*

We need a cultural shift with respect to violence now, and we all have a role to play.

Advocating for gun control laws is certainly a big piece of it.  Having more awareness, scientific understanding, and resources for mental health is another huge component. Rethinking the role of and messaging from media in times of violence is integral. Changing the way we discuss violence in our families and communities is still another.

A tragedy like what happened in Newtown, CT could have happened anywhere. As Americans [As teachers, As parents, As children, As someone who lives in CT, As a first responder…you name the connection] we all feel hurt and betrayed by it. But this isn’t about Adam Lanza; this is not an isolated case of ‘crazy’. It’s a bigger problem of a culture of violence in a society where violence is a viable option, and our collective inability to guide smart decision-making within that society. And, unfortunately, this problem won’t be solved by the government, or by nonprofits, or by families raising kids differently. In fact, it might not ever be ‘solved’; that’s a scary thought. That’s why we must do what’s in our power to shift this culture over time from all fronts; only then will we have a chance of seeing the needle move.

*The shooter, Adam Lanza, does not appear on most lists of victims. He is a victim though (and also guilty, no doubt) of a society that in whatever way contributed to this rampage. I mourn him, too, despite hating with all of my soul what he did.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

Mr. Rogers

Even with the helpers to help recover and heal, we still need to better protect communities in the first place so that the scary things on the news are reduced to those scary things out of our control.

Helpers aren’t always the people on the ground immediately following a scary thing. Often, they’re advocates. Be a helper TODAY. Because every day we don’t assume the role as helper, more scary things happen.

Sesame Street answers the question ‘What is a career?‘ with the help of Sonia Sotomayor.

Pros: Cool profession, breakout from gender roles, dream big

Cons: Teleprompter reading, settling on one career, no substantive information about how getting into law school isn’t easy and costs a lot of money and might not even result in a job as a lawyer let alone a judge

Insight: Adults should not be watching Sesame Street

What kind of candy are you buying?

With Halloween around the corner, candy purchasing is once again surging. Fun and tasty, right?

For us, maybe. But, lots of chocolate production is unethical, as it uses excessive child labor and unfair working conditions. Before you buy, look for a fair trade certified label, so that your fun and tasty treats aren’t at the cost of a child’s unfair labor.

Here are some tips for good chocolatey treats to give away. You could also go the fruit route!

Really neat video that David Hyde Costello created with just a camcorder and iMovie. All of the content is created with physical objects, mechanisms and puppetry. My friend Erica shared this after learning about his work at the Simmons Children’s Lit Program. Her favorite part of this video is that she learned that when the mouse pulls the string, it happens finger by finger; each is attached to a string that David pulls one by one to make the fingers curl around the string and then pull. Pretty amazing!

Interview: Will Sakran, Product Engineer / Inventor

When I moved to New York, I learned of a fun group of buddies calling themselves MetroMetro who, among other things, hosted Board Game Olympics, which clearly I attended often. This is how I met Will Sakran, who was among the organizers and who I also learned is also a thoughtful entrepreneur. I interviewed him about his new product Toobalink, a product manufactured through Metre Ideas and Design that connects together paper towel and toilet tissue tubes to build kid-sized structures. Here’s what I learned:

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Jen Bokoff: Toobalink’s so smart but so simple! What sparked this idea for you?

Will Sakran: I’m happy you feel that way about it, because we think that’s the real beauty of the idea.  It’s one of those ideas where people say, “I can’t believe no one thought of this earlier!” The initial concept came from a clever and talented industrial designer that I work with named Sara Ebert. As a student at Pratt, she took a class that focused on classic play and came up with the idea while observing children play with everyday objects around the house. It was around this time I left my job as an engineer in the toy industry to start my own product design company. I thought the concept was brilliant with lots of potential, so we teamed up with me handling the final design, productization, and manufacture.

JB: How did you settle on the final design and colors? Are you a Mets fan? 

WS: I do like the Mets, but that didn’t have any bearing on the color scheme. Sorry. [Editors note: As a Yankees fan, I’m relieved.] The very first prototypes were blue and orange and it felt right from the start. There’s definitely something about orange that feels “construction-y”. The final shade of blue is not quite at dark as what was originally planned, but it was always blue and orange together. As for the design itself, it’s quite different from where we started. The original concept used fixed parts that were more like pipe fittings – there was an elbow piece, a straight connector piece, a cross piece, and so on. I was concerned that this approach would limit what kids could actually build, and I didn’t want to manufacture ten different parts to make the product work, so I starting thinking about how to make it modular. In the end, there are five unique parts which can be put together in any combination to make the fittings that you need. Then you pop the paper tubes onto the fittings.

JB: What do you like to build with a Toobalink starter kit? Any favorite design or type of structure?

WS: Just putting the Toobalink pieces together is really fun, I think – seeing what combinations there are and what you can do with them. I also like the idea of building without a goal in mind, and I secretly hope that kids like this, too. You can absolutely make specific structures if you want to, but I like the abstract stuff. Just building.

JB: Toobalink tangibly feels to me like Tinkertoys, but recycling-friendly and more “DIY”.  How are you starting to market the product so it can reach the same scale?  

WS: Even though Toobalink is just hitting the market now, prototype versions have been shown at trade shows going back to January 2011. It’s been really well received, buyers are enthusiastic about it, and we got some great press. This gave the product a lot of early exposure and helped us build up a retailer base that was committed to stocking it once it became available. So it’s out there now in many specialty stores – gift shops, museum stores, that sort of thing. We’ll continue to do trade shows to reach more retailers, but now that Toobalink is out I’m turning my attention to reaching individual customers directly. This is mainly though online channels – the Toobalink.com site, Facebook, Twitter, and through really helpful people like you, Jen. [Editors Note: Awwwww!]

JB: If you had an afternoon to construct with Toobalink beyond your wildest dreams, what kids snack would best power you through? 

WS: Grilled cheese sandwiches and the occasional Hostess Ding Dong.

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A Toobalink starter package is available for purchase online now, so you should probably buy one. Or two. You can also find Will teaching at the Brooklyn Brainery, but that’s an interview for another day.

This Asian elephant foetus after 12 months in the womb is catching some shut eye before she takes her first heavy steps in the world in just under a year’s time. The gestation period for an elephant is 22 months. This and other animals in the womb were captured on camera by scientists for a National Geographic documentary. I think it’s really neat to see how similarly all mammals start, and an elephant that is ‘floating’ is simply mesmerizing. Check out more photos and details here.