Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top 10 Ways to Spend your Winter Break!

Written by: Lauren Viner

Instead of spending your winter vacation sitting watching old holiday movies (which you have probably seen a dozen times already) or playing video games, why not try some of these fun, cheap activities. Great for spending time with family or friends!

1. Go skating at a nearby outdoor rink like Nathan Phillips or Harbourfront. Don't forget to bring a helmet!!!

2. Check out what is happening at some of the local museums. The Ontario Science Centre is always a blast, and the diamond exhibit at the ROM is definitely worth seeing.

3. There are some fantastic shows that are great for kids playing in the city right now. Check out Sleeping Beauty's Enchanted Castle playing at Casa Loma, or Cinderella at the Elgin Theater. Or for something for our adult readers, take a trip down memory lane and go see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Canon Theater.

4. I love going to the local library whenever I get a chance. There are often programs being offered, and it is a great way to spend the day. If you don't know of any good books to read, ask the librarian for a recommendation.

5. The Trail of Lights at Downsview Park or the Cavalcade of Lights at Nathan Phillips Square are absolutely beautiful. With caroling and music, these light shows will make for a festive evening.

6. Have a game night with family or friends. My personal favourites to play with a group: Taboo, Cranium and Scrabble.

7. Need a craft idea? Take out a book of art activities while you are at the library! I have always been a fan of the "White Wash Blizzard".
Instructions for "White Wash Blizzard": Draw a picture of the outdoors using crayons. Cover the entire page. Take white paint and cover the whole picture. The paint doesn't stick to the wax of the crayons so it looks like a blizzard!

8. Have an indoor picnic or camp out in the basement. I'm not one for cold, so I pretend its summer vacation instead! Try drinking lemonade or making s'mores over the fire.

9. Find a good book to read and curl up in front of the fireplace with a blanket and some hot chocolate. What could be more relaxing?

10. Baking is always a fun activity. Try making shortbread with fun shapes, or make your favourite cookie recipe and decorate with icing and your favourite topings. I'm a brownie fan, so I always love making my favourite brownie recipe and then decorating like its a cake. Try this brownie recipe and you will never buy store-bought brownies again.

Death by Brownies
Preheat oven to 350F

1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
3 large eggs
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla

Melt butter, add sugars, cocoa and vanilla, and mix together.
Beat in 1 egg at a time
Add the flour and baking powder, mix until smooth and glossy

Pour into a greased and floured 9"x13" (22cmx33cm) pan, bake for 30 min (Centre will be firm but not hard)
Cool and enjoy!!!

Happy Holidays!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Safer Schools?

Written by: Adam Kertesz

If you live in Toronto, then unless you've been living under a rock for the last 2 years, you are well aware of the disturbing rise in violence in our schools. Mitch brought this topic up last week and it appears someone was listening (ok, fine, this report was mandated long before Mitch asked what was being done to help curb school violence, but the timing is awfully suspicious if you ask me... but i digress...)

In February, less than a year after a tragic school shooting in Toronto (not the first, or the last one), the Safe Schools Action Team was mandated to "review issues of gender-based violence, homophobia, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behaviour by students towards other students and a review of the Local Police/School Board Protocols, including but not limited to reporting requirements".

The Safe Schools Action Team, and consequently this report, are guided by several principles, but one important one in particular: "students are more able and more more motivated to do well and achieve their full potential in schools that have a positive school climate and in which they feel safe and supported. " Those last few words are crucial. There is a difference between 'being safe', and 'feeling safe'. We are often told by our government that we are 'safe', be it from terrorism, a horrible snow storm, the city's infrastructure, or economic uncertainty, but it doesn't mean anything if we don't feel safe. The kids in our schools, and their parents and guardians as well, must feel safe, not just be told that they are safe.

So what did the report show? The findings were not surprising of course, and I found the recommendations to be interesting and hopeful-with one caveat, which I'll get to later. The recommendations covered many different areas. For the sake of not writing a novel and losing the growing readership that this blog is getting, I'll touch on only a few of them. I've highlighted only key elements of the following recommendations.
[Read the report here]

  1. Curriculum- The Safe Schools Action Team recommends changes to the curriculum including revising the Health and Physical Education curriculum and developing a senior level course that would focus on character development, healthy relationship skills, citizenship and community.
  2. Prevention, Awareness Raising, Intervention- All school staff must intervene to address inappropriate and disrespectful behaviour. (By the way, there is an awesome suggestion from the Toronto District School Board entitled 'How to Handle Harassment in the Hallways in Three Minutes'- can't link right to it, so check out Appendix C of the report)
  3. Response and Support- School boards must provide staff with the necessary skills to respond to and support students who disclose or report incidents
  4. Reporting- All school staff must report to the principal any incident that should be considered for suspension, or that the principal is required to call the police for.
  5. Student Leadership- (I love the fact that the report touched on how students can step up to help their own cause. This will not just all come from the schools). Publicly funded schools must support students that want to engage in school-led clubs, must engage school councils and student councils to support these student-led activities, and give students opportunities to take a leadership role in prevention and intervention strategies.
  6. Training- School boards must provide teachers, and all other school staff the training necessary to effectively respond to gender-based violence, homophobia, sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

All in all, a fascinating report that I hope will be looked back upon one day as being groundbreaking. The caveat that I mentioned above? At the end of the day, the report is just that, a report. It is just words. The onus now falls on the school boards, the educators, the parents, and yes, even the students. I'll even throw organizations such as ourselves in there- as being a prominent and active member in the youth sector gives us the same responsibility to foster a safe environment for our children. We all want the students to feel safe again at school. It is time to step up. All of us.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Aristotle said it best...

Written by: Mitch Zeltzer

"All adults involved with children either help or thwart children's growth and development, whether we like it, intend it or not." -Aristotle

Whether it is your intentions or not you are teaching the children around you about 'character'. You must always be aware of the things you say/do, the way you say/do them and who is there to hear/see them.

Just because it isn't in your lesson plan, it doesn't mean the children will stop learning!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Roots of Youth Violence

Written by: Mitch Zeltzer

Violence involving our youth is obviously a serious issue that is of great concern for most parents, educators, and children. Everyday, it seems, stories in the news remind us that youth violence is on the rise. In recent years, a lot of attention has gone toward Character Education to help the youth make better life choices, and in turn should help reduce youth violence. I feel, that we need to take Character Education to the next level and push toward Character DEVELOPMENT. It's the difference between 'telling' children about the right choices in life and guiding them through difficult 'experiences' that show them first hand the consequences of our actions... both good and bad!

I recently came across a very interesting review that was established by the Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty in June 2007. The review - which can be found here- identified five youth risk factors for involvement in serious violence.

These 5 risk factors are:
  1. a deep sense of alienation and low self-esteem
  2. little empathy for others and suffer from impulsivity
  3. belief that they are oppressed, held down, unfairly treated and neither belong to nor have a stake in the broader society
  4. belief that they have no way to be heard through other channels
  5. no sense of hope

So, I guess the challenge to all of us out there -whether you are an educator, parent, camp counsellor, youth league coach, or even an older sibling- is what are we doing to help minimize these risk factors? What are you doing for the youth to boost self-esteem, develop empathy, create a sense of belonging, and motivate?

Please share your thoughts, techniques, ideas, and methods by posting a comment to this message.

Let us collaborate to find a solution! An old saying we have here at Dynamix is: "Great minds think TOGETHER!"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"Tips from an Underage Overachiever"

Written by: Lauren Viner

Last week, in between preparing myself to leave for work and trying to finish my coffee without spilling all over myself, I was inspired by this young person who was being featured on Breakfast Television. I had to sit down and listen to what he had to say.

His name was Bilaal Rajan, a 12 year old boy from Richmond Hill, who had just published his first book which he was promoting on the show. The book, entitled, Making Change: Tips from an Underage Overachiever provides kids with tips on how to fundraise. He wanted it to empower youth and show them that they can make a difference in the world.

To date, he has raised over $5 million for UNICEF through fundraising efforts, and is the youngest ambassador EVER for UNICEF worldwide. I found this absolutely incredible.

He sounds like such a wonderful kid, and he wants to do so much good in the world. I look forward to seeing what else he will be able to do as he gets older… maybe even goes to high school. Do I see a younger Craig Keilberger here? He has so much to offer. I only hope that he is able to spread his message to the youth and really get kids to see that it is his generation who will help make the world a happier, safer and healthy place to live, no matter what country you are from.

For more information on Bilaal Rajan or his book "Making Change: Tips from an Underage Overachiever" go to

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Having character is cool!"

-Written by Adam Kertesz

I feel honoured, and petrified, to be writing the first real entry of the brand new Dynamix Blog. There is a lot of pressure with writing the very first entry (not including our 'Intro' post). I hope to not let you down. Ok, I admit our readership is probably pretty low at the moment (Hi Mom!), but one day this blog will be hailed by Time Magazine as the most influential blog of our time. But I'm getting ahead of myself here... Let's get started....

I came across this amazing article the other day by way of my Google Reader (if you don't know what this is, look it up. It will change your life.)

As someone who is so passionate about developing character skills in children, it is refreshing to know I am not alone. Ladies and Gentleman, a round of applause for Arthur Birenbaum, a teacher at Richmond Rose Public School in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

To me, Mr Birenbaum is a trailblazer. According to (sorry, a paid dictionary is not in the budget), a trailblazer is:
1. One that blazes a trail.
2. An innovative leader in a field; a pioneer.

Based on this article, Mr Birenbaum initiated a Character Development program at his school 4,5 years ago. There are people in the field today that are just learning this term today, but Mr Birenbaum has been teaching it and instilling it in his school's cutlture for 4-5 years now. Based on the continually rising crime in Toronto over the last couple years, I don't think anyone would disagree with how crucial developing strong moral character is in our youth today. I'd say Mr Birenbaum was certainly ahead of his time, no?

Mr Birenbaum, well done! I look forward to meeting you soon, shaking your hand and thanking you for your committment to a cause that, as someone in the industry, I know can be quite discouraging at times, if we let it. We need more teachers like you out there..

(And with that, the Dynamix Blog is born...)

PS In case you're new to this blogging thing, the proper thing to do now is to comment on how awesome a read that was (and ok, while you're at it, tell me your thoughts on this increasingly important issue.)