Tag: Sparks

SPARKS = Loving to Learn

In the last two weeks, I’ve given you some information on Sparks and how to use them to connect with your children. In the article on March 10 – SPARKS – The Big Fail, I mentioned that when we learn to utilize Sparks, we can help our children love the idea of learning.

Kids have a lot to learn, and often, whether we homeschool or use public or private schools, the love of learning can get buried. We can’t prevent times when school is boring or too hard. But we can keep the desire to learn alive, as we utilize our children’s Sparks.

When I was speaking and teaching, I spent many hours helping parents use their children’s Sparks. I wrote LOTS of articles on the experiences actual families had. I wasn’t the only one experimenting and learning. Today’s article was written in 2012, the same year I had my big fail and many big wins.

My friend, Leah, was taking her family to Florida and wanted them to LOVE the trip and to LEARN a lot. She took the time to think it through and prepare her family for the trip. She got their minds going. Her children were older than my grands but her use of Sparks worked as well for her, as it had for me. We both knew what I wrote in the article two weeks ago – Life is about learning, and the best-lived lives happen when we continue to learn. Leah wanted this for her boys.


Here is an email I received from Leah and my response. Then I will share what Leah did with the information and how the trip went.

Hi Mary Ann,
I have a favor to ask. I really need a “jump start” and I knew you could help me. I feel a little like I am in a brain freeze right now…We are taking the kids to Orlando for a huge Disney World trip. I want to inspire some Florida learning…but I need a tiny little jump start. Off the top of your head…could you walk me through some first starts? Just to get me motivated and the juices flowing. Just a few quick ideas of how or where I could start! Thank you! Leah S. (shared with permission.)

Here is what Leah was really asking – We have this terrific trip coming up. How can I get my children on board, be excited to learn, and have a great time too?

Here is what I came up with in just a few short minutes, seriously just a short time:

1. Start with a map. It’s fun for children to see where they live in relationship to where they are going. Attach the map to a wall and run a piece of yarn from your state to the one you visit. If you have older children, they can rubber cement the string along the major roads you will be traveling. (Just today, 3-19-24, my husband asked me to show him on a map where a relative lived, in relation to our daughter who lives in MO.)

When I was in school one of my favorite things was to make my own maps. You can print a map or draw one. Let your children find the information to complete their maps or do one map as a family.

Here are some things you can put on your maps– state capitol, the state abbreviation, the largest city, major rivers, and lakes, and major industries (find out what part of the state the industries are found and then draw a picture or glue a miniature to that area), state nickname, motto, and song.

Now you can draw a picture on the side of the map of the state flag, state bird, state tree, state flower, state mammal, and state water mammal, etc. This will not appeal to all children, but I would have loved it and so will others, especially if it is done as a family.

2. Know up front where you are going. States are big places and usually varied in their topography. So, plan ahead. Then you can go online and find out what fun things there are to do where you are going and what the landscape is like.

3. Get some great books from your library, with pictures and information about the state you are visiting. As you know from last week’s article SPARKS -The Big Win, I love books and so do my children and grands. When I have opportunities to learn with them, we begin with books.

4. Read a chapter book as a family. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings loved and wrote about the people of Florida. She wrote The Yearling which takes place in Florida. There is also a state park in Florida called the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park.

5. Get some books about the odd and wonderful animals you can find in Florida: dolphins, manatees, panthers, alligators, etc. Play charades using only the animals and birds found in Florida.

6. Learn about some of Florida’s famous sports teams.

7. Give each child a journal, rubber cement, etc. so they can write about the trip, and capture photos, postcards, and other mementos, rather than waiting until they’re back home. In the moment there is more excitement and enthusiasm for the job.

These fun ideas make learning about any state interesting and exciting. When you have a family trip coming up you can do many things to interest and excite your children. Begin talking weeks before the trip. Have mini-conversations and dinner conversations. Have conversations in the car, driving from one appointment to another. Get the fire going.


The next day Leah emailed back and confirmed what I had been teaching moms and dads for years. When you step out and start, resources (thoughts) show up no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. I want you to see what happens when you start, even if you are scared, don’t know anything, or feel unable. Here is Leah’s email. (Shared with permission.)

Hi Mary, I emailed you during some feelings of doubt in my efforts and frustration (you may have been able to tell). My 9-year-old, Miles, was looking over my shoulder reading my email, so I was a little embarrassed that he may have seen it. I tell you that because I wanted to start TODAY with Florida stuff. So, I did just that…just stared…started with a map.

labeling, tracing, and coloring. We traveled from Utah on the map state by state. We looked at all the states we would fly over and talked about what we might see out the window.
Then we got into the explorer Ponce de Leon for a while, and are getting more info on him and his explorations. We talked about the American Revolution and how Florida was under Spanish rule.

Then we got to the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys; now we are studying bridges, how they’re constructed, and even building a bridge for our hot wheels out of popsicle sticks. got us cars came about because the original bridge wasn’t necessarily designed for automobiles. What was it like to live without cars, when in history did they begin to have cars? Then we went into boats and how they cross these bridges. We built a bridge out of Unifix cubes and tried at dinner to use our spoons and forks to understand how they could anchor pillars, or the like, into the ocean to sustain a seven-mile-long bridge!

Then we got into how long seven miles is and the running race held on the bridge every year. I could go on and on, ALL in ONE day. And we could have done more.

I was exhausted though and ran out of time! : ) Now I have so much more to go on, thanks to you. The kids are thrilled and say it makes more sense when they know about the place they’re going. Thank you, thank you for your quick response. I do have a lot of faith in you and always will! Love, Leah”


These kinds of activities and conversations went on for the few weeks before the trip. The kids were so on board. They loved learning all this cool stuff. There were awesome dinner conversations and car conversations.

When Leah and her family returned from their trip to Florida, she told me it was AMAZING!! One of the things that made it so amazing was planning ahead, creating a Spark and then a roaring fire, teaching, and being with her boys. The process had them very excited and created great anticipation.

When you watch for Sparks, and then respond, it can be magical for your family and help children have a lifelong desire to learn, no matter what happens in their schooling.

Sparks – Watch and respond. It makes a difference.


Last week I shared information about Sparks and how valuable they can be in building child-parent relationships. I also shared my big failure when it came to one of my grandsons Sparks. Let’s have a quick review.

In my book Becoming a Present Parent  I wrote that the value of seeing your child’s Sparks is that it’s a wonderful way to get Present with your child. It’s powerful not only in helping them love learning but also in creating tighter relationships. So, what is a Spark? Simply put, a Spark is anything that a child says or does that lets you know they’re interested in something right now.

Last week I told you that over the next couple of months, I would randomly share examples of Sparks, how fun they can be, and how connecting. Today, I want to share a BIG win. This, like the fail, took place in 2012.

The Octopi Spark

Ring! Ring! “Hello.” “Grandma, I want to learn about octopuses.” When there is a “spark” you have to jump on it. Remember my elephant fiasco?

What is octopus plural?

According to Merriam-Webster, throughout history the word “octopus” has been pluralized as octopuses, octopi, and the more unusual octopodes. Any of the three options is fine proving that grammar isn’t always black and white. This is a fact that we learned while engaging in Jack’s Spark, octopuses. Jack, Maggie, Mary, and I thought you would like to know. : )

Books, books, books! We always start with books when following a Spark. My grands love books and books about octopuses were no exception.

This was the funniest thing we learned in our books – The octopus has a squirter (siphon or funnel) and he uses it to shoot backward. We practiced sucking in air, and then shooting it out as fast as we could and letting our hands shoot backward. Mary loved it, Jack was a bit unnerved, and Maggie just laughed.

Want a few more amazing facts to help kids learn about octopuses?

  • An octopus can open a jar lid to get at the food inside.
  • The octopus has a parrot-like beak – yikes and he isn’t even a bird!
  • An octopus has eight arms and no legs.
  • An octopus has no bones so it can wiggle into very tiny spaces.
  • An octopus hunts for food at night.
  • If an octopus is under attack it can squirt a cloud of black ink and get away.
  • Moray eels like to bite off octopus arms for lunch!
  • An octopus can change its color from black to white to red.
  • An octopus can change the texture of its body so it is hard to find.
  • An octopus’s home or lair is called a midden.

I love crafts that cost no money and use what I already have on hand. In this case. we used toilet paper rolls, construction paper, tape, wiggle eyes, and stickers. We created our own octopi and the grands had a grand time. No pun intended. I have given you instructions below so that you can help your kids make their own octopi. Last week I shared that you can light a Spark and use it the same as if it originated with the child.

Please notice Jack’s face. Because I jumped on this Spark he was fully involved. He enjoyed every minute we spent together.

As usual, we ended our activity with another very silly book about an octopus who almost became soup. The pictures were funny and Maggie, who is 5 ½, with cerebral palsy, laughed and laughed at the silly things that went on.

I must confess that we did not eat any octopus for lunch! We found chocolate teddy grahams, cheese, and hot dogs much more satisfying.

We had a wonderful time together laughing and learning. It was a fun Spark and we loved being together.


1. Cut the toilet paper roll in half. Measure it on your construction paper and draw a pencil line.

2. Cut eight strips (arms) from the edge of the paper to the pencil line.

3. Glue or tape the construction paper to the toilet paper roll with the arms hanging down.

4. Roll the arms on a pencil or marker so they curl up.

Books About Octopi

  • Octopuses by Michele Spirn
  • The Octopus by Mary M. Cerullo
  • Octopus soup by Mercer Meyer
  • Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka – I do not like this book but Maggie (5 1/2) laughed uproariously!
  • Octopuses, Squids, and Their Relatives by Beth Blaxland
  • Octopuses by Carol K. Lindeen
  • An Octopus is Anoying by Patricia Lauber
  • Gentle Giant Octopuses by Karen Wallace
  • My Very Own Octopus by Bernard Most
  • An Octopuses Garden by Stephanie Steve-Borden
  • Octopus Socktopus by Nick Sharratt
  • Have You Ever Seen an Octopus with a Broom by Etta Kaner

Watch for Sparks from your littles to your teens. Sparks will help you listen, enjoy, and bond.

SPARKS – The Big Fail!

Years ago, I spent a great deal of time with my grands that live in Utah. We lived one block away. This was before we consolidated our two families into a three-generation home. My daughter, Jodie, was homeschooling. At that time, I was teaching and mentoring mothers who homeschooled. Then I made a transition. I realized that many of the excellent things I was teaching applied to a whole spectrum of parenting, not just those who homeschooled.

Over the ensuing years, I have shared many of the lessons I taught to those long ago homeschool moms and have demonstrated how they apply to every family.

One of those lessons was the idea of Sparks. I wrote my first article on this cool subject in April of 2010. Wow, that was a long time ago. I love the idea of Sparks and have written many articles on the subject since then. In that early article, Sparks Bring Learning to Life. I explained what a Spark is and how it can help you, as a parent, help your child love the idea of learning. This is certainly valuable if you homeschool, but equally valuable if your children attend public or private school. Life is about learning, and the best-lived lives happen when we continue to learn. It is helpful when we show our children how fun learning can be and that is done best when we respond to their Sparks, the things they are already interested in.

In my book Becoming a Present Parent  I wrote that the value of seeing your child’s Sparks is that it’s a wonderful way to get Present with your child. It’s powerful not only in helping them love learning but also in creating tighter relationships. So, what is a Spark? Simply put, a Spark is anything that a child says or does that lets you know they’re interested in something right now. The article mentioned above will teach you how to recognize a Spark and then how to use it to create fun, family-learning moments, and to solidify your parent-child relationship.

Over the next few months, I want to share some examples of how I, and other parents, were able to use Sparks to connect with our kids. They are fun ideas that you can incorporate with your children, even if they haven’t shown up as a Spark, because you can also ignite Sparks. Light a spark and watch it burn!

Besides, it’s nice to have a quiver of ideas in your back pocket, especially with summer right around the corner and the sometimes boring days it brings. Learning slows down and tech takes over. It is useful to have some fun ideas and then gather your kids around for some non-tech enjoyment. We are talking about kids under twelve, but occasionally teens will hang around and even join in.

One of the reasons I’m going to tackle this issue of Sparks in the next couple of months is because I’m going to be spending LOTS of time caring for my grands. I fly to Seattle for a week, mid-month, where my grands range in age from almost twelve to four. Then it’s on to Colorado for a week. These grands range in age from married with kids, down to age four. I need a reminder, because as I see Sparks, I can respond, and our time together will be more powerful.

The article I am sharing this week was written in late 2011 and is about an epic failure in the Sparks arena. It illustrates the number one thing to remember about Sparks – the younger the child the shorter the Sparks shelf life. So when a Spark pops up you need to be prepared to respond. When you do, the results are amazing. Next week I will share a success.

Oh yes, one other thing. When children know you care about what they care about, regardless of the age of the child, they will open up because they know you care and will respond. This goes a long way in the relationship department, especially with teens.


I go to the library once a month and get four weeks worth of material to share with my grands. On my last trip to the library, I got books about pre-math subjects. That’s where my focus was. However, Jack’s was on elephants.

Each week I visit my grands with my recognizable plastic bucket filled with interesting items. Two weeks earlier, when the bucket went visiting Jack said, “Hi grandma, you brought the bucket. I asked him if he knew what we were going to do that day and he got a huge grin on his face and said, “Yes, elephants.” I pulled out the contents and we had a fun afternoon, but no elephants were included.

The next week when I arrived, I asked Jack, “What do you think we are going to learn about today.” With a huge grin and a face that was lit with the sure knowledge that he knew, he yelled, “Elephants”. I knew right then that it should have been elephants. I had missed my opportunity to respond when the Spark was fresh.

When Jack said he wanted to learn about elephants he fully expected that he would find the materials available the next week. I could see his disappointment when it was something else. We had fun but I sensed he wasn’t fully enthusiastic because what he wanted to know about was elephants.

This last week I was prepared with information about elephants. Guess what – I had let the window of opportunity pass by! We did have fun, but I could see that the enthusiasm he had had two weeks earlier was not present. Imagine how joyous would have been our experience if I had materials about elephants the week before. It would have made a difference.

I am going to spill it and tell you why I didn’t have things going well when it came to elephants. Frankly, the first week I missed it. I heard him say elephants and I let it pass right through my head. I didn’t want to go to the library again, I wanted to use what I already had prepared, and I was excited about the pre-math stuff. Then I forgot about elephants until the next week when Jack’s happy, anticipation-filled face reminded me. I had been thinking about my needs and not Jack, so I had completely missed the Spark.

When I did show up with elephants in the basket on the third week it was fun, but Jack wasn’t as engaged as he sometimes is, and we didn’t do half of what I had prepared. The younger the child, the more important it is to hear and respond to a spark quickly. They move from one interest to another fast.

Tips to help you respond to your child’s Sparks

  • Have a consistent place to make notes to yourself. When Jack mentioned elephants, I should have written it down or noted it in my phone, so I wouldn’t forget. If the Spark requires a trip to the museum etc., you need help to remember because it will require planning. Although we should respond to a Spark as soon as we can, occasionally time will pass so have a way to remind yourself.
  • If you can’t make it to the library for books, then use the internet. It will only take 10 minutes max to print off a page of info. that you can read and prepare in your mind, as well as a few pictures. You can also all gather at the computer. Then while you share the pictures you can ask questions and slip in some facts. There are always craft ideas and cute lunch and snack ideas online for just about any subject. There are free worksheets and color pages online for any topic you can think of, including elephants. Add another 5 minutes and you can have those downloaded and printed.
  • Take another 10-15 minutes to gather your materials for crafts and plan snacks so that you can introduce something fun over the next few days. I always use what I have. I rarely make a special trip to the store. I am averse to buying when I can make do. So, if I need a straw and I don’t have one I call my husband and he stops at Wendy’s after work. If I need a feather and I don’t have one, I make one from paper. If I need sliced turkey and I don’t have it, I figure out how to make peanut butter or tuna work. In 30 min. or so, you can have wonderful ideas that work for a week or two, that help you respond to your child’s Spark. They will love that you noticed. And this works in reverse. You can use this 30 minutes on something you would like them to be interested in and they may be Sparked.
  • If you have things to do and don’t we all put them on hold for 30 minutes and respond to the spark, even if it’s only a short conversation, reading a short book online, or asking them questions. Your child will be excited and much more engaged.
  • Most of all, remember that seeing Sparks is about seeing your children’s interests and needs. When you begin using these strategies you create magic and children learn to love learning.
  • Catching Sparks is usually easy, but responding to them is a skill we develop over time. So don’t become discouraged when you have a fail like I did with the elephants. Just keep practicing.

‘Light a spark and watch it burn!’