hershey Here!

Hershey, Here! is a book about Saddle Up!, a therapeutic riding center that serves children, ages 2–19, who have disabilities. Hershey is one of the horses. He’s the main storyteller, but, of course, since he is a horse he needs a little help.

Look around! In your area there may well be another “Saddle Up!” Across the world there are more than 850 similar centers. Some serve adults and some, “wounded warriors,” as well. Here’s a link to see where in your area such programs may be:

You might begin a conversation with your youth group about ways to connect with persons of all ages, but especially other teens, who have special needs, by introducing the group to Hershey, Here! or to one of the programs in your area.

Many youth admire horses; some are passionate about them. Let the horses open your youth to

  • becoming more aware of persons with special needs;
  • being more willing to reach out and include those teens;
  • looking for ways to serve such individuals either now or later in their lives;
  • embracing opportunities to be advocates for people on the margins.


—Crys Zinkiewicz, today’s guest blogger, is the author of Hershey, Here! and is also Hershey’s Pony Pal, one of her various volunteer jobs at Saddle Up! Crys’ career was as an editor of resources for youth ministry. To contact Crys or to order the book, visit

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.



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.


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.

Creating Matters: Reflections on Art, Business, and Life (so far)

May 23rd, 2016

I met Anderson Williams years ago when Ann and I partnered with him to offer leadership development training to the youth group he was working with at the time. Over the years, Anderson and I have managed to work together, have coffee together, gripe about the world and still dream about what can be.

I consider Anderson one of my best “go-to” thought partners. We have similar dreams and goals, but when it comes to thinking about how to get there . . . we are very different in how we think about the world. I love nothing better than sitting down to have a conversation with Anderson and give him permission to push and ask questions (Er . . . if any of you know Anderson, you know that he needs no permission to push OR ask questions – they are naturally part of his charm!). Every time, I – and by association – a few of the books I’ve co-authored – have all the better for talking to Anderson. He simply makes people think more deeply and from many angles.

I am thrilled to introduce Anderson Williams in this blog post to our followers and let him share a little about his new book, Creating Matters: Reflections on Art, Business, and Life (so far). I’ll start with a question and he’ll take it where he will.

SR: HI, friend! I’m so excited about your new book. Let’s start with the idea. Where did it come from?

AW: I actually started thinking about this book over a dozen years ago. I had just finished my MFA in visual art and had begun doing youth organizing and advocacy work. I also happened to be reading a business book about systems thinking at the time. I realized that the creative ways of thinking I employed as an artist were also my biggest assets as an organizer, and as a mentor to young people. I also realized that a lot of what I was reading as “groundbreaking” business thinking didn’t feel all that groundbreaking. In fact, I used to do workshops with my youth reading passages from that same business book and applying them to our work. 10 years later, after finishing business school, being an artist continued to be my biggest asset as an entrepreneur. Then, finally, I wrote it!

anderson bookSR: Why did you write THIS book? What’s it about?

AW: My upbringing was different…well, we can say bizarre in many ways. I see the world differently because I experienced different worlds at every turn as I was growing up. The people and places of 1980’s East Nashville made me who I am. They, with the guidance of caring, thoughtful, and passionate parents, instilled a sense of justice, an understanding of privilege, and a relentless need to ask questions first – to seek to understand. It would have been easy to judge those on the streets in East Nashville; it was far more valuable to learn from them and with them, to build community.

I guess that’s what this book is about really. It’s about an approach to life that has carried me through art school, business school, nonprofit and education work, not to mention a range of other life experiences including the birth of two daughters and the suicide of my father. It all sort of maps against how the book is organized: Who am I becoming? How do I see the world? What am I here to create?

SR: Who will benefit the most from reading it?

AW: Of course, I want to say everyone! I think anyone who is thoughtful and reflective about why they were put on the Earth can find reflections and experiences here that will resonate. I have quoted generously from others who have helped my thinking and reflecting along the way. So, anyone looking for some new additions to their reading list will definitely like it!

SR: Is this a book that youth workers will want on their shelf? How might it benefit their work with youth?

AW: Well, certainly, I learned a lot from working with youth and I share a number of experiences with youth to illuminate this. And, the fact of the matter is that everything in this book was part of my youth work, and the seeds of the thinking were planted there. Vision. Power. Reflection. Aspiration. Survival. Critique. I have just taken those fruits into other arenas and learned that there is universality to creating and the relationships that support and sustain that kind of work. Youth work is about relationships. So is this book.

SR: Last question. Where should people go to get their very own copy?

AW: You can buy it at Parnassus Books online or in their store if you are in Nashville. You can also get it on



Humor + Novelty = 2 Brain Boosters in 1 Activity

May 18th, 2016

Boosters for Groups in a Jar® has 101 activities that educators, youth workers and youth pastors alike can use to add low prop, low prep, easy, quick energy to any group setting. Pull out an activity and GO. Youth can lead or the adult leader can. It’s all up to you.

Field-testing games has to be my favorite part of active research. What better way to see if a game works in different settings than to try it out yourself?

The game included here takes a little humor, adds in novelty and imagination and voila! you have a breath of goodness going straight to the brains and right into your group dynamics. Ah! Brain Boosters for Groups! Build the group.  Build the brain.

The Game: Divide into pairs. In 20 seconds, draw a hybrid of two animals. Team up with another pair: take 20 more seconds to guess which 2 animals were combined for each picture.*

Can you guess the hybrid below?


Answer: a Cheetrus – a cheetah + a walrus

jar infoClick 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.

Helping a Mind Want to Learn: A Tip Can Be Found In What You Praise

May 11th, 2016

In this video, we learn about a “fixed” mindset (you have a certain amount of talents or whatnot and that’s all you have) versus a “growth” mindset (you can grow, develop and put in the effort to become and learn more).

One of the triggers for which mindset is developed can be found in how we praise our youth.  When we praise success (“you’re so smart”), we can feed into a fixed mindset – “I’m smart so I don’t need to try. I’ve got it.”  When we praise process (“I like the strategy you used.”), we can feed into a growth mindset – “I keep trying and am put in the effort and I learn so much!”

Effort can actually activate their abilities and desire to learn.  Check out this video with Educationalist Carol Dweck to learn more about how this works and how to bring out the best in youth.


Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar® – Sneak Peak

April 13th, 2016

The power of playing games in groups has unlimited potential. The research shows that we can relieve stress, help the group bond and learn. But did you know that play can also help boost brain power? When games are intentionally crafted with an eye towards the research on brain development, you can create another form of “Play with Purpose.” (our mission in life!)

Build the group. Build the brain. What a great way to impact youth! In Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar®, we offer 101 different ways to engage youth groups.   Engaging activities include games that tap into music, movement, challenge and more (all brain boosters).

Here’s one example that helps boost our sense of novelty. Try it with your group and see what they come up with.


Divide into even-numbered teams. Give each team 8 minutes to draw a useful invention. The catch? The invention must utilize a broom, a mouse pad, a drinking glass, and a basket. Present the inventions to the group. Decide which ones people would use.

libray inventions

Photo: Co-author Susan Ragsdale (middle crouching) leads some of the Nashville Public Library staff through Brain Booster activities as part of a training.

Get the jar directly from Free Spirit or online from Barnes and Noble or Amazon.  Click to order:

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


Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar®

April 12th, 2016

Did you know that you can boost brain power through play? Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar® includes activities that engage the brain through music, movement, challenge, conversation, novelty and more. Some of the games are very individual in nature – draw a card and perform for the group. Some are more group oriented – inviting the whole group to play. Some games include props that should be on hand: pencils, paper, or tape.

Players always have the opt-out option to keep the environment safe so if someone pulls a game card and doesn’t want to lead it, he can put it back and pull another card out. (This option may help with cultural gaps of understanding as well as any language issues.). Have fun boosting brainpower!


Game Creations*

Divide into even-numbered teams. Give each team 8 minutes to create a new game. The catch? The game must utilize a mirror, a suitcase, a ball, and a shovel. Present the game to the group. Have each team share how to play the game.

game invention

Anthony proudly displays the game he and Emily Sue created.

Get the jar directly from Free Spirit or online from Barnes and Noble or  Amazon.  Click to order:

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

Growth Mindset Toolkit

April 11th, 2016

The Mindset Kit is a free set of online lessons and practices designed to help you teach and foster adaptive beliefs about learning.  This toolkit can help mentors, parents and teachers understand the concept of a growth mindset and how to apply growth mindset strategies to many of the challenges that youth and adults face in life.  The lessons are quick to read through, easy to apply, and very practical for work with young people.  The Mindset Kit was created by The Project for Education Research that Scales (PERTS) at Stanford University.

Here is a little bit more information about the resources they offer for their target groups: parents, mentors and educators:

Growth Mindset for Parents:  Developed in collaboration with Raise The Bar. Parents learn what a growth mindset is, why it’s important, and best practices to support their children in developing this learning belief.

Growth Mindset for Parents

Growth Mindset for Mentors:  Developed in collaboration with MENTOR. Mentors can be powerful teachers and reinforcers of growth mindset principles and approaches in the youth they serve. This toolkit can help mentors understand growth mindset and how to apply growth mindset strategies to many of the challenges that youth and adults face in life.

Growth Mindset for Mentors

Growth Mindset for Educator Teams:  Teachers who have opportunities for sustained, ongoing professional development that is linked to classroom practices are more likely to see meaningful changes in their practices.

Growth Mindset for Educator Teams

The resources are free, so you have nothing to lose by checking them out.  If you like them, be sure to share with other educators, mentors and parents.

Special thanks to Daniel Horgan at D.G. Horgan Group ( for sharing the toolkit with us!

A Sneak Peak into the Making of Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar®

April 7th, 2016

In the 14 years that Ann and I have been working together, we have become very clear on one of our key strategies in working with youth.  This strategy has worked for both of us separately in our prior careers in the school system and the YMCA, respectively, and together as we’ve led workshops, retreats, conferences and classes with youth.


Play with Purpose

We call it “play with purpose.”  Play with purpose has been our mantra for many years and it captures two important aspects of youth development:  meet youth where they are in a fun way and build in the teachable moment, character lesson or academic point.  It’s a double win of having fun, building the group, combating stress while at the same time maximizing the time.  We know for sure from some 20+ years each in the field that games are where it’s at when you want to boost group energy, creativity and openness to learning.


Our latest venture into carrying out our mantra led us to Free Spirit.  A friend who knew our prior work with Search Institute suggested that we should do something on games to fit the “in a jar” series Free Spirit has.  We’ve been spending a lot of time lately delving into the research and leading workshops on how youth are wired and like to learn, with specific activities and strategies included on brain development.  It made sense that our next venture into “play with purpose” be putting together games that groups could play that intentionally boost brain health at the same time.  From this idea sprang the newest addition to Free Spirit: Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar®.


Selecting the Brain Boosters

Brain boosters give a lot of breadth to work with since there are many factors that help build the brain.  We narrowed down our brain boosters, with the help of our editor, to higher energy ones such as games that fit with music, challenge, movement, and a wild card section that allows us to sneak in three other brain boosters: novelty, conversations and humor.


Even with that layer of editing out some brain booster categories, we had to edit even more because we had too many games.  Working together, we narrowed down the final set of cards to 101.  The jar aspect makes it really easy to spot it in the room and grab it from the shelf for a quick 5-10 minutes brain booster break.  We hope leaders will feel secure in that precious time away from the lesson plan that they are doing something that is both good for the group and good for brain development.


Deleted Scenes

Here are 4 activities we’ve played with youth and love playing, but didn’t have room to include in the jar.  Try them out with your group!  Youth can lead or you, the adult, can.  It’s your choice.  Just remember, if you let youth lead, you add one more layer of development:  leadership.


Challenge Example

  • Roll the dice to see how many people should compete in this 20-second challenge: build a finger-toe pyramid with each team member using two fingers and 1 toe for the challenge.


Movement Example

  • Which team can stretch the furthest? Divide into teams of 4-6. Each team stands behind a start line. Give teams 45 seconds to stretch out while maintaining body contact with team members. One person must always touch the start line, and each teammate must maintain contact with another player.

Wild Card Example

  • Divide into teams of 3-4 players and give each team a stack of recycled paper. Give the group 10 minutes to construct a transformer. Will it be a car? A boat? Let judges give creative awards to the various transformers.


Wild Card Example

  • Roll the dice. Give two well-known areas of your country such as New York City and Portland. Give the group 20 seconds to think of X number (the die roll) of places that an airplane would fly across going from point A to B. Too easy? Double the places.


Your Turn to Play with Purpose

We hope these “deleted scenes” will bring fun, energy, fresh life and perspective to your group.  We hope you’ll be able to see how easy it is to add in 5-10 minutes throughout the day to make a difference in the energy and presence of your students.  Keep your eyes open for how you can build in music, novelty, challenge, humor and movement.  Better yet, let students help you do it.  They’ll let you know when they need a brain break.


Boost the brain.  Boost the group.  Make a difference. You can play with purpose and stay on task for what you want to accomplish in your work with young people.


Purchase Brain Boosters for Groups in a Jar® online at Free Spirit, Barnes and Noble, Amazon or your favorite online retailer.

Offer Empathy, Not Sympathy

March 25th, 2016

Brene Brown shares the basic idea of how as human beings, we need empathy, not sympathy. She says “empathy fuels connection.” Its tenets are:

  • To get in their shoes, look from their perspective
  • Offer a sacred space, no judgment
  • Recognize the emotion in other people
  • And communicate that

The goal is to feel with people. That means courageously tapping into our own uncomfortable experiences where we can remind ourselves that we know what it’s like. But then, from that place, we can authentically share with them that they’re not alone. We’ve been there. We know.

And we don’t have to use words to communicate that knowing. We can simply offer presence. We can make the better choice to truly connect and admit our lack of answers: “I don’t know what to say. I’m just glad you told me.” We can choose to hold the sacred space for them in their struggle, honoring them and how they feel and not insult them by throwing out pat answers, false silver linings or just as bad – band-aid advice.

We can bare witness to the fact that they are going through a very human struggle with tumultuous feelings and what they face is real . . . and so are they. So is the situation.

In our work with youth, we recognize that some of what they face is part of being that age. If not careful, in a quick moment of non-attentiveness we could dismiss some of those moments that are earth-shattering to them as “this will pass, get over it” and do more damage than good.

We could easily fall victim to offering sympathy (which requires little emotional commitment, no true connection and a pat response based on the surface instead of actively listening). Brene Brown’s illustration nails our tendency: “ooo! It’s bad down here. Want a sandwich?” And then we go straight for the silver lining: “it may be bad, but at least” fill in the blank: you have X, you didn’t do Y, you know Z . . .

That’s like applying a band-aid to an open wound that needs serious attention. It doesn’t do much and it certainly doesn’t heal.

This, Not That

I can recall things I’ve heard said to youth that fit the band-aid approach:

  • “I didn’t make the team” . . . “at least you tried out!”
  • “I didn’t get a good grade on the test and I studied hard” . . . “at least you’re doing well in your other classes”
  • “Jack broke up with me” . . . “at least you had a boyfriend”
  • “My best friend hates me” . . . “at least you have other friends”
  • During high school, you get to meet a lot of people. You might lose several friends and seem to have a “one or none” experience . . . “At least you got to meet a lot of different people in the world.”

As you listen to youth, be mindful in offering silence, presence and the realness of your own depth. When you work to make an authentic connection, it pays off. They know it; they feel it; and you honor who and where they are when you really listen. Without the band-aids.  Without the sandwich.