Bee Kind to the Bees

I wanted to do something to kick off some Earth Week festivities (last year it was Johnny Appleseed) and a friend suggested I visit a local bee farm and find out why bees are so important to the planet. I was pretty sure this would be interesting to little ones, and I knew it would be interesting to me. The owners of the farm are wonderful people who have a lot of bees and produce a lot of raw honey. They were kind enough to agree to be on camera and walk us through what bees do, how they make honey, etc. We settled on a day and time and the episode began to take shape.

I was hoping Scott and Marta, our hosts, would let me suit up as a beekeeper might and therefore get close to the bees, and that’s exactly how it went. My husband and daughter went along, Bruce to film as always and Katie for support. Marta is a friend of hers, so that helped everyone be more comfortable. I introduced our episode and Scott and Marta, and then Scott explained why he ‘smokes’ the bees to keep them calm. Then we suited up and headed for the hive boxes where Scott explained what we would see. Each box contains frames of honeycombs and bees, and he took each one out and pointed out the queens in the hives, worker bees, baby bees, etc. He let me hold one of the frames as he talked about the pollen, nectar, etc., and identified what we were seeing and watching the bees do. I was fascinated by the different colors of pollen on the frames.

Marta talked about what kids can do to help protect the bees and increase the bees’ ability to pollinate. She suggested that they plant flowers, in particular those that really attract honeybees. We ended our visit by going inside to pour some honey into jars that we could take home. Raw honey has some excellent properties and potential benefits, so we purchased two pounds to take with us. I actually filled one jar without making a mess (very unlike me).

As is my habit—and has been for 95 episodes— I read up on honeybees prior to visiting the farm so I would have some knowledge beforehand and know what questions to ask. It also gave me the information I needed to write my poem for the episode. I seriously didn’t know much about any kind of bees before preparing for this one, and I was blown away by how smart and hardworking honeybees are. One of the most interesting things was that honeybees form almost a bond with their beekeepers and recognize them. This, among other things, is why Scott and other beekeepers can handle the frames and get close to the bees without being stung.

I ordered props for this one as I usually do, including a metal bee and a bee ring. Katie had made me a shirt using a photo I had taken of a bee on a dandelion. I researched what flowers in particular honeybees are attracted to and found some artificial lavender and sunflowers among artificial flowers I already had. I put those on my GG Sprinkles table, and when we got back from the farm we recorded our last three minutes, including my poem called ‘Amazing Bees.’ The day after the episode was uploaded to YouTube we knew it would perform very well. It was fun to do and now we have to figure out another Earth Day-related topic with which to work. But I guarantee we’ll have trouble coming close to this one. We’ll do our best, but I do love those bees. ❤️

St. Patrick’s Day and Leprechauns

I have just enough Irish in my background to make St. Patrick’s Day real to me. I wanted to do a fun colorful episode, so St. Pat’s was the way to go. It turns out that I didn’t have a lot of relevant items around the house, so it was fun to shop a bit in preparation for the wearin’ of the green.

I find leprechauns fascinating, so I decided to focus primarily on them. Since I knew little about them, I had to research a bit. I didn’t know, for example, that the word ‘leprechaun’ means small body. I knew they could be grumpy, according to legend, and that they like to play tricks. I didn’t know that they are considered fairies, but that made me happy since I’m a big believer in fairies. I read a few stories about them and their mischievousness and had enough to present. I decided to begin the episode with information on St. Patrick’s Day and who celebrates it around the world. That was another eye-opener for me: I had no idea that upwards of 50 countries actually celebrate the day, including Japan, Russia, Australia, and Korea, or that those on board the International Space Station celebrate as well. I chose to avoid saying much about St. Patrick himself since little is known about him and the concept of sainthood is perhaps a bit over the heads of our young viewers. One curious fact that I wasn’t aware of is that St. Patrick isn’t actually a saint. He’s basically been declared one over the years, but has never officially been canonized by the Church. At any rate, I decided to focus on the celebrations and traditions of the day.

I read my poem about a leprechaun and then demonstrated a leprechaun trap I made last night. And the excitement I project over the thought of successfully catching a leprechaun is very real. Honest. I ended the episode by emphasizing that we remain respectful of the Irish culture in the midst of our fun. I read that the Irish are pretty sensitive about the drunkenness associated with St. Patrick’s Day, and I can understand that. I think it also rankles them a bit that so many people who aren’t Irish at all become Irish every March 17. But I think celebrations are good whenever they can happen. In the days of COVID, there probably won’t be as many parades and parties to celebrate the day, but we can certainly celebrate in our homes in small groups. And in our own Irish bubbles. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone, and wear that green proudly.

Let’s Play at the Playground!

Now that playgrounds are opening back up, the weather is improving, and our last GG Sprinkles episode was a pretty serious one, we decided to visit several playgrounds. And I couldn’t wait to try out the swings and slides.

We played for a couple of hours, acquiring footage that we could piece together for an episode. I climbed, swung (on different kinds of swings), did the monkey bars (badly), slid down various slides, and more. It was a beautiful day, so we had to work around the kids who had the bigger right to the playgrounds. We can’t put other people’s kids on YouTube, of course. But somehow, my valiant and talented (and patient—did I mention patient?) videographer made it work. The smallest two playgrounds were mostly empty, but the bigger two were apparently more of a draw, and rightly so. I did wonder a little nervously what the parents of the little ones were thinking as this big kid of a grandma was playing among their children. But we did okay and no one called the police. I’d call that a successful day.

We went back to the house and ended the episode with a poem about the joy of playgrounds. I showed some pictures of my little ones on various playground equipment, and we talked briefly about what you can do to have fun in your own yard if playgrounds are not an option for whatever reason. Some parents are still (and appropriately) concerned about all of the hands and potential germs on the equipment. And some may not have playgrounds in their area.

I declared right after our last episode that I wanted to do a light, fun episode. Playgrounds came to mind immediately. I wanted to project happiness and unconfined joy for the kids. Of course for the kids, right? But I realized as I was soaring in the swings and going down slides that I was really doing this one almost as much for me as for my young audience. I, too, needed the fun of the playground; I, too, needed to be a big kid, if just for a couple of hours. It’s been a very long, scary, and—yes—confined and sometimes isolated year. GG Sprinkles provided me with an excuse to slide and climb and soar. And let’s face it: We ALL need to soar at times, if only for a little while ❤️.

What Does Beautiful Mean?

This is a touchy topic, or it can be. I decided to tackle this two ways. First, we focused on the fact that what one person considers beautiful, another might not. In other words, what’s beautiful to you may not be beautiful to me. Second, we illustrated that good-looking people may not automatically be nice and people who may look a little different are not automatically bad, that you need to look beneath the surface of folks to determine who they really are.

I began by showing pictures of things that most people would think pretty or even beautiful: a rainbow, roses, a sunset, fall leaves, etc. Then I showed photos of things that I find beautiful, but that others might not, such as a tree with snow on bare branches, a hippo we saw at the zoo, an old stone bridge, mushrooms around a tree, and more. I then read a poem about beauty being an individual judgment. I emphasized that even faces may strike some as being beautiful, while not so much to others. The conclusion I was nudging them toward was that everyone is beautiful to someone and in their own way.

The second part was a tad more difficult, especially so because I was presenting the idea to little ones. I decided to use Disney villains as examples of characters who may be conventionally pretty/handsome but not very nice people. I showed pictures of Prince Hans from Frozen, the evil queen from Snow White and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. All three are attractive individuals, but lousy people. Then I showed pictures of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Mike Wizowski from Monster’s Inc. These three are a bit funny looking and quirky but very nice, even heroic. I read my poem called ‘Mirror Image’ which sums up my thoughts on this subject:

Mirror Image

Have you noticed in some books/The hero isn’t how he looks?

He may be handsome, bright and tall/But he may not be nice at all.

Mirror mirror on the wall/Doesn’t really tell you all

As with the hero, there’s more to see/Tucked up tight inside of me.

Knowing what you’re looking for/Will let you see a whole lot more.

I may not look the hero part/But I’m a hero in my heart.

Don’t believe that you can tell/About someone you don’t know well.

And don’t always assume the worst/Until you get to know them first.

The outside doesn’t let you know/Who someone is, so let it go,

And then your judgement won’t just be/Based on only what you see.

Bad guys on the top; good guys on the bottom

As I mentioned in earlier blog posts, I take every opportunity to emphasize that there are all types of people, and that you must look beneath the surface of people to really see them. You may miss out on getting to know quality people if you don’t look deeper. And that would be very sad. ❤️

Collector Kids

I was one of these, a collector kid. I still am. As a kid I collected rocks, and, once in awhile, tiny frogs (although I found out you have to feed them bugs instead of grass). Eventually my collecting pretty much centered on rocks. But collecting rocks is actually a fairly common hobby, and not every collector collects the ordinary items. For instance, my daughter Ashley briefly collected blades of grass from places that meant something to her. Case in point: a blade of grass from Elvis’ grave at Graceland. I thought that was very creative and definitely original collecting.

So I decided to address common things people collect while emphasizing that it’s very okay to collect things a bit out of the ordinary. I wrote a poem called ‘Collector Kid’ and focused on those uncommon items that might interest collectors. The ultimate message was that collecting things that others might consider ‘weird’ just makes you unique, and unique is good.

In my research into what kids like to read about and talk about, I learned that trading cards are popular and decided to use that as my hook. I have some baseball cards of my own, most of them featuring the great Roberto Clemente who I had talked about in my episode on baseball heroes. I also have some cards that are just odds and ends. So to prepare, I needed to order some small sets I could display. I ordered some Disney cards and My Little Pony, and then ordered some animal cards. I was surprised when my animal set didn’t come with actual cards, but rather a map of the world with QR codes you can scan and basically pull up electronic cards with information on each animal. I downloaded the app that comes with the set, and I could scan animals from country to country. I decided these would be good to show yet another way to collect.

But I knew that no presentation would be complete without Pokémon cards, and I wasn’t keen on spending the money you need to lay out for those popular sets. As luck would have it, just days before I wanted to do this episode, MacDonald’s helped me out by putting Pokémon cards in their Happy Meals. Bruce and I polished off six Happy Meals to get six packs of cards. That truly was good luck. I didn’t open any of the packs beyond the two I wanted to open beforehand to familiarize myself with the cards. Pokémon was a new experience for me. I wanted my little viewers to go along on my journey of discovery, and let them ‘help’ me open the Disney, My Little Pony and a couple of packs of the Pokémon cards.

I had a good time doing this one, and began by showing things people might collect, such as teddy bears, coins, etc. Then we moved on to the cards. I read my poem and ended by again making the point that it’s okay to be different in your choice of collectibles, hoping that the idea broadened to the fact that it’s okay to be different, period. I was bullied as a kid; I had a southern accent as a transplanted Tennessean and never really grew out of my awkward stage (still haven’t). As a teacher, it broke my heart every time I saw an awkward child who was essentially being punished daily by classmates who didn’t appreciate the uniqueness and nonconformity. So any inroads I can make with my very young viewers in reinforcing that differences are good, I will make at every opportunity. ❤️

Counting on One Another

I like to find topics for GG Sprinkles and, thus, my poetry that can extend into a gentle lesson beyond the simpler idea. I had already decided to do an episode on counting and simple math, and that led me to explore the origin of the phrase ‘count on me.’

I have a toy that I bought years ago to work with Cooper on counting and identifying his colors that involves sliding colored beads on what looks like a roller coaster (which, in fact, is what we called it). I ordered a small abacus to demonstrate counting, along with addition and subtraction. I researched online for ideas I could use to teach little ones fun ways to count and then adapted them. I set up an animal ‘pen’ with tiles and pulled out the small bag of plastic animals we’d picked up at the zoo gift shop. I filled a bag with numbers so that I could draw a number out and put a corresponding number of animals in the pen. I drew a picture of a cake and cut out ‘candles’ so we could count the candles and put them on the cake. I had blocks to stack and count.

Then I needed to figure out a way to explain where we get the expression ‘count on’ something or someone. Apparently centuries ago bankers would count their money on a certain kind of table that had slots and so forth to make counting and sorting easier. They knew that when they used this table, their count would be accurate and reliable. Now, when we say we can count on someone, we’re saying they’re reliable and trustworthy. I enlarged on that a bit to include the idea that they’re good friends as well.

I think my topics for the Sprinkles episodes have been mostly fun: toys, puppets, pets, unicorns, cowboys, birds, etc. But I also like to make larger points occasionally, such as the power of a youngster’s voice and the value of colors in all things, including people. My episodes are very short, and I have to present everything I want to say in only a few minutes. It’s made me measure a little more what to say and get my point across in a space of time that suits a young child’s attention span. Any time I can address what makes a better friend, I take the opportunity. Hopefully, with this episode I made that point. And, as is frequently the case, I learned something new as well. A win-win for GG Sprinkles. ❤️

There Really Is No Place Like Home (Good Thing, Too)

For almost a year now the pandemic has kept most of us close to home at one time or another. Or maybe multiple times, since it surges and then settles down and surges again. I’m aware that homes all over the world and even in our own neighborhoods undoubtedly vary widely in form, color and size. But our homes are our shelters, hopefully our safe havens. So I decided to do an episode on the different types of houses people live in, as well as different building materials and colors. I enlarged the idea to include the ‘homes’ that different animals inhabit.

I put out a lot of my Wizard of Oz collectibles, including the ruby slippers that my daughter Katie made me literally a sequin at a time. I have a couple of snow globes, Christmas ornaments, and other Oz-themed items. I have a stuffed Toto and all of the characters in tiny Madame Alexander dolls courtesy of MacDonald’s happy meals many years ago. I used this display to introduce what Dorothy learns from her experiences in Oz: there’s no place like home. I have some books I used to read during my nanny days about different kinds of houses including igloos, log cabins, mud huts, and more. One is about the colors of houses and another about ‘homes’ in which animals might live. I read two poems, one about the animals and the other about people houses.

I wanted the little ones to be aware of the many kinds of houses people live in, and then make the point that it doesn’t matter what your house looks like; if the people inside love you and you, them, then you’re home. The buildings, colors, etc. don’t matter. Acceptance should extend to people who live in trailers and log cabins as well as castles.

The news is telling us that domestic abuse is on the rise because families have literally been locked in together to stay safe from the virus. Unfortunately, safety can become dangerous, especially if the situation was already tense. I was coming into this topic with the idea of diversity. I couldn’t assure them that home is always safe. But, Pollyanna that I am, I still believe that for the majority of people, it really is love that makes a house a home, no matter the house. ❤️

Everyone Has a Story—No Matter Our Age

When I taught sophomore English, it was inevitable that my students would end up writing an essay about themselves. Those were usually their favorites since we all write best about what we know, and most of us know ourselves pretty well. With the GG Sprinkles episodes, I tend to often think about things that kids can give to caregivers or keep for themselves as a record of their talents, interests, etc. So we decided to do an episode called ‘The Story of You’ encouraging little ones to make books about themselves to either keep or give away.

I began with a poem about writing their own book. I showed some examples of books my daughters wrote about their dad and them that they had given to their dad as gifts. Then I showed a book about me that I wrote just for this episode featuring subjects they could include in their own books, such as pets, hobbies, family, foods they like to eat, things they like to do. Since they may not even be writing yet, I showed how they could do their books with pictures from greeting cards, magazines, or collections of family photos (with mom’s permission, of course). In my book I had painted some pictures to include, and I pointed out that such illustrations would be really good keepsakes to include. And, of course, I pointed out the value such books might have to them someday in the future.

I like to encourage the creative spark kids have while keeping in mind that kids of a range of ages might watch the episodes. This project fits the bill nicely; some kids will want to actually write things in their books, while others may do their ‘writing’ with their illustrations, using things most households have on hand. And, of course, they can get help with simple labels. With families sticking close to home these days, this is something kids can do to pass the time while being creative. And it allows them to design it exactly as they please using a variety of materials and abilities. I plan to keep mine, as a matter of fact. So enjoy, and make a book about you. ❤️

Make Christmas as Merry as Possible

Our last episode was about Hanukkah, and as is the case with many of our topics, I learned so much about this one. In fact, I was embarrassed that I knew so little up to that point, and I was so impressed with what I learned about the beautiful Festival of Lights. I was on more solid ground with Christmas since I grew up with Santa and Christmas trees. I decided to focus on the celebrations and traditions of Christmas in this episode. It turned out to be a fun one to do.

Anything involving lights, songs, sparkle and color is my thing, and Christmas at our house incorporates all of those, as I suspect is the case in many homes. I began by taking a ‘tour’ of our Christmas tree and pointing out ornaments that have special meaning. We have ornaments our children and grandchildren have made for us, ornaments we brought back from our travels, and ornaments that just say Christmas to us. We looked at some of my nativities, and I took the opportunity to point out why we celebrate Christmas in the first place, namely the birth of the Christ Child. I emphasized the traditions that many people celebrate around that all important event that Christians everywhere celebrate. I talked about who Santa is in other countries and some of the traditions surrounding the various incarnations of Santa. And I introduced La Befana, the witch who visits children in Italy in early January. I had never heard of her until Charlie was introduced to her while they were living in Italy. Coincidentally, my other three grandchildren met La Befana in Disney World only weeks later at Epcot’s World Showcase. I fell in love with La Befana’s legend.

I read poems called “Christmas Cheer” and “When Santa Stops By.” As has been my habit with many of our episodes, I mentioned that Christmas this year could be very different for all of us, but that family and many of our familiar traditions would still be there for us to enjoy. My concern all along has been the jarring differences in the lives of little ones in the face of the ongoing pandemic (a word I resist using in any of the episodes). I try to reassure them that their lives will go on, their families are there for them, and eventually things will return to some sort of normal.

While it’s important that our kids feel safe in this uncertain world, we adults need to have that as well, at least enough to allow us to celebrate the holiday. I think we’re all so weary at this point that we, in fact, almost feel like we need permission to be happy as we dodge illness, and bob and weave through the minefield that is 2020. I’m giving myself that permission to celebrate and, for what it’s worth, you also need to give yourself that permission. I’ve seen more decorated houses and Christmas lights than I’ve ever seen before, and I think these people have the right idea. We all need to take a breath, power through, and have as merry a Christmas as our circumstances allow. We owe it to our kids, yes, but we owe it to ourselves as well.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Stay safe and healthy, and here’s to a better 2021. ❤️

Let It Snow!

We teachers love snow. We can’t drive in it very well since we generally don’t have to, but it gives us the occasional, glorious day off. Usually by the time it snows we’re ready for one of those. So being a big fan of snow, it seemed a natural topic for GG Sprinkles to do.

To prepare for this one, I learned how to cut snowflakes out of white paper and then went a step further and found a recipe for making a reasonable facsimile of snow using baking soda and hair conditioner. And believe it or not, it really does feel like snow. And it smells wonderful. My experiments with cutting out snowflakes didn’t go quite as well, but they sufficed. My grandson Charlie has been generating them in great numbers and at the young age of five is way better than his GG at making them. I gathered up just some of my snowflake ornaments to show the kids along with my stuffed snowmen and snow globes. And I was ready to share my love of snow and all things winter.

I wrote a poem called “Snowflake Joy” and read that. I showed some pictures I’ve taken of actual snowflakes and talked about the fact that they are, of course, all different. And I showed a few pictures of the little ones in my life on sleds, catching snowflakes on their tongues and making snow angels. I had a brief artificial snowball fight with my trusty videographer. And I laughed. Just the thought of snow makes me happy. My goal was to share some of that joy with my young audience. Who knows what the winter will bring, with many kids doing school virtually or on modified schedules. But whether they get snow days or not, there’s always the hours after school to be the children that they are and play in the snow. And I’ll be right there with them in spirit. And probably taking my inner child sledding in the park.