Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April is Jazz Appreciation Month

Did you know that April is Jazz Appreciation Month? Neither did I and I'm a Jazz singer! Well, as I did in March for National Nutrition Month, I want to highlight some Barefoot Books selections that might help you and your family develop or deepen an appreciation for Jazz music - and music in general.  Again, new blog followers will receive a 10% discount code so follow and then Click Here to begin shopping! Once you've started following I'll email you the code.

Ok, now for the Jazz! When you visit my Barefoot Books site you'll see a page link to the left "World Music" click there and you'll find some deeply exciting music. There are two full pages of Putamayo Kids cd's with music from around the world. However, there are a number of options for different types of Jazz. This is America's music - created in New Orleans, New York, Chicago, Kansas City, and throughout the deep south Jazz is inextricably linked to post-Civil War era American history. As America grew into the industrial age and beyond, Jazz has reflected the ebs and flows in American culture. Through various wars,  the Civil Rights movement, the Red scare and communism, Women's Rights, technological advancements this style continues to grow in exciting new and inventive ways everyday thanks to amazingly creative and visionary musicians and composers!  Jazz and it's derivative counterpart Blues have influenced world music for over 100 years. Introduce this living breathing piece of American history to your children today!

Jazz Playground CD

From bebop to swing to Latin and African jazz, this multicultural collection celebrates the vibrant diversity and global influence of jazz.

New Orleans Playground CD

March through the rich, musical landscape of New Orleans. The twelve lively tracks on this CD are accompanied by extensive liner notes in English, French, German and Spanish.

Swing Around the World CD

Let loose with this global dance party of swinging music. The twelve songs are accompanied by extensive liner notes in English, Spanish, German and French.

Now here are some book titles with singalong cd's to help you further instill a love of all music in your children. Visit my Barefoot Books page to see all the wonderful options!

The Farmyard Jamboree $16.99

Sing and dance along with a young boy who introduces different members of his family along with a new farmyard animal and animal baby on every page of this rollicking early learner, inspired by a Chilean folk tale. The toe-tapping story offers a playful way to practice counting skills. Book with CD editions include song sung by Bob King.

The Animal Boogie  ON SALE NOW! Only $7.49

Can you boogie? Down in the Indian jungle, the children and animals are learning about actions like leaping, stomping, shaking and flapping while meeting different jungle creatures. Book with CD editions include song sung by acclaimed children's performer Fred Penner.

If You're Happy and You Know It! $6.99

In this multicultural version of the traditional song, children from cultures all over the world clap their hands, stomp their feet, pat their heads, and much more. Book with CD edition includes song sung by Susan Reed to continue the interactive fun!

Barefoot Singalong Gift Collection $99.99

Go ahead and try — it is impossible not to sing along with these catchy, educational, and extraordinarily fun books with CDs, packaged in a beautiful, colorful canvas tote bag with a gift tag to personalize. Featuring hardcover editions of The Journey Home from Grandpa'sPort Side Pirates!The Animal BoogieKnick Knack Paddy Whack,Driving my Tractor, and If You're Happy and You Know It! — all with singalong CDs. 

Music is so important and a love of music is something that will follow your children through life. They can benefit immensely from an understanding of music and I would love to help you start your children on that journey. These are infectious song and story selections that will have your whole family dancing and singing along! Spend Jazz appreciation month be-bopping Barefoot style. 

Thanks for your support and appreciation of my site and the arts for all children! Have a great day. Contact me with questions, comments, to join my team, or host and event (online or in person). 


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Benefits of Theatre Training for Kids

I'm so fortunate and grateful for the many exciting and wonderful opportunities I have to be creative. Access to outlets for self expression is something that everyone should have. Often the arts are underplayed, undervalued, and underfunded but when we take time to assess the benefits of these types of programs it is virtually impossible to miss how fundamentally important the arts, in any form, can be.

My love of the stage began at a very early age. I was constantly performing for anyone who would listen (or whom I could force to listen) from about 3 years old - after seeing Annie on television with Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan. This began my lifelong obsession with comedy, musical theatre, and creating  characters because, life is funny and there is no greater comedy than truth.

But I digress...

These days I am a wife and mom first. But I still have to eek out a living and I've had to make working work for me so I have several part-time jobs - blogging is one of them. I also sing and act, write, sell books, teach, and work in the behavioral health field. It's been great to combine all the things I love and make money too. So much of my passion, connection, and various professional opportunities have resulted from the strength of skills developed in theatre. In building my businesses, volunteering, networking, interviewing for jobs, and even just facing challenges that come in the form of difficult people and situations I rely on that foundation to help me navigate.

For nearly 2 years I have been teaching acting, public speaking, and movement to elementary age children. What an amazing journey and it's only just beginning. I will soon be expanding these offerings within the Richmond community (more on that in the coming weeks). But before I began teaching I was working in a community mental health agency developing programs and opportunities to ensure that all people have access to creativity and expression in every environment - often those who need it most have the least access (although I do believe every human needs it). As an advocate for the arts and personal expression I wanted to dedicate this post to outlining some of the benefits of this type of training for all people at any age, stage, or ability.

So here they are:

Rule #1 in my classes Respect Your Fellow Classmates. We clap, we encourage, we listen, and we don't poke fun when someone messes up - often the best art comes from embracing mistakes. Everyone is valued. This rule is essential in theatre but most of all in life.

When we enter into any situation the ability to express our thoughts and ideas in a clear, concise, and articulate manner may be second to none in determining success in life. Whether interacting in professional or personal situations the ability to do so effectively sends a message to peers and cohorts that we can be depended upon to get the job done. This also involves a solid understanding of body language and non-verbal communication.

The mother of one of my students, who is the youngest of three children, recently stated that this training is as important as anything else the kids learn in their school day. She also stated that if her older children had access to theatre training at this age it would have made such a difference in their lives as they entered into middle school. Her youngest daughter, who has taken now 4 of my classes, is far more confident and comfortable with the idea of giving presentations and performing because the skills and opportunity to practice were introduced to her at a young age. I have seen my kids grow more and more comfortable as classes progress. They leave with strength knowing that they can memorize lines, listen for cue pick-ups, speak strongly, take constructive criticism, and work as a team.

Public Speaking
The very act of speaking in public is enough to send a lot of people over the edge. When I was a kid they just said "picture the audience naked." Not helpful! The only way to get used to public speaking is by practicing public speaking. If they start when they are young then this act will become as comfortable as breathing for most kids. Learning to project, enunciate, make eye contact, speak steadily, use inflection, and say thank you to let the audience know they are done - are some of the skills we focus on.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Before and actor can act he or she must prepare. They must learn lines, research the real life aspects of their character, understand where that person comes from, who they are, and how they (the actor) relates and can bring their own individual experiences to a role. Now in my classes (at least with Elementary age kids) I don't go into quite that level of detail, but in preparing any performance the value of being prepared is stressed. Do you have your costume and/or props? Do you know your lines? Do you know where you are supposed to stand (blocking)? Even in classes for pre-school age children we can teach the importance of preparation. Learning the value of preparation has obvious impact on school, job, and overall life performance.

Acting is reacting. In order to react appropriately you must be listening. The ability to listen is a skill that is beneficial in all aspects of life. Everyone likes a good listener. In fact Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, places listening at the very pinnacle of achieving that end. He states, and I'm paraphrasing here, that making people feel important, understood, and listened to is key to winning their respect.

Trusting Your Instincts
This is such an immensely valuable element of success and there are few other arenas in which a person can see almost immediately whether or not a choice was the right one. This helps kids to understand appropriateness of choices, gauge other's reactions, hear their own inner voice, and at times make choices that they feel are right even in the when they might not get the expected response from the audience. Especially important in older kids this skill (or willingness) is fundamentally important when peer pressure kicks in - a kid who is aware of that "inner voice"or "gut feeling" is more likely to listen when he hears it.

Trusting Others
Today we are skeptical. It's a valid and acceptable trait but the ability to suspend our skepticism and innate mistrust of others is important in certain situations. Working closely in a theatrical environment students/actors are often asked to place their trust in their cast mates, especially in improv games which carries into an openness when doing a formal production (and then into life when we find ourselves in a collaborative environment). This ties in directly to the previous element, when we are able to trust our own instincts AND trust those with whom we are working very exciting creative situations can occur! The improvisational theatre mantra is "Yes, and?" Meaning that whatever someone throws at you on stage your response should be - whether stated or implied in your action - "Yes, and?" This is where magic happens.

Thinking on Your Toes
The "Yes, and" mentality requires the ability to think quickly and adapt. This is an essential life mechanism. Sometimes we don't have exactly what we need so we have to improvise. Sometimes in theatre someone forgets a line, makes a wrong entrance, or does something completely unexpected. A person who can keep going, make necessary changes, and build on a mistake is successful. The ability to do this effectively is the result of having developed all of the previously mentioned skills. Imagine how valuable this is in the "real world."

Emotional Connectedness / Generosity
Often we hear celebrity actors being interviewed talking about their cast mates stating how "Generous" they were. This is a reflection of a confidence and supportiveness that is essential in most creative endeavors - but also translates into really amazing group work in any situation. If participants enter into a work group (in school, at work, in an internship or volunteer opportunity) with a sense of openness and understanding that a group is truly only as strong as it's weakest member then everyone will want to be supportive and "generous" of their time, praise, and support. The sort of confidence that is required to do this is something that few people have naturally and most people develop over time with practice and experience. The more we do something the more comfortable we are in helping others to be their very best.

Team Work
This is often considered a term for sports - even though we use it everyday in our lives. Theatre develops team work as effectively as any sport. Again, everyone works together to make a production its very best. This can only occur if each cast member, crew person, director, stage manager, etc. is making their strongest effort. Not everyone is the star player on the basketball team and not everyone is the lead in the play but with a commitment to working together to produce the very best result possible there is a great sense of accomplishment.

No one can force an actor to prepare, be supportive, or come with focus and attention to detail. Only they can empower themselves to commit. Learning lines, making time to practice and improve come from a sense of self-reliance that is an essential counterpart to team work. Theatre teaches kids that others are depending on them to show up and be prepared and the only way to accomplish these goals are with a certain amount to self-reliance. Of course parents and teachers/directors can offer support but the kids themselves have to feel the commitment is theirs.

Ok, well I truly believe there are a million other benefits from theatre training for kids but for the sake of time I will end here. I feel certain that any theatre professional could add several elements as well - the benefits are far reaching but they also differ depending on the individual. Please consider finding an opportunity for your children (and you if you are so inclined) to benefit from the value of creative expression and the many skills that follow theatrical training. If you are in the Richmond, VA area and you are interested in this training for your child, older children, group, or organization please contact me.  Have a great Saturday!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Barefoot Math and Science

These days we understand the importance of Math and Science in helping our kids to be competitive in a global world.  Barefoot Books offers many fun titles that either directly, or indirectly, deepen children's understanding, interest, and practice of Math and Science.  Here are just a few that let you learn and play all at the same time! Click, to visit my Barefoot Books site to begin shopping now!

Kids' Garden

40 fun outdoor activities and games

Get outside and grow with some child-friendly fun with gardening! Kids’ Garden includes forty activities and games and an eight-page booklet that contains information on gardening tools, year-round plant care and garden safety. These step-by-step instructions are enhanced by colorful collage artwork on each double-sided card and they create a fun and easy way for budding green-thumbs to plant, investigate, learn and experiment.

Kids' Kitchen

40 Fun and Healthy Recipes to Make and Share

Step into the kitchen for some child-friendly fun with food. The forty recipes in this colorful deck are based around the five main food groups, and offer a healthy and exciting way to learn about cooking.

Home for a Tiger, Home for a Bear

Dig underground with moles, soar high into the mountains with eagles, and travel down a tropical river with crocodiles. This rhyming selection explores the homes of many different creatures, and includes educational endnotes about the animals and their habitats. Ages 3-8.

Whole World

Share the message, hear the song, and see Whole World come to life! Barefoot Books is donating ten percent of sales from Whole World to benefit global conservation. Sing around the planet, from high in the mountains to low in the valleys, in every town and every city, and with all the fish and birds, trees and flowers! Includes eco-tips on how to live green and a catchy singalong CD, sung by Fred Penner. 

The Real Princess

A Mathemagical Tale

Practice your math skills while enjoying this quirky take on "The Princess and the Pea." The King and Queen and their three sons are on the search for a real princess, but it is only the Queen who knows the secret. After the story, there is an opportunity for readers to test their counting skills with fun number games. Book with CD edition includes story read by actress Juliet Stevenson. Ages 4 to 9.

My Granny Went to Market

A Round-the-World Counting Rhyme

Fly away with Granny and count with her from one to ten as she spins around the world on an unforgettable shopping trip. This colorful, rhyming story is followed by a counting page for reinforced learning. Ages 3-7.

One Moose, Twenty Mice

Count the animals from one to twenty while searching for the cat in this lively hide-and-seek selection that introduces animals like frogs, whales, monkeys, ducks, hens and elephants. Ages 1-4

So much of what our kids learn and value in their education comes from their parents' interests and values. Sometimes it's hard for us parents to get interested in the details of complex math and science. Having books around the house that we read together which illustrate the importance of these skills and put that knowledge into practical applications is a huge part of how parents can get involved in our kids' education. 

Some ways that we can help our kids get excited about Math, Science, and More:
  •  Money play; pretend store, earning cash for work, etc. My kids earn a certain amount of money for each task and if they don't do something on their list they don't get paid. There is a potential earning for each week and an actual earning. This helps them to see what their work is worth.
  • Learning music is a wonderful creative outlet but it also helps kids with fractions, counting, languages, reading, and discipline. 
  • Cooking helps kids understand fractions, chemistry, organization, and process. 
  • Outside play, gardening, and animal care promote an appreciation for earth science and exploration and a connection to their environment.
  • Experimenting, asking questions, and letting them "see what will happen when" gets kids excited about learning and builds confidence.
  • Art projects helps instill creativity to be sure, but also problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Reading together sets the tone for a future of loving books and reading.
These are just a few ways that Barefoot Books is helping you to raise engaged, responsible, well-rounded kids who love to learn and read. Please visit my Barefoot Books website to check out all of these selections and so many more! Contact me directly with questions, to chat, or to discuss how you can make Barefoot Books part of your life by joining my team or hosting an event! 

Remember that a portion of my March sales will be donated to Slow Food RVA, an organization dedicated to bringing healthy, local, delicious food to communities in the Greater Richmond area. Thanks and Happy Wednesday!

Good Night,


Monday, March 21, 2011

Real Life Hero

It is really important to me that everything I do have meaning. Maybe that's a little heavy for this little pocket of the blogosphere but it's true. Tonight I have seen a number of things - posted on Facebook, shared from YouTube, that have really inspired me. These magnificent tools have connected us to the larger world and to daily proof of the innate goodness in people - if we choose to see it. Further, they force me to ask what more can I do and to challenge those around me to ask themselves the same question. I invite you to watch this video and to think about what inspires you and what makes you think.

At times, our world values the money in our bank accounts over the knowledge in our brains, or the love in our hearts - we have the power to balance the scales in favor of compassion, justice, and awareness. I know so many everyday heroes who never make it to CNN, who don't hear thank you as often as they should. I know you do too. People whose motivations are to make the world more peaceful, beautiful, spiritual, and enlightened. They deserve accolades and money and plaques on the wall - and yet for them it's enough just doing the work.

 "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Human beings have an immense capacity for greatness. Whether we are building multi-national corporations or feeding the hungry and abandoned - we can do great things. This wonderful hero has reminded me of the power of human compassion - as a social worker and social entrepreneur I continue to learn by seeing how others love. Everyday we can teach each other and learn from each other.  Everyday is an opportunity.

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."
~Albert Schweitzer

I thank you for giving me a venue to share my inspiration and for helping light the flame within me. The world is a better place because you are here.

With Love,

The Story Mama

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Birthday Fun with Vegan Cupcakes


Well this is my first non-Barefoot Books related post! I have every intention of continuing to do this every once in a while. I just wanted to share a wonderful little book with you all Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz! This book is almost entirely responsible for my ability to remain vegan over the last two years! 

Tonight I made the Easy Agave Nectar Vanilla Cupcakes for my son's 2nd birthday. The kids loved them and I was so glad to know that not only are they vegan but they are also sugar free! Agave nectar, for those who don't know, is a natural sweetener that is extremely low on the glycemic index. It has become increasingly popular over the last few years and now it can be found easily in virtually any supermarket. I use it in my coffee and in baking. The only thing is that you measure it equal to sugar so if something calls for a cup of sugar you use a cup of agave nectar. That's great for small amounts of sugar but larger amounts can change the consistency of your recipe b/c the agave is more like honey and sugar is obviously dry. Also, agave is considerably more expensive than sugar so just keep that in mind. However, this recipe calls for 2/3 of a cup of agave nectar which is more than manageable and it produced moist, yummy, not-to-bad-for-you cupcakes (saying they're healthy might be stretching it a bit). 

For icing I made a variation on a couple of the icings in the book. My family requested chocolate so I bought the dairy free sour cream from the health food section at Martin's. At home I combined 1 cup confectioner's sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/4 cup cocoa powder and stirred. The consistency was a little thinner than traditional icing so I served the cupcakes upside down in a bowl with a dollop of icing on the bottom. The kids got to dip and things didn't get too messy. A good time was had by all! 

The great thing about eating this way is that I always feel less guilty, more creative, and more aware of alternative options. I like to eat so I need to have those choices. Even if you're not vegan check it out! You'll be glad you did. 

Great Barefoot Gift Options

In honor of my beautiful baby boy's 2nd birthday today I thought I would share with you guys some of the great Barefoot Books gift sets! There's something for everyone at every price point.

The Barefoot Singalong Gift Set ($27.99, ages 2-6 years)

Jump and jive to these fun singalong collections.

Get ready to sing and dance along to these lively tunes! Paperback editions of Barefoot best-sellers The Animal Boogie, The Journey Home from Grandpa’s, and The Farmyard Jamboree — all with singalong CDs — are packaged in an eco-friendly, reusable green shopper tote with gift tag to personalize.

Whole World Gift Set ($20, ages 3-7 years)

A great way to teach children about the planet

Sing along and experience the eco-excitement with the hardcover edition of Whole World with music CD and the paperback edition of Whole World: Fun Eco Activities book, packed in a reusable green shopper tote with gift tag to personalize.

Yoga Planet Gift Set ($44.99, all ages)

Bend, twist and breathe!

Celebrate the Green Revolution and bring your inner self into balance with the Yoga Planet and Yoga Pretzels card decks, and the hardcover edition of My Daddy is a Pretzel. This gift set is perfect for family sharing and is presented in an eco-friendly, reusable green shopper tote with a gift tag to personalize.

PBS KIDS Global Gift Set ($19.99, ages 4-10 years) PBS KIDS and Barefoot Books are committed to guiding kids on their own special journey of discovery and growth. So reach into your eco-bag and get ready for an adventure with your little explorer! In these paperback Barefoot Books, children learn to count in Swahili, learn to speak Spanish in Mexico and are introduced to the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. $5.00 from the sale of this product goes to support PBS. Your purchase helps PBS KIDS provide opportunities for all children – from every walk of life – to explore and grow.

Featuring paperback editions of 
Off We Go to MexicoWe All Went on Safari, and We're Sailing Down the Nile.

Princess Gift Set ($34.99, ages 4 - 9 years)

Little princesses will love acting out the stories in The Barefoot Book of Princesses with a beautiful Princess Puppet. Featuring the paperback with story CD edition of the book in an eco-friendly, reusable green tote bag with gift tag.

Natural Child Gift Set ($39.99, ages 8 and up)

Get growing and cooking with our child-friendly card deck editions of Kids’ Garden andKids’ Kitchen
, packaged in an eco-friendly, reusable green tote bag with gift tag.

Fairy Magic Gift Set ($59.99, ages 4-9 years)

Journey to the magical world of make-believe and imagination with the hardcover edition ofThe Faerie’s Gift with story CD, a Mint & Aqua Reversible Fairy Silk Skirt (regular size) and a magical Tooth Fairy Finger Puppet all packaged in an ecofriendly, reusable green tote bag with gift tag.

Little Pirates Gift Set ($28.99, ages 3 - 7 years)

Set sail with this merry crew and enjoy all sorts of pirate fun with the hardcover edition of Port Side Pirates! with music CD, the paperback edition of Pirates Fun Activities and a Macaw Finger Puppet - all packaged in an eco-friendly, reusable green tote bag with gift tag. 

The Gift ($16.99,  ages 8 and up)

The exceptional talents of Carol Ann Duffy and papercut artist Rob Ryan combine to present the story of a girl’s journey through life and the desires that shape it. With a kind of magic that is timeless, The Gift speaks to everyone who wonders about the mysteries that lie at the heart of the human experience.

Laptime Stories Gift Set ($27.99, ages 1 - 4 years)

Share these oversized sturdy board books with your little ones during story time. Featuring the nostalgic illustrations of Alison Jay, I Took the Moon for a Walk and Listen, Listen 
presented in an eco-friendly, reusable green tote bag with a gift tag.

For more ideas visit the Gift Ideas tab on my Barefoot Books website . You can also buy a gift card for the special kids in your life and they can choose their own favorites! Remember, a portion of my March sales will go to benefit Slow Food RVA. They are just one of the organizations with which I regularly partner. We are all working together to create a stronger, healthier, and safer community for our children! You will too by purchasing Barefoot Books from The Story Mama! Thank you for your kindness and support. I'd love to hear about your favorite Barefoot selections. Have a great day.