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Five Awesome Backyard ‘Stay-cation’ Ideas

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Your family’s vacation plans may have changed drastically this summer, but you can still take a break, unwind and build some amazing summertime memories! These five staycation ideas will make staying home feel almost as good as getting away from it all.

  1. Bring the beach to you. Sand, sun and surf sound great right about now, don’t they? With a little preparation, your family can have the perfect beach experience right in your backyard (minus the French fry-stealing seagulls, of course). Simply set up an umbrella, some chairs and a wading pool in your backyard. Add a few bags of sand and boom, instant beach! Have a family sandcastle-building contest, wade in the “ocean,” share a tasty beach picnic and watch the sun set over the water at the end of the day. But don’t forget the sunscreen!
  1. Have an at-home camping adventure. Whether you prefer to pitch an actual tent in your backyard or sleep in a sofa fort in your living room, you can have a rustic camping experience while still taking advantage of the comforts of home (which, let’s face it, is AWESOME when it comes to having to use the bathroom). Gather up some camping snacks – trail mix, s’mores supplies, etc. – and unroll a few sleeping bags and rough it while not having to actually, you know, rough it. You could also hold a nature scavenger hunt in your backyard. Try having a campfire sing-along, whether you have an actual bonfire or just make one out of tissue paper.
  1. Avoid the crowds and plan a carnival day of your own right at home. Recreate some of your favorite fair games for your child to play, complete with fun prizes. You could also eat special treats like cotton candy, hot dogs and freshly popped popcorn. Create “rides” with whatever you have on hand, and if you want to go even bigger, look into renting a bouncy house for the day!
  1. Take a fantastic voyage to another country from the comfort of your living room. Want to go to France? Go online to take a virtual tour of Paris. You can even eat some croissants and nibble some cheese while you take in the sights. If you want a more in-depth experience, use a language-learning app on your mobile device to learn the names of household items in French. Try saying the words in French and asking your children to identify the items. You can use virtual tours to explore almost any country, so ask your children where they would like to go!
  1. Plan a fabulous food tour. You and your family could cook different dishes that represent different countries, such as paella for Spain, borscht for Russia and fish and chips for England, and have an international feast at home. You could also order takeout from different restaurants for an easier international feast. Either way, you get to spend some quality time with your family while learning about the foods of other cultures!

How will you spend your staycation this summer?

The Ultimate Guide to Going Back to School at Home

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It is that time of year again: back-to-school, sort of. Most families still do not know what that will look like and will face hard decisions about when or whether to send their children back to school. For the children that go back to in-person classes, many will be in school for a few days and home for a few days each week. More than likely, those families will soon gear up for at-home learning in combination with some in-person school time.

Here are six things you can do to make the adjustment to learning at home easier on both you and your children.

  1. Set Up a Learning Space.

You do not need to create a complete classroom in your home, but a designated learning space will help your children focus on learning and understand that other areas in the home can be used for media time, playtime and more.

  • Get older children involved in planning the space. Have them make a list of what they think they will need. Find ways to repurpose items in their rooms, such as a chair or pillows to lounge on while reading or a table and chair to make a desk. Use colorful bins or tubs and have your child help you sort toys for easy access. They can also decorate the space with places for books, a laptop or tablet, art supplies and more. Your children will be more likely to use the space if they participate in planning and setting up the space.

Little ones can help set up their spaces as well. Keep books and art materials where your children can reach them. Also, be sure to check out these great ideas for setting up a child’s room for exploratory learning.

  1. Create Back-to-School Routines.

You can still create the back-to-school experience by transitioning from summer activities to school-focused ones. Talk with your children about their new routines and expectations ahead of the transition. Make the prospect of back-to-school time fun by selecting a few new back-to-school items such as art supplies or new clothes together. Don’t forget to take pictures of the first day “back to school”!

  1. Plan the Day with Flexibility in Mind.

Keeping a routine to support children’s social and emotional development is crucial while everyone is still at home. Include your children in daily planning and decision-making, like creating menus for the week to take the stress off mealtimes or deciding when to take breaks during the day for some outdoor play. Consider taking photos of different times of the day and have your children hang them in meaningful locations around the learning space or use them to create a picture schedule.

Begin with the basics:

  • Morning wakeup – getting ready for the day;
  • Mealtimes and snack times;
  • Naptime or quiet time;
  • Cleaning up – sorting and cleaning up toys, cleaning after mealtime, etc.;
  • Bath rituals;
  • Bedtime – getting ready for and going to bed.

Routines are great stress relievers when children can anticipate what will happen during the day. They help them focus on playful learning instead of worrying about what’s next. By establishing these basic routines, you can free up time for more flexibility in your child’s day. You can also plan your day with your work schedule in mind.

  1. Manage Screen Time.

Keep screen time to a minimum. For older children, consider limiting screen time to when they are doing required lessons plus a separate time for some screen-time play. Screen-time overload is something we are hearing a lot about lately. Children are getting tired of video conferencing, so keep that to the required amount for school and perhaps a few visits with friends. Be sure to let your older children initiate any requests for video chats to keep it from getting too overwhelming.

Also, keep an eye on your time with digital media. Avoid digital distractions by turning off the television while interacting with your children and take digital breaks at mealtimes, bedtime, etc.

  1. Connect with Others.

The best screen time will be virtual playdates where your little ones can interact with and see other children.

Dr. Jennifer Jipson, member of the Goddard School Education Advisory Board, says, “There are many ways to do this using video-chat platforms and apps like Caribou. This doesn’t replace the rich interactions that take place in larger-group preschool settings…but in the short term it’s enough to keep their social skills developing. If your child is no longer interested in connecting with others on screens, use time at home to focus on family social interactions or identify another family that is managing risk in a way that matches your own approach. One or two friends are all children need right now to satisfy their need for social connection. Agree to ‘bubble up’ and limit social contact beyond your ‘quaranteam.’”

  1. Foster Independent Moments.

Try to plan a few activities your children can do independently, even if they need to be within your range of sight. This can give you a break while working. Art supplies, puzzles, connecting blocks and books are great tools for independent play. Here are a few activities to help get you started.

Starting a new school year at home might be new territory, but with a little preparation, you and your children are sure to have a lot of fun learning experiences together.

How to Set Up a Child’s Room for Playful Learning

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By Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Setting up a child’s room can be so much fun, but it can also be overwhelming. Don’t worry – you likely already have more than you need. Do not stress over how educational each toy is or feel like you need to fill up the room. I recall my nephew as we were setting up his room. He lined up all his trucks on a shelf and announced, “Auntie Lee, just leave the blocks and trucks. You can sell the rest.” He was four.

The two most important things are safety and fun. The learning part will come as your child explores, imagines and plays. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Use colorful bins or tubs and sort toys your child can easily access;
  • Create a reading nook by placing books on a low shelf or bin. Add a soft place to curl up and read;
  • Place a small plastic mirror on the wall at ground level – it’s a wonderful addition for infants and toddlers;
  • Add art and science or math spaces in an area that can be made messy and then easily cleaned up again. For art projects, have a variety of papers, paints, crayons and other materials on hand. For math and science discovery, measuring cups, bowls, rulers, dried foods like pasta and even food scales are wonderful resources for hands-on learning;
  • Think about what toys are safe for your children at their current age levels. Place those within easy reach and let your children dump them out and play away;
  • Create a dramatic arts area where your children can dress up, play pretend and use recycled food items to expand their understanding of the world around them;
  • Add new items and rotate older ones out occasionally. Later, bring some of the older ones back;
  • Blocks, puzzles, board games and stacking toys are always a hit;
  • Introduce new toys one at a time and add items that might give your children a challenge. For example, if they can do a 10-piece puzzle, add a few 15-to-20-piece puzzles into the mix;
  • You don’t have to create a designated space for technology since it should enhance other learning experiences. Instead, take a tablet outside for a photo or video-making session, help your child create an e-book in your reading nook or look up steps to create a robot in your science area;
  • Avoid clutter as it can be overwhelming and inhibits creativity and exploration.

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun as you set up this space, and be sure to keep an eye out for what fun learning experiences your children have there!

Five Simple Tricks to Make Bedtime a Breeze

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By Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

We often talk about how important bedtime is for little ones, especially as they return to school or begin a summer program. It has been made more difficult by the stayathome routines many of us have adapted to in recent months. Hopefully, you have been able to keep to some routine. If you have relaxed yours lately, now might be a good time to get back into the swing of things by giving your child some structure and taking some time for yourself. 

Making the transition should start with your child’s participation. Explain that we need to get our bedtime organized so we all get plenty of sleep. Ask your child how we can do that. You might be surprised by the answers. Being involved in the solution will help your child buy into the changes more easily. For younger children, give them a couple of choices such as “Which should we do first – brush our teeth and then get into our PJs or get into our PJs first?”   

Here are five more tips to help you along the way: 

  1. Have an actual lightsout time and stick to it. 
  1. Try to eat an earlier dinner not too close to bedtime. 
  1. Keep afterdinner activities to a minimum, slowing the pace as you get closer to bedtime. Watch a favorite show together, play a simple board game or work a puzzle.  
  1. Set up a routine chart for older children who can check off each activity as they go. 
  1. Make time for a calming moment – reading a story, talking about the day, planning for tomorrow or doing a few fun yoga poses together before jumping under the covers. 

Research has shown that when children don’t get enough sleep it has a negative effect on their attention span, behavior and emotions. Routines play an important role in helping your child get the sleep he or she needs. We hope you can get some rest as well.  

 

Dealing with the Ups and Downs of a Preschooler

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by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Last evening, our neighborsparents of three children under seven, were sitting out on their porch steps, masked and full of coffee. They said hello as I (masked and at a distance) walked byI paused and asked, How’s it going? Kids asleep? and heard, Thank God” in unison. The mother continued, sometimes it’s been sweet and sometimes sour – very sour. I feel kinda hollowed out in the middle. I really love, both of us love, simply being together with them for more than just a snippet of the weekend, and other times, I feel bottomed out, discouraged.” I thoughtthere is the pandemic family anthem in a nutshell. 

Our young children are feeling much the same these dayskinda hollowed out in the middle, caught between the highs of being together and the lows of losing so much of their active physical and social life. That’s why they can go from angelic to demonic in a few hours or minutes. Parents wonder at such times if they are being good parents in the way they handle these huge swings. Their children know how clueless they feel about how to helpDisappointment is around every cornercan’t do this or that, can’t see your friends or grandma, have to wear that itchy, annoying face covering. As adults, we’ve learned something about coping with disappointment by now, but for our preschoolers and young children, this may be the first time they have had to confront it in such a huge dose. No wonder they and we are upset. They are missing out on some things that we know they need to keep growing up well. Helping them cope requires as much compassion and patience as we have ever mustered on their behalf.  

Advice:  

  1. When they are upset and need us to fix something, most of us just rush in with a tool or solution as soon as we can think of one. Don’do that, at least not right away. 
  2. Listen carefully through the tears for what is wrong. Say it back to them in your own words and ask if you got it right 
  3. Confirm that you get what’s so upsetting without judgment or even if you think it’s a bit ridiculous and that those kinds of feelings do hurt and make us sad. This compassion is less likely to soften your children than it is to strengthen them. It validates them and their feelings as more important to you at the moment than correcting some injustice. 
  4. Limit the amount of pandemic-focused information flowing at them through screens (especially back-ground TV) and from other sources, such as over-heard adult conversations. The most menacing, toxic force in the pandemic’s arsenal other than the obvious mortal threat to our health is its mystery; this scale of not knowing what’s coming is unfamiliar to most of us 
  5. Running on empty,emotionally and physicallyis very hard on everyone in the family. There are many replenishmentout there if you look. A favorite for families with pre-k children is Common Sense Media’s list of 26 Kid-Friendly Documentaries for Families to watch together. Turn off your phones, kick off the shoes and grab healthy snacks. Then snuggle up and let someone else do the entertaining for a while. Don’t forget to breathe. 

How to Help Your Child Transition Back to School after Covid

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By Lee Scott and Helen Hadani, Contributing Writers and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Members

We have been asked by many parents how they can help their children transition with the changes at school this summer or fall. What happens when it will be a move to a new classroom or teacher? Things will feel strange enough after being away for so long. We suggest a few steps that may help you prepare. 

Get started by planning for returning to schoolSet up your schoolday routines – set a time for waking up in the morning, create relaxing bedtime rituals, select clothing at night, etc. Start these a few weeks before returning to school. Connect with the school before returning. Ask which classroom your child will be in and who will be his or her new teachers. You can also ask whether some of your child’s friends from the previous classroom will be returning. Share the details with your child.   

Practice and roleplay. Walk your child through security or safety protocols such as handwashing, taking temperatures and wearing a mask. Explain what your child will do when he or she gets to school. Roleplay the sequence at home. What will you do? What about the teachers and your child? The Goddard School has a short video you can watch with your childTalk about the routines with your child. 

Make sure you connect with what your child is feeling and support helpful behavior. Research shows that when parents encourage children to talk about mental states including emotions, they are more likely to adjust to change and be helpful to others. Look for opportunities in your daily activities such as reading a book or watching a movie to highlight how characters are feeling (e.g., “How do you think that character was feeling?” or “How would you feel if that happened to you?”). This may help children talk about how they are feeling when they get back to school and hopefully lead to them helping their peers who may be struggling more with the transition.  

Help your child adjust to the changes by managing expectations. One way to help your child adjust is to create a play plan. Tools of the Mind is an early childhood curriculum for preschool and kindergarten designed to promote executivefunction skills through playful learning activities. For example, children start their school day by drawing or writing activities they envision for their day. Those plans help children to think and act purposefullyEncourage your child to create a play plan before he or she goes back to school to get in the habit of thinking about the day. It could help ease fears about what to expect and build excitement around doing favorite activities at school. When you are sharing a play plan, you can also talk about your child’s new classroom and teacher. Ask your child what he or she might expect from the new classroom or new routine. 

Reconnect with friends a few at a time. For some little ones, seeing peers in large groups might be a bit overwhelming since they have spent the past several months with their families and maybe only seeing one or two friends at a time. Set up a time to get together with a friend. Plan a simple activity, such as a ball game outside or a board game or puzzle. Your child might not know what to talk about, so thinking of a few things to share could be helpful. Parents can ask their child to think of three things that the child has enjoyed (or not enjoyed) about staying at home (e.g., having more family movie nights, not being able to visit grandparents). 

Following these steps and building expectations will help your child make a smooth transition. Try not to worry and remember that many others are having the same experience.    

“But Mom/Dad, Why Can’t You Play Right Now?” How to Answer This Question Effectively and More When Working from Home with Children

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By Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D., Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

For weeks now, I’ve been spending my days shifting between multiple roles, and it isn’t getting any easier! When I’m working, I feel like I’m ignoring my children. When I’m attending to their needs, I feel guilty about not being able to make progress on work-related projects. When stress hits, I’ve often reacted to my children’s interruptions and emergencies with an abruptness that I later regret. I’m guessing many of you have experienced something similar at some point.

In this blog post, I share a practical strategy for how to interact with children in a way that respects their desire for your attention and your need to set boundaries that help you get some other things done. The approach is described by Dr. Marjorie Kostelnik and her colleagues as using personal messages. It’s a developmentally appropriate strategy that helps both parents and children achieve their goals while building trusting and affectionate relationships. In my role as a college professor, I teach it to college students who are learning to interact with preschool-aged children. It might seem awkward or too wordy at first, but it gets easier with practice. It pays off because the more your child hears you talk like this, the more tools she or he will have to control her or his impulses to interrupt.

The following is how it goes.

STEP ONE: Offer a reflection that describes your children’s perspective.

I think of this step as sportscasting, except instead of being on ESPN saying, “he shoots, he scores,” I’m in my home office having conversations like the following:

When my adorable child says: I’m tempted to say: Instead, I try to say:
“Moooom, you said we could make brownies!” I can’t right now. You’re frustrated that I can’t make brownies with you yet.
“Come see what I did!” I’m busy. You’re excited about your painting and you want me to take a look.
“I’m bored.” Shhhhh I see you’ve finished that episode of Daniel Tiger and you don’t know what to do next.

Describing a child’s perspective before reacting shows that we are trying to understand his or her point of view and that we care about his or her experience. It also gives us a few extra seconds to think about how to respond next.

STEP TWO: Share your own emotional reaction and explain why you feel that way.

STEP THREE: Tell your child what will happen next. Be sure to follow through!

These steps give children a chance to practice their developing perspective-taking skills and to improve their understanding of emotions. Then, by hearing parents share clear expectations for what will happen next, children can begin to develop strategies that will make moments of waiting easier.

Step One Steps Two and Three
You’re frustrated that I can’t make brownies with you yet. The people I work with are waiting for me to finish this project, and I want to get it done. After I give it to them, we can go to the kitchen together and make our special treat!
You’re excited about your painting and want me to take a look. I’m proud of you for working so hard on your art project. I’m on a conference call right now and I will come to see it as soon as the call ends. 
You’ve finished that episode of Daniel Tiger and you don’t know what to do next. It’s important to me that I have some time to get a few things done. I’d like you to find something you can do on your own right now. Do you want some help choosing a few puzzles to do?

When adults talk in clear, responsive and respectful ways, children’s self-regulation skills improve. It’s also important to model your respect for their activities. Instead of interrupting their play or media use, you might say something like, “It looks like you’re having a lot of fun drawing with chalk, I have a break now and it’d be nice to take a bike ride with you. Is this a good time?”

Full disclosure: As I’m writing this, I’ve been guilty of responding a bit abruptly to my youngest child’s plea for attention. it’s not easy to practice what I teach consistently. But when I catch myself responding with annoyance, I start over and try again. Many people give up on personal messages because it feels clumsy at first. My advice is to keep trying. Practice makes better (forget perfect), and we have a lot of opportunities lately to refine our skills in warmly-communicating clear and respectful boundaries with our children.

OPTIONAL ADDITION

Note – Planning can ease the pressure of competing responsibilities. One important strategy is providing young kids with a visual cue to your availability. In my house, when I can’t be interrupted, I put a note on my office door letting my older children know when I’ll be available next. With younger children, I suggest displaying a picture of Quiet Coyote or some other signal so that they know not to interrupt. Be sure to take it down when you’re better able to be interrupted.

The Only Sunscreen Tip You Need This Summer

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By Laura Mellor-Bachman M.Ed., manager, program development

Applying sunscreen during the summer months can be a messy and emotional business, especially if you have a toddler. However, I stumbled across a simple way to make applying sunscreen to my two-year-old daughter, Juliana, a pleasant experience for all.

When Juliana gets a diaper rash, we put “cream on her hiney,” which she used to love saying out loud with me as I applied the cream to her hiney. When winter came, her hands were getting chapped from the continuous hand-washing at school and at home. So we started putting cream on her hands. As you can imagine, Juliana picked up on how this was similar to her putting cream on her hiney, and each night before bed, she loved rubbing the lotion on her hands and on my hands, too, for that matter.

Then something clicked: I realized how this fun routine would make applying sunscreen easier during summer. Each night after a bath, whether Juliana had chapped hands or not, we did cream on your hands. Then we expanded it to cream on your ears, neck, arms and belly. It worked! Juliana helps me put lotion on her body, and we have some giggles, too.

She now practices several skills: she knows her body parts, she coordinates movement over her mid-line when rubbing in the lotion (great for brain development), she bonds with me and, most importantly, she has fun applying sunscreen! When it is time to go outside now, we do what we’ve been practicing over the past couple of months: cream on your legs, cream on your elbows and cream on your nose. I love her independent spirit, and she is so empowered to help keep herself safe during the most sunshiny days.

Children’s Books About Inclusion and Diversity

By Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

good way to begin a dialogue with young children about inclusion and diversity is by listening to and reading stories. Engaging young children with stories of people from diverse cultures, backgrounds and races helps extend their understanding of familiar emotions and social behaviors by presenting them in new contexts, as well as providing them with opportunities to encounter emotions and social behaviors that they may not be exposed to in their everyday interactions within their families and communities. This helps promote critical thinking about bias, and it develops children’s ability to stand up for themselves and others in the face of bias 

The following is a compilation of books selected by members of the Educational Advisory Board as well as families who also sent us book ideas that they feel support the understanding of inclusion and empathy. Here is a list of 15 books to help launch important conversations: 

Infants and Toddlers

Who Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim is a tickle and giggle book with beautiful baby’s brown toes.

Whos Toes Are Those Book CoverTen Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox is a wonderful celebration of babies from all over the world.

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Dream Big Little One by Vashti Harrison shares the inspirational stories of powerful black women in history.

Dream Big Little One Children's Book Cover

Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora is a cheerful book that all babies will enjoy. 

PeekABoo Morning Children's Book Cover

Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie Harris is just that, a wonderful book featuring babies’ first words. 

Who? Baby book cover

Preschoolers to Kindergarteners 

We’re Different, We’re the Same by Bobbi Kates (Sesame Street) supports young children’s understanding that although we are different in many ways, we are all the same inside. 

6-different-the-sameLovely by Jess Hong is a celebration of what makes everyone unique and how we all are lovely. 

Lovely child book coverThe Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson supports children as they work through the challenge of not feeling that they fit in or are fearful of new environments. 

The Day You Begin children's book cover

The Family Book by Todd Parr, focuses on how families, although often very different, are alike in love and caring for each other. 

The Family Book children's book cover

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, explores how children accept cultural differences such as names unfamiliar to them and learning acceptance and friendship. 

The Name Jar book cover

I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët is a heart-warming story about caring for others and standing up to bullying. 

I walk with Vanessa book cover

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman sets the stage for understanding inclusion with a wonderful story about the children in a school. 

All Are Welcome book cover

Say Something by Peter Reynolds shows children how their voices are valued. 

Say Something Children's book cover

Skin Like Mine by LaTishia M. Perry celebrates diversity in an entertaining way for early readers. 

Skin Like Mine Book Cover

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester is a great book to help parents begin the dialogues with their children. 

Let's Talk About Race book cover

Check out more book recommendations from Goddard parents!

Goddard Parents’ Recommendations for Children’s Books about Diversity and Inclusion

We asked Goddard parents to send us their favorite books about diversity and inclusion to feature alongside the recommendations from our Educational Advisory Board. Here are some of their top picks:

*I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët is a heartwarming story about caring for others and standing up to bullying.

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*The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi explores how children come to celebrate cultural differences, such as names that are unfamiliar to them, and learn about acceptance and friendship.

The Name Jar book cover

The Little People Big Dreams series includes books about notable black men and women in history, such as the volumes Martin Luther King & Harriet Tubman by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Pili Aguado and Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser and Marta Antelo.

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Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel and Shane W. Evans is a book filled with joy and the freedom of expression in a young girl’s life.

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*All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman sets the stage for understanding inclusion with a wonderful story about the children in a school.

All Are Welcome book cover

I Am Enough by Grace Byers and Keturah A. Bobo supports children in overcoming bullying and loving who you are.

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It’s Ok to Be Different by Sharon Purtill and Sujata Saha encourages young children to be kind and embrace the uniqueness of one another.

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*Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds shows children how their voices are valued.

Say Something Children's book cover

A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara teaches the alphabet by highlighting the importance of standing up for what you believe.

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Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw is an engaging tale of two pen pals from different cultures who share similar lives.

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*Also recommended by The Goddard School Educational Advisory Board

Click here for more book recommendations from our Educational Advisory Board.