Archive for August 2012

More imaginative Hawaii playgrounds

August 28, 2012

Kamakana Playground and the Harold H. Higashihara Park in Kona on the Big Island has been rated as one of America’s coolest playgrounds by Yahoo! Shine blogger Sarah Weir, and one of the world’s best parks and playgrounds by Family.com writer Jennifer Margulis.

“Built into a verdant hillside with a spectacular view and plenty of shade, the park was designed with both creative and historical play in mind. There are Hawaii-specific play structures like a double-hulled Polynesian canoe and a Kona Sugar Co. 1897 model train, as well as chess tables, a horseshoe ring toss, a lifesized whale, a twirl machine, a baseball diamond, basketball and tennis courts, and covered picnic tables,” Margulis enthuses.

At Aikahi Elementary School, the playground has “a volcano slide, turtle tunnel, treehouse, boat deck that sways back and forth, rope nets and a cool “dragon king” wall bordering the play area. Tropical fish, dolphins, a gecko, a hammerhead shark and a sea horse adorn the structures, and student-decorated tilework gives the playground a nice local touch,” praises Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Nina Wu.

I’ve never been to these playgrounds, but I would love to take my 6-year old son there – and I want one for my neighborhood.

So what is stopping us? Why are so many of Hawaii’s public playgrounds generic, bland (despite the bright colors), and cookie-cutter? And what can we do to make our playgrounds our own?

Let’s start by changing our expectations for playgrounds.

Expect community involvement. Hawaii doesn’t have the money to build new playgrounds, and we can barely keep up with the maintenance and repairs of existing playgrounds. So communities like Aikahi, Ewa Beach, and Niu Valley have taken matters into their own hands with private fundraising, corporate donors, and community volunteers. Public schools like Koko Head Elementary have also started to take the lead on repairing their neighborhood playgrounds.

* Don’t be limited by liability. When I was a kid, we had playgrounds on dirt and asphalt. Today, everyone worries about liability and lawsuits – meaning we have playgrounds on expensive, padded surfaces that chip and crack. There are fewer swings, no playhouses, no tether ball. The “Public Playground Safety Handbook” says nothing about having fun, inspiring kids’ imaginations, or fitting in with the community. But let’s not be limited by lawsuit threats and liability fears.

* Set kids’ imaginations free. Most of Hawaii’s playgrounds have the same basic layout – with slides, a bridge, monkey bars, and rung ladders. We need playgrounds that reflect the community and Hawaii’s culture, such as turtles, whales, volcanoes, outrigger canoes, hula, surfboards, ahupua‘a. We need local artwork in picnic areas and walls.

* Grow natural playgrounds. We could create natural playgrounds to reflect Hawaii’s natural beauty. We could turn our playgrounds into places of natural beauty with playhouses made of woven branches or slides made of logs; log stepping stones and walking trails; or outdoor classrooms with native plants, music walls, or reading nooks. At Grace Cooperative Preschool in Walnut Creek, California there is nothing plastic about their playground; instead, there is a hillside slide, a three-tiered oak log sluiceway with a rope pulley system, a cargo net reading area, a thunder wall drum, and a “clatter wall” with different musical instruments.

What are your favorite Hawaii playgrounds? Do they spark your imagination? How can we make our playgrounds better?

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Hawaii visitors, the media, and money

August 21, 2012

“Disappointingly crass is the media obsession with money. Whenever a large group of visitors arrives in the islands, the news stories are not about their hopes and dreams or what they came to see or do, but about how much money each group brings in,” wrote college teacher, administrator, and founder of Kalamaku Press Dennis Kawaharada in his book, “Local Geography: Essays on Multicultural Hawaii” (2004).

Eight years later, not much has changed.

Every month, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reports visitor statistics, focusing on arrivals (number of visitors, length of stay, air seats) and expenditures (total spending, daily spending, trip spending).

This research is important for hotels, airlines, and businesses. It helps companies forecast business, inventory, and employees. And it feels great when we hear that our local economy is doing well.

But the focus on visitor spending and “economic benefit” has overtaken the local news reports too. Recent headlines in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser read: “Hawaii hotels hit midyear with record revenue: the lodging industry brings in $1.6 billion with Oahu and Maui leading the way” (8/1/12). “Hawaii tourists spend record $1.2 billion in June” (7/26/12), “Isle visitors lift sales figures” (7/8/12), “Vegas visitors expected to be up slightly for 4th” (7/4/12).

We should remember that visitors hear and read these same news reports. From these headlines, they might conclude that no one cares about their Hawaii experience or why they came here, as long as they spend money before they leave.

We should also remember that our children notice the emphasis on tourism and money. These news stores can influence their opinions about Hawaii and our visitors, and it could change the way they interact with visitors if they get jobs in the visitor industry.

Visitor statistics should be balanced by human stories. In addition to arrivals, spending, and “satisfaction” we need to hear about the people who come to Hawaii:

* What made them choose Hawaii over any other place in the world?
* What did they expect to find when they got here – and how did we meet their expectations?
* What did they do here? What would they like to do again? Could their experiences have been better?
* What did they enjoy about Hawaii’s natural beauty and unique cultural?
* What surprised them about Hawaii?

If we know about the people behind the numbers, residents could relate better to them and feel more connected to them. Businesses could decide how to improve their experience of Hawaii. Lawmakers could see them as “seasonal residents” instead of “transients” who pay their taxes (without representation in Hawaii) and then leave.

Let’s ask the media to report more about our visitors as people. And let’s treat our visitors more like future neighbors.

7 incentives to persuade voters

August 14, 2012

“Let your voice be heard, every vote counts, and you can make a difference,” Lehua Kalima pleads in an Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) ad.

In the 1959 primary election, the year Hawaii became a state, voter turnout was at an all-time high of 84.4%. In the 2012 primary election, voter turnout was at an all-time low of 42.3%.  

People argued, marched, and fought for the right to vote. Voting is our right, a privilege, and a duty of responsible citizens. We shouldn’t have to beg people to vote. Or do we?

Maybe we’ve become lazy as citizens, assuming that other people will make the right decisions. Maybe we take the right to vote for granted, because we’ve always had a vote. Maybe we need more of an incentive to vote – something tangible, something immediate.

Here are 7 ideas to persuade more people to vote:

1. First-time gift. First-time voters could receive a small gift from the Office of Elections, such as a pen or a t-shirt, as both a thank-you and encouragement to keep on voting.

2. Honor roll. Voters who have voted consecutively in the last 10 elections could be recognized in an open letter to the newspaper, a commemorative pin (like the Blood Bank’s donor pins), or a brunch on Capitol grounds.

3. Free stuff. Polling places could offer free shaved ice or malasadas on Election Day or set up prize wheels to spin for small prizes. Or we could ask local schools and community groups to perform during the day, with music, dancing, or singing (at least we know their families would show up!).

4. Prize drawings. Registered voters could use their ballot stub after voting or receive a scratch-off ticket to win prizes. We could offer lunch with a Councilmember or dinner with a State Legislator. We could partner with business and community sponsors for other prizes, like movie tickets or restaurant gift cards.

5. “Talk story” community picnics. The top three communities with the highest voter turn-out could win a community picnic at a neighborhood park or beach park. No RSVP required – just drop by for some food or to talk with elected representatives.

6. School pride. The top three communities with the highest voter turn-out could earn $5,000 (primary elections) or $10,000 (general elections) for public schools in their neighborhood.

7. Fast-tracked projects. The top district with the highest voter turn-out could have one of their maintenance or community projects fast-tracked, such as park renovations or road repaving, as long as the project has already been approved and budgeted. The start-date would be guaranteed within 60 days of Election Day.

If you vote, would incentives have an impact on your voting? If you don’t vote, would one of these incentives make you fill out a voter registration card? What can we do to encourage people to vote?

Transforming parents into teachers, part 3: better readers

August 7, 2012

I felt so inspired by the book, “Teach Like a Champion” by Dave Lemov, that I wanted to use some of Lemov’s techniques to help my son achieve more at school – and to help me become a better parent at home.

I focused on three areas in which we as parents can become teachers: 1. techniques to change how we interact with our children; 2. techniques to set high expectations for our children; and 3. techniques to help our children become better readers.

It all starts with us. We need to see ourselves as teachers, not only in how we behave, but in the expectations that we set for our children.

In addition to teaching them good study habits, all parents should be reading teachers, encouraging our children to read, to understand, and to think critically. Help your child become a better reader by reading to them every day, for at least 15 minutes; and reading in front of them, whether it is the newspaper, a magazine, a textbook, or a novel.

Here are 6 more techniques to help our children become better readers:

1. The Hook (technique #12). If they are not interested in a book, hook them with a short, engaging introduction. Tease them with an exciting event, a mystery, or a strange character from the book.

2. Contexting (pre-reading technique). Give them context on the book, such as the history, culture, and geography they will need to understand the book. This can also hook them on the story.

3. Focal Points and Front-Loading (pre-reading technique). Tell them about key ideas, concepts, and themes to look for. Introduce key scenes – the ones that are exciting, mysterious, or pivotal – and important characters so that they pay attention to them. This can also hook them on the story.

4. Check for Understanding (decoding technique). Make sure they pronounce words correctly. Correct any errors quickly and calmly by punching the error (repeating the missed word) or marking the spot (reading the words immediately before the missed word). Ask them if they understand the word, and offer a definition or take a dictionary break if they don’t know it.

5. Show Some Spunk (fluency technique). Read aloud with energy and enthusiasm, and encourage them to add drama to their reading. How would the character say it? What words should be emphasized?

6. Summarize (post-reading technique). Whether they are reading books, comic books, or graphic novels, ask them for a summary of key ideas and events (not just a retelling of the story). Ask for a 20-word or less summary (it sounds easy, but they’ll have to really fine-tune their ideas).

When you can, read together. It helps if you are familiar with the book; you’ll  know whether it’s age-appropriate, and you can discuss your opinions about the book together.

Was there a relative, friend, or teacher who hooked you on reading? What kinds of books do you enjoy? Have any books changed your life or influenced your decisions?

“Start Something That Matters” by Blake Mycoskie

August 4, 2012

Before reading the book, I had never heard of TOMS Shoes. All I knew was that for every book purchased, a new book will be given to a child in need; and 50% of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the Start Something That Matters Fund.

Then I was drawn into the TOMS story: Blake Mycoskie was inspired by a 2006 trip to Argentina and a woman whose organization donated shoes to children in need. Mycoskie started TOMS (“Shoes for a Better Tomorrow” which became “Tomorrow’s Shoes” and then simply “TOMS”), vowing that for every pair of alpargata they sell, a new pair of shoes will be given to a child in need.

Filled with personal narratives, inspiring stories, and photos, “Start Something That Matters” (2011) challenges us to redefine capitalism and find solutions through entrepreneurship, not charity.

To help others combine a for-profit company with a social mission, Mycoskie highlights six key elements to making a difference:

1. Find your story. Facts and products are important, but a story evokes emotion and connects with people, turning customers into supporters. Commit to telling your story, find story partners and influence makers, and know your audience.

2. Face your fears. Focus on what you can control: your actions. Surround yourself with energetic people and inspirational quotes, read biographies, think small, and ask for advice.

3. Be resourceful without resources. Improvise. Find enthusiastic interns, be frugal, use social media, forget titles, create memorable business cards – and always reward your employees.

4. Keep it simple. Simplicity of design = easy to use. Simplicity of mission = focus on value. Simplicity of work space = no distractions. Simplicity in life = peace of mind and greater creativity.

5. Build trust. “The better your employees feel about their job, the better your business performs,” Mycoskie advises. Talk openly with your staff, give away autonomy, trust that your employees will grow into their roles, treat customers as you would like to be treated, be as open as possible, and (this should be a given) use your own products.

6. Giving is good business. You can make money and make a difference too. Give more than money, think about your special skills, incorporate giving at work, give early, don’t get overwhelmed, and listen to those you give to.

As Mycoskie’s story unfolds, you can see his shift from making money to helping people to inspiring people to help others. We meet other entrepreneurs who were inspired to make a difference, like Lauren Bush and Elle Gustafson, who founded FEED Projects, which donates a year of school lunches for every bag sold; Scott Harrison, who founded charity: water, which uses 100% of all donations for water projects in developing nations, while raising administrative costs separately; and Tyler Eltringham, who founded OneShot, which donates a vaccine to the meningitis belt of Africa for every college student who receives a meningococcal meningitis vaccination.

Read inspiring stories and join the movement at www.StartSomethingThatMatters.com. As Mycoskie reminds us, “The most important step of all is the first step” (page 184).