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BBC Online Coverage

Strong and Mighty Max Edition Two features on the BBC online website. Jahmani Swanson, Harlem Globe Trotter basketball endorses the children’s story on his visit to UK schools in November 2019. To see the short clip on the BBC news website, click here.

BBC Midlands Today

BBC Midland’s Today visited St Gabriel’s Academy Primary School in Rugby to film Jahmani Swanson, basketball sensation. Jahmani, otherwise known as ‘mani love’ (on his Instagram account) flew all the way to the UK from New York to inspire young people to believe in themselves and to ‘dream big’. Jahmani endorsed children’s story ‘Strong and Mighty Max’, edition two, and visited schools and a basketball club in Coventry during his short visit.

To watch the news report that aired on BBC Midlands on the 13th November 2019, click here

THE WORLD’S SHORTEST HARLEM GLOBE TROTTER COMES TO THE MIDLANDS TO INSPIRE SCHOOL CHILDREN TO ‘DREAM BIG’ AND BE KIND TO PEOPLE WHO ARE BORN DIFFERENT.

Jahmani Swanson, plays basketball for the Harlem Globe Trotters in New York and has become an internet sensation as he achieved his dreams of becoming a basketball star despite being born with dwarfism. Jahmani, is also known as Mani Love and ‘mini Michael Jordan’ as he measures just 4’5”.

Whilst in the Midlands he will be motivating children to celebrate their differences. His visit will endorse the writing of local author Kristina Gray, whose children’s story ‘Strong and Mighty Max’, features a character who was born with achondroplasia, the same form of dwarfism as Jahmani. The book encourages children to ‘dream big’ and to be kind to others who are born different. The moral lesson is that the size of your heart is what matters and not your physical height.

Kristina Gray’s son was also born with achondroplasia and attends, St Gabriel’s C of E Academy in Houlton, Rugby. She is excited that local primary school children are getting the opportunity to meet a global star.

“Jahmani’s visits to Rugby and Coventry will encourage children to dream big, whatever challenge or difference they may face. Just seeing Mani achieve his dreams at playing basketball against all the odds in very motivating for young people. It is also so important to encourage children to have a growth mindset and the value of kindness, especially with the rise of mental health issues young people face. My hope is that this message will be far reaching and I am so thrilled that edition two of Strong and Mighty Max alongside the #choosekindaward is being placed in 36 primary schools across Coventry and Warwickshire” (Kristina Gray, Author of Strong and Mighty Max.)

Jahmani will be based at St Gabriel’s Academy Houlton on the 13th November to run basketball workshops with the children and to help launch a #choosekind award for local primary schools across Coventry and Warwickshire. He will also be at Broad Heath Primary School for the day on the 14th of November to inspire children to ‘dream big’ and to celebrate their differences.

To watch Mani Love’s latest Instagram video, click here.

#Choosekind Award For Schools

Kristina Gray, author of Strong and Mighty Max is expanding the work of edition two by encouraging Primary Schools across Coventry and Warwickshire to sign up to the #Choosekind Award which will be officially launched at an all schools event to celebrate world kindness day on the 13th November 2019.

Every school that signs up to receiving the new educational resource pack, which compliments edition two of Strong and Mighty Max will receive downloadable learning resources (available in September 2019) to inspire schools to embody the value of kindness as an everyday life choice.

The aim is to encourage young people to empathise with others around them and engage in practical initiatives that show kindness to their peers, within their family, and to people in their local community.

Kristina Gray talks about her reasoning behind this award:

“The #choosekind award is something that every Headteacher can award to a child each term, who has stood out for embodying the value of kindness among their peer group at school. The aim is that at the end of each term a pupil is selected and praised and given this award. The hope is with more inspirational learning activities that inspire children to be kind to one another and others that it will provide a much needed social capital that will make the difference to the emotional and subsequent mental well-being of children”

The new educational resource that supports this award will build upon the principles of encouraging children to have a ‘growth mindset’ and how acts of kindness contribute to this. It is achievable by everyone when inspired by educators and the results are believed to reap a benefit for school communities.

With Mental Health issues on the rise in schools, there is a wealth of scientific research on ‘social buffering’ that can help prevent students’ emotional pain transitioning into a mental health issue. Dr Margot Sunderland, (Director of The Centre for Child Mental Health), states that countless research suggests that painful childhood experience, without ‘social buffering’ at the time, have a significant impact on children’s behaviour, attendance and learning outcomes.

Teaching the values of kindness by the example of caring and empathetic educators plays a key role in providing social support for children.

If you are a school in Coventry and Warwickshire and are interested in receiving the educational resource download and attending the launch of the #choosekind award, get in touch through the contact page of this website.

New Seasons: transitioning to secondary.

UPDATE ON FAMILY LIFE

It has been a couple of years since I have updated this blog. Family life with four children has been crazy busy and one of our daughter’s has been ill with a rare medical condition (Vascular compressions). Life definitely throws some curve balls in our path to challenge and grow us. Thankfully post-surgery, we are seeing improvements in our daughter’s health and she is gradually beginning to build up stamina to attend school again. Four years with a flexi-learning programme at home and endless medical appointments shifted my time and priorities. Ask me about Educational Health Care Plans, the NHS, therapeutic interventions etc and I can share tonnes with you about what we have learnt as a family.

RE-TRAINING

For myself personally, I have started retraining at Warwick University in Counselling and the Psychotherapeutic relationship. I am excited to be starting my first placement in the autumn working with clients who are dealing with complicated grief. My first year of training has focused on the person-centred approach to therapy and I have a keen interest in compassion focused therapy. Overall my degree is integrative so after four years I will become an integrative therapist. Mental health is an area that I am so passionate about and more than ever we need skilled practitioners who can work in this field.

TRANSITIONING TO SECONDARY SCHOOL

Enough about me, and more about Samuel. After all he is the reason I wrote the story ‘Strong and Mighty Max’. It is hard to believe it has been seven years since the first edition was published. My sole purpose was to prepare a way for him at primary school. I wanted to normalise differences, explain about achondroplasia and teach the values of kindness. Since then thousands of copies of the book have been distributed around the world and I am so thrilled to hear such positive feedback from so many of you.

Today, as I type Samuel is currently attending his transition day at secondary. I have to admit when he was a baby this was probably one of my niggling fears for him. Every parent feels a degree of nerves for their child as they step into new milestones. Samuel is my third child so I am under no illusion that this transition is challenging for lots of children, however for Samuel he has expressed to me so eloquently his fears about this change.

Acknowledging his challenges we have also focused on all of his positives: his charisma, his leadership skills, his ability to make good friendships, and the fact that he knows a number of his peers who are moving onto secondary with him. He was nervous this morning as was I, but there was a real sense that he is going to be OK. He walked in with two friends who were from his first primary school and smiled as he left me. I’ll update you later with how he got on and any tips we can share about transitioning to secondary. Wherever you are reading this today

Achondroplasia- a new word in my vocabulary.

DWARFISM AWARENESS MONTH

October is dwarfism awareness month. That time of year when people within the dwarfism community seek to educate their friends and community-mainly through online media posts. The picture below is my son, Samuel, and his dog Hamish. You may have spotted Hamish in edition two of Strong and Mighty Max.

Photo by Fabio De Paola for The Guardian newspaper

OUR STORY

Nine years ago I learnt a new word in my vocabulary. My knowledge of dwarfism prior to my son being born was virtually nil. I had never even heard of the word achondroplaisa, the most common form of dwarfism. How quickly that word became familiar and part of my vocabulary as I sought to learn as much as possible about my son’s medical condition.

I have loved Samuel from the moment he was conceived. He has restricted growth in his arms and legs. Apart from that physical difference he is like any other nine year old child. He does of course stand out in the crowd amongst his peers because of his restricted growth. People can react to his difference by staring and pointing and sometimes questioning his age. Samuel can share better than I can about the challenges he faces. Perhaps his biggest challenge is other people’s ignorance or thoughtlessness in the way they can sometimes relate to him. I am reminded all the time why I wrote Strong and Mighty Max, once people understand more about his condition people are generally very accepting and kind.

MEDICAL COMPLICATIONS

I often under play the medical challenges people with achondroplasia face, not because I am in denial, but because our life experience so far has been without complication. However some children with dwarfism face physical complications which impact mobility, including bowing of legs, spinal stenosis and fluid on the brain. Respiratory complications, sleep apnoea can also be problematic for children born with achondroplasia. Some children have experienced multiple operations by the time they are nine years old. Thankfully that has not been the case for my son.

In adulthood complications can present themselves as people with dwarfism can face further complications. People forget at times that dwarfism is a registered disability. As a family we have never seen our son as disabled, we try not to treat him any differently to his three siblings. We have never focused on the things he can’t do, and have encouraged him that he can do most things if he is willing to give them a try.

MEDICAL RESEARCH

Medical research around dwarfism has been in the news a lot recently as a medical trial which my son is on has recently published their phase three results in the Lancet. This is all very early days but we are hopeful that one day there will be non invasive therapies that can improve the quality of life and health of children impacted by dwarfism. Not all families will choose these therapies and there is some division amongst people within the restricted growth community on this issue. Samuel himself with the support of us as his parents has decided to be part of this research that hopefully one day will benefit his children or grandchildren. We are proud of Samuel’s courage- time will tell how successful this treatment is.

CHOOSE KINDNESS

If there is anything I would like you to learn this month as a take-away for #dwarfismawareness- it is: to treat people with kindness. Respect one another and make the daily choice to be kind with your eyes and the way you speak. Be aware that your words have power to build someone up or bring someone down. Also remember you may never fully understand what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. We all have different life experiences which dictate how we see the world, but regardless of those differences we can unite through choosing to be kind.

Any Book orders in the month of October, only through this website will be eligible to Buy one Get One Free

Kristina Gray, Samuel Gray and Hamish Gray.
Photo by Fabio De Paola, featured in The Guardian, G2, Monday 28 September 2020.

‘Ian’-Short film, directed by Abel Goldfarb.

(Click on above picture to watch film)

Ian is a beautifully animated short film, directed by Abel Goldfarb, it has been created to promote inclusion; reduce bullying and help children understand disability. Based on a true story, this a great video to play in the classroom to discuss differences and the values of kindness and empathy.

Ian is desperate to enjoy the local playground, but his physical difficulties are made worse by other barriers: the other children don’t understand why he seems different, and keep away from him; some of them laugh at him or are simply too busy to stop and play.

 

 

World Book Day- and teaching the value of kindness

It’s that time of year again when we encourage children to share their love of reading in the classroom by dressing up as their favourite book character. I was thrilled to receive a photograph of Archie, dressed as Max with his copy of edition two in hand to share with his classmates. It is great to see that the story is continuing to be shared in schools across the UK and wider afield.

(Archie, dressed as Max on World Book Day 2019)

 

The core messaging of edition two focuses on the theme of ‘Kindness’ a value that cannot be ignored in the importance of raising children to be accepting of differences and being inclusive of one another.

I was thrilled to see a recent short film entitled ‘Ian’ find its voice at the Cannes Film Festival.   Ian went on to win an award for Best Animation and Best Short film.

(Click on picture above to watch short film, ‘Ian’)

Inspired by a real life boy named Ian, it poignantly tells the story of a disabled child bullied in the playground who finds his place and shows how children with disabilities can and should be included. A powerful message to help teach kindness.

This year I will be developing a resource to expand the messaging of teaching kindness, there is so much documented about mental health and in particular the impact bullying can have on children in their formative years. There has been criticism of a deficit based approach to mental wellbeing and the need for a positive learning approach to be fostered in schools.

“Schools all around the country regularly run ‘anti-bullying’ initiatives we would call this a deficit based approach because the focus is on the deficit i.e. The outcome of negative relationships with everyone. What if it wasn’t just for a week, what if building positive relationships and understanding and leveraging diversity was just part of what they learnt at school” (MyHappymind)

With this in mind, and with the right resources, schools across the country can help teach kindness and inclusion across the board. Strong and Mighty Max Edition Two, seeks to help facilitate classroom learning. This is not purely focused on children with disabilities but much wider in terms of practical ways to show kindness and be kind in the playground.

I am excited to be partnering with primary schools within the Diocese of Coventry and Warwickshire to implement ideas for learning and teaching kindness in the classroom. I will be presenting the book to over seventy headteachers at a briefing in May. My hope is that by 13 November 2019 (world kindness day) over 50 primary schools within the diocese will have a copy of the book Strong and Mighty Max, edition two in their school library and will have engaged in learning activities around the value of kindness and inclusion.

The theme of engagement for schools will be #choosekind not just for a day but as a life choice. Children will be exploring the value of #choosekind in the playground; classroom; and within the context of their peers, family and wider community. The aim is to help teach children to be better citizens, to think of others and be empathetic to their peers and hopefully in the end to aspire to kindness as a life choice and not just for one day in the school calendar.

(Charlie Mackesy is an artist famous for his philosophical quotes. Source: @charliemackesy Instagram)

A World Kindness day education resource will be available to download from the learn section of this website for the start of the Autumn term 2019. Watch this space for further updates.

Register Interest in World Kindness Day Resource below:

Strong and Mighty Max Edition Two- BBC Coventry & Warwickshire

BBC Coventry & Warwickshire produced a short video for their Facebook page to explain Strong and Mighty Max, edition two in just over 60 Seconds. To watch the video, click here.

Books like this will change the world

As a person with dwarfism myself, I have long since believed that one of the best ways to change the world-to make it a better place-is to provide young children with a positive introduction to dwarfism, disability, and difference, to help them understand that we are all just different threads in the rich fabric of humanity. This book does exactly that. I wish there were more like it. I have a copy on my shelf-along with all my other books about dwarfism and difference-ready for my own children to read, one day.

Eugene- 17 October 2018