Sunday, October 20, 2013

Starabella Books Series

There is always a lot of talk about Autism AWARENESS. And, don't get me wrong, I am a supporter of bringing Autism Awareness to the forefront. But, what I, as a mother of a young son on the spectrum, want more than anything is ACCEPTANCE. Some may see acceptance as being the same as awareness, but it is so much more than that.

While I could care less how MUCH you learn about autism, I only sincerely wish that my son be accepted for the brilliant, loving and bright spirit that he is. It is the much EASIER thing for one to chose to be accepting, for it requires only you open your heart. Acceptance doesn't require that you give money, walk an organized walk or read an article. Acceptance requires that you value all that these magnificent spectrum children have to offer. And, what they have to offer is so valuable. I always tell my boys, "Wouldn't it be so boring if we were all alike?"

When I was a young girl, my favorite book was Fanny by Stephen Cosgrove. The book is about a cat that has three legs. Because he has three legs, the other farm animals treat him different and pretty much resort to ignoring him. In the end, a silly puppy befriends him and finds out that the three legged cat is not much different than him at all. I still love the story and read the boys the exact book I read all those years ago.

When I had heard of the book series called Starabella, I was intrigued because it was a story of acceptance, similar to that of the book Fanny. The story books follow the adventures of a young girl named Starabella. Starabella soon starts to realize that she is different than other children. Starabella has Autism.

There are many things I love about this book series. First and foremost, I love that the stories are centered around ACCEPTANCE. I believe that if we are to expect ACCEPTANCE, we have to teach and model it early in a child's life.

I believe that this book series provides important stories for Brady, as it explains to him that he is not alone. But, even more importantly, I believe this book series is important for my younger son Weston, as it shows him that even though Brady may act differently, he is more alike than different! Through the same stories I am able to explain to each of my sons what ACCEPTANCE is, looks like and why we want to be accepting.

I used the books similarly to how you would use a social story to explain situations to a young child. With each boy I would read a chapter and we would talk about feelings, actions and explore their understanding of what happened. The books have provided a variety of prompts to engage language rich conversation with both Brady and Weston.

Second, I love how the books shows that a child on the spectrum is not so different than other children. Children on the spectrum want to fit in, be loved and dream big dreams. And, besides the main character having Autism, the book explores difficulties other kids face. Especially in the series' third book, the stories explore other differences such as physical disabilities and race. What I appreciate is that these difference are address in a subtle, less abrupt way and is easy for a child to follow. I really believe the first step to teach acceptance is to show how beautiful differences are rather than how odd being different is.

Lastly, besides being beautifully illustrated, the series is interactive and has a musical element to it. At least with my boys, music resonates with them. Both boys enjoyed the books with and without the music!!! They remind me a lot of the interactive story books that were read when I was in primary school.

And, if at first glance you think this is a story book series just for little girls, please realize it is not! My boys really enjoyed the adventures of Starabella.

The author Sharon Fialco is a mother of a young woman on the spectrum named Tara. I am always inspired by other Spectrum Moms who have walked the same path as I am walking now. I am always so curious how everyone manages and what their advice for me would be. Ms. Fialco was gracious to answer a few questions. I thought I'd share with you her answers

Ms. Fialco, what inspired you to write the Starabella series?
Tara was a very enthusiastic child filled with spirit and delight for exploring and learning about her world. She brought us much joy. We celebrated her many abilities but were also puzzled by some of her unusual behaviors. 

Upon entering school, Tara was made to feel there was something "different" about her. She was teased and isolated from play. Her spirit began to dwindle and she began to question her self-esteem. As parents, it was very painful to feel helpless to adequately influence her school environment to accommodate her learning and social needs.

Tara received a gift that would alter her life and ours. Her grandparents sent her their piano from their home in St. Louis to our new home in Honolulu. It turned out that Tara could play any music she had ever heard by ear and soon began to compose her own music. She used her music to express her emotions, dreams and reflections of the world around her. One of her songs: "Welcome to a Bright New World" depicted a magical musical world, far more accepting than the one she had to face each day. This son became the inspiration for the Starabella series. In this bright new world "children played and got along and were accepted for exactly who they were". 

Our family collaborated to produce the Starabella series to bring Tara's dream to other children, their families and teachers to help make the dream to reality.

The stories help teachers guide children to make social choices based on empathy. Through the Starabella stories, children learn to recognize what makes themselves and each other special. They learn at early age to listen to the good voice inside themselves rather than following the loudest, most threatening voice.

The messages in the Starabella stories are told through the medium of art and music. The audio and visual presentation appeals to different styles of learning.

What is the most important lesson your daughter's ASD taught you?
The most important lesson I have learned from my daughter is that it is important for her to believe in herself. This can be challenging for children with autism or any extra challenge living in a world asking them to conform. Children should be given the opportunity to reach for their own goals in their own special ways.

What would be your advice for those who are beginning their readings of the Starabella series with their children?
The Starabella books are presented in a new format. To experience the stories it is necessary to listen to the fully-narrated audio CDs with music and sound effects enclosed on the inside cover of each book. It is best to listen to the audio CDs while following along with the pictures in the books. There are song lyrics at the end of each book so children can sing along with the music.

The picture books are divided into chapters so that the stories can be presented one chapter at a time according to the attention span of the individual child. The recording can be paused at various times to discuss the messages in the stories. 

Book Three of the series is interactive. Children are asked to use a "magical mirror" in the book to help make social choices based on empathy to help themselves and Starabella's classmates get to the bright new world. The mirror can be used by children to identify emotions shown in their facial expressions. If they see a smile, their eyes, like Starabella's when she's happy, will SHINE LIKE STARS. This shows them that they have made a friendly choice.

Anything else you would like to add?
The Starabella stories are fun for all children, with and without extra challenges, to listen to and interact with. They are like listening to a radio theater quality production. Children will want to dance, sing and dream along to the music.

The story of Starabella speaks directly to the place in all children that yearns for acceptance and understanding. Together, children can create the world of their dreams.

Starabella becomes a kindergarten rock star who leads children to a BRIGHT NEW WORLD! Follow her there!

These books are such a gem! They really should be a standard issue in schools! We visit these books often and the boys thoroughly enjoy them! I'm purchasing a copy of the series and donating them to our local library! That's how much I love them!

To learn more about the book series or to purchase your own set (or perhaps a set for your local school or library!), please visit the Starabella website


Here is the official book description:

Starabella 3-Book Narrated, Musical Picture Book Series
For children ages 2–8
by Sharon, Tara, and Dana Fialco

Starabella is a courageous little girl with learning differences who composes beautiful music to express her thoughts and feelings. Her experiences and musical vision teach children the value of celebrating differences, listening to the good voice inside themselves rather than following the crowd, and of determination and imagination. The 3-book Starabella series begins Starabella's journey at home in Book 1, where her parents first welcome her into the world and watch her start to grow up. They discover their daughter's mysterious challenges and musical talent, along with her inspiring determination. Starabella then ventures out in the community as a small child in Book 2, where she struggles with conforming to societal expectations but learns to believe in herself. Finally, in Book 3 she enters a diverse kindergarten classroom, where she and other classmates experience bullying and social division. Through her magical music and lyrics, Starabella leads her kindergarten classmates and listeners to the Bright New World of her dreams where all children play, get along, and are accepted for exactly who they are. A question/answer segment in Book 3 allows children to make friendly social choices to create a classroom environment where all children feel safe and valued. Based on the childhood experiences and music of the author's daughter Tara, a composer who has autism, the Starabella series encourages all children to believe in themselves and have empathy for others. All three books are fully narrated by Tara's sister Dana, featuring 22 original songs, including 17 written by Tara. 
The Starabella stories are for all children with or without extra challenges, but are dedicated to those children with personal challenges who enter the public arena each day with the courage of superheroes. Children listening and following along with the captions in the picture books go on an inspiring journey filled with tuneful music and vibrant colorful illustrations that will stimulate their imaginations. The books are designed to be listened to on the accompanying audio CDs found inside the front cover of each book, but the combination of audio, visual, and printed captions appeal to a variety of learning styles. Children will sing, move, dream, and imagine along with Starabella and discover how good it feels to be a friend. 
For more information:
Sharon Fialco
Starabella narrated musical picture books 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mother Goose Time - Me and My Family

We have been digging our mitts into the Me and My Family themed curriculum! I am having a blast teaching Wes more about our family! I want to share a few of our highlights so far!

My Family Tree
Since Brady attends a modified year round school, he was home with us for the beginning of this month. He joined us in a few of our activities.

The first activity we did was My Family Tree. I adapted the activity by writing our family names on the apples instead of having the boys do it. Since I adapted it this way, I had the boys practice identifying names instead. It was a pretty straight forward activity but the boys loved doing it!

Wes is pretty good with glue now!

"Another photo?"

I gave up trying to get both boys to look AND smile

I love how each created a different looking tree

Pick Me
We have been working hard on pre-writing activities with Wes. I'm so proud that he is able to write his name pretty legible! We use this name tag to identify where he sits a lot of the day. Another way that I've been re-using this name tag is by putting it by items he needs to tend to like his pile of clothes or items that go to his room. Multi-tasking!

Green Wiggles
This month we received super cool color wands. In this activity we used the green wand to identify green objects indoors and in nature. Since we have a fairly large sliding door that looks towards our backyard, I used a chair and asked each boy to sit in it and find things that are green in our yard. By using the chair, it made turn taking and restraint a little easier for Wes. He is kind of in the "blurt out the answers and never let Brady talk" phase.

We keep our Color Wand holder on our fire place mantle. Surprisingly, both boys ask to do this activity quite often.

See the Circle
Generalizing shape identification has been something we have been doing more and more with Wes. "Wes, what shape is this cookie?" "Wes, what shapes are in this wind chime?" "What shapes would you use to make a Christmas tree?"

In the See the Circle activity, we used the provided "Circle" Cube to talk about things that were circles. Wes was pretty good at naming a ton of things that were circles. The one thing I thought was absolutely hilarious is that when presented with a photo of a record, Wes called it a black DVD. It reminded me how different our childhoods are! 

Jack & Jill
We've had a bit of fun talking about the infamous siblings Jack & Jill. 

In one activity, we painted the hill Jack & Jill went up to fetch their pail of water. We started off with hand printing blue and yellow paint up the hill. We sing-songed the rhyme as we placed handprints on the grassy areas. As Wes started to overlap and mix the paints we spoke about how yellow and blue made green. After the paint dried, we used our "grass" to re-enact the rhyme with our cut out Jack & Jill puppets.

We also used our "pails" to do color sorting and talk about all the things we could use pails for, like carrying water, dirt, crayons and as Wes lovingly added "POOP". Boys...

Family Members
Now, this activity may not seem like that big of a deal. But, let me tell you why I think that this one is really important and why I use it with my older son, Brady, who happens to be autistic.

This activity uses a simple picture of several people doing things in a park. It uses magnifying glasses to have your child "look" for specific images in the photo. Once the child has found the image, it gives you prompts to get them talking "ABOUT" what is going on and things they do with their family. This activity is great for Wes, but WONDERFUL for my older son who is working hard on answering open ended questions and carrying on a two way conversation. The photo contains just the right amount of different images but not too many that it is chaotic or confusing. 

I've always raved about how a lot of the Mother Goose Time activities can be saved and re-used in places like waiting rooms, restaurants and at home and this is another one that I'm adding to our outing bag!

This is how you use a magnifying glass, duh!

I've always enjoyed the journaling aspect of Mother Goose Time's curriculum. It's neat for us to look back on the activities we've accomplished through the month.

We started our journal by writing our name on the front.

We then made an UPPERCASE "M" and a lower case "m" with a hand stamped "O" in the middle. Yup, this page and day we talked all about MOM! In the photo below, you can see how I'm placing my hand over most of the page. Because Wes still struggles with spatial awareness when writing, I simply block the page off to make a physical barrier of where he needs to write. He has good control when making an uppercase "M" but needed more hand over hand assistance with the lowercase "m".

The Letter "M"
Mother Goose Time's materials are top notch! I love the Letter cards that come each month. We save and use them all the time. Wes really likes the arrow pointer and we use and re-use it in many activities. After we did the initial letter activity, I used glue to add texture to the letter for more finger tracing practice.

Mom's Helper
Since we mostly run a "One man preschool", Wes gets to do ALL of the helper roles. But, since I want to focus on one role each day, we decided to go over what each helper does.

Then to really make it a fun lesson that would stick with him and I pretended to make a silly mess with all of our foam circles. I should have won an Oscar for the performance I put on. Since Wes was on "garbage patrol" he helped pick them up and reassure me that "messes happen, no big deal".

"Wow mommy! This is a real mess!"

"Dad, I'm on Garbage Patrol!"

Dress Up Daddy Art
We made a Daddy stick puppet that had us chuckling at what Wes thought his daddy looked like. "Mommy, where's the grey crayon for Daddy's hair?"

We started by "looking for Daddy's hat?" and using a "daddy" voice to find it. It was hilarious to hear Wes portray his Daddy in his deep voice. "Where's my hat? Oh my goodness! I NEED my hat!"

This activity worked on a variety of things such as fine motor control (coloring, glueing) and color identification ("what color is daddy's hair/eyes?").

"Maybe under here?"

"Found Daddy's hat!"

Coloring his apple

Apparently daddy's hair is a goldish grey

Read With Me
I know that I've mentioned how much I like the included books. This month's book was My Dad the Tuk Tuk Driver. It's a super cool book about a Tuk Tuk driver in Cambodia (a Tuk Tuk is pedicab). Wes found it fascinating to talk about Tuk Tuks. The book also includes prompts to talk about what is going on in the photos. I love that Mother Goose Time talks about other cultures and brings them into our home! We've looked up on a world map where Cambodia is and Wes wants to go there!

"Mommy, they have the same trees as us!"

Writing Skills
The curriculum included some fun Emergent Writing activity sheets.

Family Dominoes
I have to admit, I've never played dominoes before. EVER. So, I had no idea how it went. This month, the curriculum included a family domino activity. Because this was the first time for both of us, I placed the cards in one big pile and we took turns matching our cards in domino fashion! It was actually pretty fun! We bagged them up and plan on using this one on the go! Maybe I need to invest in some real dominoes!

As always, Mother Goose Time is a ton of fun! I love this month's theme of Me and My Family! If you'd like to learn more about the Mother Goose Time boxed curriculum, please visit their website at Homeschooling Wes for preschool has been fun for our entire family. If you are considering it but don't know if it's for you, I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Camera Giveaway Time!!!!

Join me and my blogger friends for a huge-gantic (yes, I just made up that word!) giveaway! Just in time for the holiday season, we are teaming up to give away a Canon or Nikon Bundle worth $1000!!!!

Do you love taking photos but can’t afford a professional camera? Thanks to Mom Spark,Gimmie FreebiesThe Hopeless Housewife, and some other awesome blogs and businesses, Miss Momvocate along with Pretty My Party, is giving away your choice of a Canon or Nikon digital camera bundle! Choose between a Canon EOS Rebel T5i bundle worth over $1,000 or a Nikon D5200 bundle worth over $1,000!

This is a blog/business sponsored giveaway. The full list of sponsors can be seen on the Rafflecopter entry form: Design DazzleMeasured By the Heart,Where the Green Grass Grows DesignsThe Johanson JourneyDebbie Kennedy Events & DesignThe Pretty Party Shoppe.
Rules: The giveaway is open worldwide to all participants age 18 and older. If the winner resides outside of the U.S. they are required to pay shipping or opt for PayPal cash in exchange of the prize. The giveaway is open until midnight EST October 18, 2013. One winner will be chosen randomly through Rafflecopter. The winner will be notified by email from Please make sure that email is on your safe email list and doesn’t end up in your spam folder. The winner will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. The winner will be announced on Pretty My Party after the giveaway ends.
Disclosure: This giveaway is blog/business-sponsored and is in no way associated with Canon, Nikon or any of its products, Rafflecopter, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, Pay Pal, or any other social media platform. Pretty My Party and those bloggers and businesses participating receive no compensation to promote Canon or Nikon products, especially digital cameras.
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