This month on Online Insights we ask RUOK, pick up some more kids activities ahead of the mid year break, and rediscover how the internet can help you find new ways to earn a living.

Making money can be child’s play

softie-by-wendyWendy Tsao captures everything the next phase of life on this planet has potential to be about; exploring your passion, using the internet to share it with the world, and through this, earning a satisfying income.

Wendy runs Child’s Own Studio, a home-based business in which she makes soft toys based on drawings by children.

She explains it well: I created Child’s Own Studio in 2007, after making a softie (my first ever) based on a sketch that my 4 year old son was constantly drawing. It was a stick man with big round eyes and ten long wispy fingers and it was his self- portrait. When my son saw the softie, he recognized it immediately and with so much excitement that I realized this is what I should be doing with my time and energy. So I began a business making softies based on children’s drawings. Since then, I’ve custom made around 400 soft toys based on children’s drawings, each one as unique as the child who drew it.

Her production process is simple and clear:  Typically, a drawing is sent to me, and I decide if I can work with it. (I normally work only with children’s drawings, hand-drawn and coloured). There may be notes included with the drawing. I may ask for clarification about some details. And then I get to work, in my Vancouver studio. The machine whirs, scissors snip, needles zip, and everything gets covered in fibrefill fluff. Details and color choices are reproduced as closely as possible, and I may use some artistic licence – unless you specifically tell me not to. When I am happy with the finished softie, I take photos of it and send them to the customer, before shipping the softie to the young artist.

What inspires me about Wendy’s work is that it taps into something very special and unique for each child and is bound to create two things at once:

  • A deep affirmation for the child that they can create items of significance in the world
  • A keepsake of profound value when the child becomes an adult and parent later in life

From her perspective, I applaud her vision and her standards. She also doesn’t spread herself too thinly with a note saying that she is booked out for the rest of 2013 with forward orders.

Take a look for yourself at the Child’s Own Studio website. The image, above, is from Dolls gallery on Flickr, which you can access through her website. It was done for Katyanna, 7.

School Sparks

sorting-thingsWhen are children ready for school?

Our system is undergoing a change at the moment, removing the midyear intake from next year, meaning one daughter will start primary school at five years old, the other will be five and a half by the time she gets there.

With this change all about us, my wife sent me a link to some kindergarten worksheets from School Sparks to look through and experiment with in the lead up to these changes, and I must say I learned a few things myself.

Firstly, the worksheets are free (as well as being able to be bought in a complete kit that is possibly cheaper than printing them yourself – approx $50 delivered to Australia) and cover a range of areas, including:

  • The alphabet
  • Maths and numbers
  • Reading skills
  • Auditory processing
  • Visual discrimination
  • Fine motor skills

They’ve been put together by a retired preschool and kindergarten teacher, Renee, who has identified 8 Key Developmental Areas that contribute to school readiness and lasting success in school.

She has also created a preschool readiness test.

As I looked through these resources, I’ve been intrigued by some of the comments Renee shares with each group of activities. For example:

  • In learning letters, she has a particular order to follow – B, M, F, D, S, P, V, T, L, Z, N, W, J, K, H, C, G, Y, R, A, O, I, U, E, Q, and X, based on their simpler shapes and sounds
  • In doing maths, it is important to start with the easy sheets to give children self-confidence, before progressing – and they do progress, right up to bar charts (I don’t think I knew bar charts even existed until late primary school!)
  • In reading skills, we should make a habit of pointing to words as we read them, whether they are in a book or on a street sign, to fuel curiosity in our little ones
  • In motor skills, a small golf pencil is the perfect size and weight for little fingers

This is a rich resource, capped off by the kindergarten and preschool readiness test. It is a multi-page questionnaire that gives you feedback on specific areas for improvement. Here are just some of the questions:

  • Throws a ball accurately
  • Dresses himself/herself
  • Correctly uses a fork/spoon
  • Correctly draws a circle, square, x
  • Understands positional words (example: up, down, beside, over, under, near, far, high, low, etc.)
  • Can comment on differences between pictures in a book (for example, “That hat is blue, but that hat is red” or “That car is smaller than the other car”)
  • When shown a letter, can produce the sound made by that letter
  • Creates a string of 3 or more rhyming words
  • Names printed numerals when seen in random order
  • Initiates independent play without adult direction (is self-directed)

Take a look at the resources at School Sparks. My daughter was proud of her sorting at kindergarten – on her way!

RUOK

ruok-brett-montenAdelaide singer songwriter, Brett Monten, has just released a song called RUOK.

It has a folk feel to it and is about encouraging us to be aware when people around us look withdrawn and having the courage to ask if they’re okay.

The video was shot at Carisbrook Reserve in April, 2013, and my wife and kids are in it (I was travelling at the time), so I got to hear all about it from afar.

Brett says that his family and friends helped fill out the video and he had some very generous support from some professional actors and film crew in getting it shot with a polished finish.

Part proceeds from the sale of the song go to the RUOK Foundation.

On Brett’s Facebook page there have already been some interesting responses including this one:

My life was saved by a stranger who found me dying and bleeding on the road last year, and he saved me. Thanks, this song says it well!

This song does raise one question for me, how do you ask someone if they are okay?

The RUOK website has plenty of resources, here are some tips:

1. Ask the question, ‘Are you ok?’ Start a general conversation; preferably somewhere private. Build trust through good eye contact, open and relaxed body language. Ask open–ended questions like:

  • ‘What’s been happening? How are you going?’
  • ‘I’ve noticed that… What’s going on for you at the moment?’

2. Listen without judgement

Guide the conversation with caring questions and give them time to reply. Don’t rush to solve problems for them. Help them understand that solutions are available when they’re ready to start exploring these.

  • ‘How has that made you feel?’
  • ‘How long have you felt this way?’
  • ‘What do you think caused this reaction?’

3. Encourage action

Summarise the issues and ask them what they plan to do. Encourage them to take one step, such as see their doctor. If they’re unsure about where to go to for help, help them to contact a local doctor or the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

  • ‘What do you think might help your situation?’
  • ‘Have you considered making an appointment with your doctor?’
  • ‘Would you like me to make an appointment or come with you?’

4. Follow up

Put a note in your diary to call them in one week. If they’re desperate, follow up sooner. Ask if they’ve managed to take that first step and see someone. If they didn’t find this experience helpful, urge them to try a different professional because there’s someone out there who can help them.

  • ‘How are things going? Did you speak with your doctor?’
  • ‘What did they suggest? What did you think of their advice?’
  • ‘You’ve had a busy time. Would you like me to make the appointment?’

The RUOK site also says social media can be a great way of sharing positive messages but NOT for publicly commenting on how someone’s coping. Take those conversations off line.

Here’s Brett’s song to get you thinking.

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You can buy Brett’s song on iTunes – RUOK – and you can find support resources at the RUOK website.

RUOK day happens in September each year. The image, above, is from the RUOK video.

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