Stefanie Paige Wieder

Barefoot Books | Magical Castle Build-a-Story Cards

Stories shape the way we see the world. Great stories allow us to relate to one another, nurturing our social experience and fostering kindness within ourselves. That’s the magic of storytelling! Here at Barefoot Books, we’re all about storytelling. We want to teach kids to learn how to tell great stories, too.

Perhaps you’ve heard of story cards. They’re cards that have illustrations and no words on them designed to help kids learn storytelling and writing skills. We knew we wanted to create some of our own because they are such a great fit for our product line. We started by kid-testing some existing story cards created by other companies. The cards were great in most ways, but we found that kids were having a really hard time creating stories that made sense. So we thought, “How can we improve on this when we make our own deck of story cards?”

That’s how our Magical Castle: Build-a-Story Cards deck was born! We asked illustrator Miriam Latimer (you’ve seen her artwork in our beloved Ruby series) to create this magical world full of potions and dragons and unicorns and castles. We divided the cards into three categories: red cards that depict characters, blue cards that depict objects, and yellow cards that depict settings.

Barefoot Books | Magical Castle Build-a-Story Cards | Cards

With the cards divided into these categories, kids can create stories that have more of a structure. We also created an instruction booklet chock full of activities that show kids that when you play with these different story elements, you can create fun and interesting stories that actually make sense.

At Barefoot Books, we always like to have multiple layers of learning in our products. That’s why we included a social-emotional element to our Magical Castle: Build-a-Story Cards with character pairs that have easy-to-identify emotions. In the instruction booklet, we ask them to create stories involving friendship and conflict resolution. There’s so much in this one little deck! Kids will be learning about story structure, writing, and developing social-emotional skills. Want to engage the kids in your life in imaginative storytelling? Get your own copy of Magical Castle: Build-a-Story Cards now!

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Building Empathy in Children: Lessons From Early Childhood Education by Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed. | Barefoot Books

By Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed., Senior Director of Product at Barefoot Books. Originally appeared on Edweek on October 31, 2016.

Imagine if we stopped teaching math to children over the age of 5, yet expected them to grow up to be totally proficient with math in their daily lives. Sounds like a pretty bad idea, right?

Sadly, this is exactly how we treat social-emotional learning (SEL) in most cases. The good news is that, since early childhood education has long included SEL as one of its pillars, educators of school-age kids don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel.

The “empathy gap” has been getting a deluge of attention recently, and with good reason. Just google “empathy” and you’ll quickly find that the ability to understand and share the feelings and perspectives of others is now widely considered a crucial 21st century competency. It’s also the foundation of global citizenship. Students might learn about other people and about world events, but without empathy, they won’t necessarily care what’s happening or choose to be agents of progress and change.

It’s wonderful that SEL is now getting the attention it deserves for students of all ages, but early childhood educators have known about the importance of empathy for a very, very long time. Friedrich Fröbel, Rudolf Steiner, and Maria Montessori, among other luminaries of the 19th century, grounded early childhood education in the importance of nurturing the whole child.

The Recipe for Empathy

Empathy can be defined as having a number of components. To my mind as a child development specialist, there are three major social-emotional and cognitive skills that come together to create the ability to empathize. These are:

  • Self-awareness, or the ability to identify and label one’s own feelings and motivations
  • Perspective-taking, or the ability to see things from someone else’s point of view
  • An understanding of cause-and-effect, or how one’s own actions might impact others

In other words, empathy relies on an awareness of self, an awareness of others, and the ability to understand how the two interrelate.

A Snapshot of SEL in Early Childhood Education

Children in high-quality early childhood classrooms have ample opportunities to develop their understanding of themselves and others. SEL is considered a fundamental part of each child’s preschool education, just as important as early literacy, math, and science skills. It’s a key component of both curriculum design and student assessment. SEL also gets reinforced in countless “teachable moments” every day. Take a look at how the pre-K teacher in the following example fostered SEL in multiple ways:

Two 4-year-old children, Max and Suki, are in the block area of their pre-K classroom. Suki grabs a block out of Max’s hand. Max yells, “No!”
A teacher approaches and asks, “Hey guys, what’s going on?”
Max cries, “She took my block!”
The teacher, getting down to the children’s eye level, asks, “Suki, why did you take the block Max was using?”
Suki says, “Because I needed a block like that one to build my bridge.”
The teacher asks, “Max, how did that make you feel?”
Max says, “Sad. And mad!”
The teacher then inquires, “Suki, what could you do instead of grabbing the block?” [No response from Suki.] “Why don’t you try asking Max if you could use that block?”
Suki asks Max if she could use the block. He says, “No, I need it now.”
The teacher responds, “Okay, Suki. Max is using that block now. Let me help you find something else to build your bridge. Let’s look at the block shelf.”
Suki hands the block back to Max and follows the teacher to the block shelf.

In this scenario, the teacher:

  • Set the stage for a safe and open conversation by signaling a neutral (rather than disciplinary) tone.
  • Prompted Suki to reflect on the motivation for her actions, promoting her self-awareness.
  • Gave Max practice with identifying and labeling his feelings.
  • Helped Suki see that her actions had an impact on another person, which encouraged her to think about cause and effect.
  • Gave both students the opportunity to assert their needs in an appropriate way.
  • Modeled respectful problem solving.

Over time, with consistent scaffolding from teachers, young children can begin to internalize these behaviors and do them more independently. This is the foundation of empathy. But students need continued guidance and opportunities for practice as they grow and their cognitive and social skills become more advanced.

SEL for School Age Children

Building Empathy in Children: Lessons From Early Childhood Education by Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed. | Barefoot Books
Although many formal curricula and learning standards for older children pay scant attention to “the whole child,” I’ve seen firsthand how SEL can successfully continue past the early childhood years. When I was with the Lesley Ellis School in Arlington, Massachusetts, I had the pleasure of witnessing skilled teachers of elementary and middle school students continuing to weave SEL into the classroom. At times they adopted aspects of formal curricula like Open Circle, and at other times informally wove SEL into the existing curriculum units using books and activities.

While studying immigration, the 5th and 6th grade students at Lesley Ellis not only learn what some of the push/pull factors are that lead to people immigrating, but they also examine the emotional toll immigrants can go through by staging a mock Ellis Island. By “putting themselves into the immigrants’ shoes” (so to speak), the students can, for instance, “experience” getting turned away if they are asked to represent someone who has a cough or doesn’t fit some other type of health requirement. The students then write a journal entry, in the voice of their Ellis Island persona, describing the immigration experience.

This is a beautiful example of how SEL can and should grow with children as their skills develop. Like the students in the pre-K example, the kids in this scenario practice self-awareness, perspective-taking, and the appropriate expression of feelings through language. By not only learning about people from other parts of the world, but also experiencing what they might feel, these kids are on their way to becoming caring global citizens.

Getting Scrappy with SEL

Even if you teach in a program where you have little control over the formal curriculum and there is no SEL curriculum in place, there are still ways to take the cue from early childhood education and meaningfully integrate SEL into daily classroom life. Here are some resources that will help you informally incorporate books, assignments, and discussions that promote self-awareness and perspective taking.

  • Barefoot Books is an independent children’s book publisher with a wide selection of global, diverse, and inclusive books that foster SEL for children from birth through ages 8+.
  • Dr. Michele Borba, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, offers practical articles and resources for educators on her website.
  • Roots of Empathy offers a fascinating, evidence-based classroom program used around the world that has been shown to raise social/emotional competence and increase empathy. Learning about their curriculum can give you some ideas for SEL lessons.
  • The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley website includes an education section with links to a variety of SEL articles for educators.
  • The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence website describes its “RULER” program, an evidence-based approach to teaching emotional intelligence, and has a publications section with research articles about the impact of SEL.
  • Ashoka’s Start Empathy Initiative offers the Start Empathy toolkit for educators Homa Tavangar, author of Growing Up Global, provides an overview.
  • Jordan Catapano, a high school English teacher in the Chicago area, wrote an excellent blog post in which he offers simple, empathy-boosting strategies teachers can use.
  • School 21 in London uses what they call a Wellbeing framework to approach SEL. You can read about it and find practical tips from their curriculum.

Building Empathy in Children: Lessons in Early Childhood Education by Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed. | Barefoot Books


Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed, is Senior Director of Product at Barefoot Books and a child development expert with over 20 years of experience. She earned her dual master’s in Early Childhood General & Special Education / Infant & Parent Development & Early Intervention from the Bank Street Graduate School of Education and her B.A. from Harvard University.


Want more of Stefanie’s expert tips to nurture your child or students’ empathy? Download a FREE empathy-boosting activity and discussion guide here!

Building Empathy in Children: Lessons from Early Childhood Education | Barefoot Books

Why You Shouldn't Pressure Your Child to Read Early | Barefoot Books

Should we expect our 4-year-olds to read? You may be surprised: that is actually not a developmentally appropriate expectation! Perhaps the better question is this: should we expect our 4-year olds to love storytime? To that, I say the answer is YES. The most powerful indicator that a 4-year-old will have long-term success with reading is for that child to adore books and read-alouds.

The Pressure of Common Core

I recently met someone who told me with pride that all of her children learned to read by 4-years-old, and that she will make sure her grandchildren do the same. I can see why this is important to her. In response to Common Core kindergarten guidelines, the public education system in the United States has been putting more and more pressure on kids to perform academic skills, like reading, earlier. One study, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” compared kindergarten teachers’ attitudes nationwide in 1998 and 2010 and found that the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of the year had risen from 30 to 80 percent. Teaching methods have changed in response, with teachers of even prekindergarten students expecting children to spend extended periods of time doing seated work, like phonics worksheets, independently. There’s the thought that if we want them to read younger, we need to teach them how to read earlier using a direct instruction approach.

Why This Doesn’t Really Work

Direct instruction, however, isn’t the best way to teach children to read, because learning to read is like baking a cake. When you bake a cake, you need to combine ingredients — eggs from the fridge, flour from the pantry, and so on. But the thing is, those eggs did not miraculously appear in your fridge. They came from your store, and before that from a packaging facility, and before that from a chicken. And the flour — it was packaged in a factory, and before that, it was wheat, and before that it was a seed. In other words, there were a lot of steps that needed to happen before you could even reach for those ingredients to mix them up and bake them.

Reading is the same way. The act of reading is made up of a huge number of foundational skills — some very sophisticated — that develop with time and practice, and include far more than recognizing alphabet letters and sounds. Learning to hear and manipulate sounds, sustaining attention, remembering information, thinking abstractly — these are skills that cannot be taught through direct instruction alone. In order for a child to learn reading in the true sense — to be able to read to obtain, interpret and evaluate information — we cannot skip steps. Can some young children technically learn how to sound out words? Sure. But more often than not, these children cannot meaningfully understand what they are reading. They are not set up for long-term reading success.

Research bears this out. Studies show that by fourth grade, children who were reading at age 4 were not significantly better at reading than their classmates who’d learned to read at age 7. What’s more, in Finland and Sweden, kids don’t even start formal schooling until they are 7 years old. Yet, Finnish and Swedish teenagers outperform American teens in international tests of reading, math and science.

A Better Way to Learn to Read

Here’s the good news: the ideal method for teaching reading is fun and free from pressure. The best way to develop the foundational literacy skills children need is to read aloud to them often, from birth – and to make these experiences joyful and interactive. Frequent conversations and pretend play also help develop the complex  language and cognitive skills necessary for reading and academic success.

So it is our job to instill a love of reading at an early age to set our children up for strong literacy skills. It’s amazing that the best outcome will come from the most joyful approach!

Want to learn more about how to ignite your child’s love of books and stories? Consider hosting a Children’s Literacy Workshop,which we’ve carefully constructed just for you. Your expert Ambassador will share the tips and tricks you need to prepare your child for strong literacy development – by making reading fun!

Stefanie Grossman, Sr. Product Director | Barefoot Books


Stefanie Grossman, Sr. Product Director | Barefoot Books



Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S.Ed.

Sr. Director of Product, Barefoot Books

Types of Literacy and Why You Should Care | Emotional and Cultural Literacy | Barefoot BooksWhen you hear the word “literacy” what comes to mind?

Most likely, books and the ability to read and write. This type of “book” literacy is hugely important, as we know, but as much as we want our children to be book literate and academically successful, we are also concerned about our children’s character development. What kind of people will they grow up to be? We want them to be caring and socially conscious citizens of the world: self-confident, curious and compassionate.

This is where two additional types of literacy come in: emotional literacy and cultural literacy. We’ve pulled together a list of books that will help you cultivate cultural literacy and a list of books that foster emotional literacy. Many of the books on these lists support both.

And, of course, reading these books with your kids will support “book” literacy as well!

Cultural Literacy and Books to Help

Research shows that children often draw incorrect conclusions about other cultures, and that it’s important for adults to gently correct such misconceptions and challenge stereotypes through open conversation. Sharing diverse stories like these from around the world is a great way to start a conversation about diversity.

My Granny Went to Market (ages 3-7)
This rhyming story will take young readers on an adventure to different countries while teaching them to count along the way.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (ages 3-7)
Follow four children from different countries, each going through their early morning routine and getting ready for school. See the different ways of life in Europe, Africa, India and China.

Off We Go To Mexico | Barefoot BooksOff We Go to Mexico (ages 4-10)
Trek to native villages and sing and dance to the music of Mariachi bands. Along the way, you can learn Spanish words and phrases and discover Mexican culture. (Also available in Spanish!)

We’re Sailing Down the Nile (ages 4-10)
Set sail along the mighty Nile River. The rhyming story is followed by eleven pages full of educational information about ancient Egypt, gods and goddesses, a helpful map, and much more.

We All Went on Safari (ages 4-10)
Set out on a counting journey through the grasslands of Tanzania. The lively, rhyming text is accompanied by an illustrated guide to counting in Swahili, a map, notes about animals, and interesting facts about Tanzania and the Maasai people. (Spanish and French formats available!)

The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales (ages 7+)
This engaging collection includes eight delightful tales from the Jewish tradition. Each story has been chosen for its appeal to families and each has a simple — yet powerful — message.

The Barefoot Book of Buddhist Tales (ages 6+)
Explore numerous tales from the folk traditions of countries including India, China, Japan and Tibet. This is a collection of enthralling stories illustrates various important aspects of Buddhist thought.

The Great Race (ages 4-9)
Race with the animals of the Zodiac as they compete to have the years of the Chinese calendar named after them. The excitement-filled story is followed by notes on the Chinese calendar, important Chinese holidays, and a chart outlining the animal signs based on birth years.

Lin Yi's Lantern | Barefoot BooksLin Yi’s Lantern (ages 5-9)
This heartwarming story shows the rewards of putting others first, and includes educational notes at the end about the Chinese moon festival, life in rural China, and the legend of the moon fairy.

Mama Panya’s Pancakes (ages 4-10)
On market day, Mama Panya’s son Adika invites everyone he sees to a pancake dinner. How will Mama Panya ever feed them all? This clever and heartwarming story about Kenyan village life teaches the importance of sharing, even when you have little to give.

Barefoot Books World Atlas (all ages)
This is the atlas for twenty-first-century readers. It’s packed with information about the way in which communities and cultures around the world have been shaped by their local environments, and it looks at the ideas and initiatives that are shaping the future.

The Barefoot World Atlas app for iPad is also available.

Learn more about our World Cultures books and take the kids in your life on an imaginary journey around the world!

Emotional Literacy and Books to Help

Through books and thoughtful discussions, we can help children feel confident in their unique identities, identify and express their feelings, and develop empathy towards others. Like reading, math or science, emotional literacy can be taught, but it’s not a quick and easy process. This area needs to be addressed regularly, like any other academic area we care about.

Ruby’s Baby Brother (ages 3-7)
Ruby’s mom is having a baby, but Ruby is not very happy about it. When baby
Leon comes along, will she change her mind about having a baby brother? (Available in Spanish!)

Ruby's Sleepover | Barefoot BooksRuby’s Sleepover (ages 3-7)
Ruby and Mai are camping out in the backyard. As the night draws in, all sorts of scary characters head towards their tent. Luckily, Ruby has some magical objects in her backpack, but will they be enough to keep the girls safe and fight their fears?

Emily’s Tiger (ages 3-7)
This little girl has a problem with her temper, and every time she gets angry she turns into quite the little tiger. This quirky picture book addresses behavioral issues with humor and an emphasis on intergenerational relationships.

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon (ages 4-10)
Herb is captured by the castle’s knights in armor. Treacherous Meathook and his dragon cronies will only help if Herb, a vegetarian, agrees to eat meat. Will he give in to their blackmail and bullying?

The Boy Who Grew Flowers (ages 4-10)
Climb to the top of Lonesome Mountain to meet a very special boy named Rink — every full moon, he grows flowers all over his body. This heartwarming story celebrates difference and friendship, as Rink meets a girl with her own secret, and they discover ways to help each other.

Chandra’s Magic Light (ages 6-10)
A heartwarming story set in Nepal of two resourceful sisters who bring the safety of solar-powered light to their family. This story provides an introduction to Nepali village culture, environmental science and feminism.

The Girl with the Brave Heart | Barefoot BooksThe Girl with a Brave Heart (ages 4-10)
Shiraz, a kindhearted young girl growing up in Tehran, has a miserable life at home with her stepmother and stepsister, who treat her like a servant. When the wind blows Shiraz’s ball of wool into the garden next door, she spends the day helping and caring for the old lady who lives there, with miraculous results.

Lola’s Fandango (ages 4-10)
Lola is a young Spanish girl in awe of her glamorous older sister. However, she discovers her own talent and duende, or spirit, through secret fandango lessons from her father. The text is infused with the rhythms, movements and sounds of the dance.

Learn more about our books that boost Social Emotional Learning.


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Ignite Your Child's Love of Reading: Summer Reading and Literacy Tips from Barefoot Books Hello Parents!

I wanted to share with you my top 5 tips for helping your child fall in love with reading. You might be pleased to discover you are doing many of these things already! And if you’re not? They are easy to implement. Here goes:

1. Let your child see you reading books for pleasure

When is the last time your child saw you reading a book for pleasure? I’m talking about an actual BOOK, not your iphone, a tablet or e-reader. Ultimately children will learn more from what you actually do than what you tell them to do, and so if you want them to read for pleasure, it’s important to model this for them.

2. Create pleasurable read aloud routines

This is probably the most important thing you can do to help your child create positive associations with reading! Keep in mind that reading doesn’t need to just happen at bedtime. Consider reading aloud during dinner or bath time. Reading together not only shows children that reading is fun and valuable, but it also serves to strengthen your bond.

3. Keep a wide selection of books accessible in your home

Research shows to access to a variety of books is an important factor when it comes to keeping kids’ minds sharp over the summer. Wondering how to expand your collection so that it includes various genres? Our printable Treasure Map (North America / Europe) is a fun way to make sure you have variety in your home library. As you acquire new books, help your child learn to take good care of them.

4. Allow children to select the books they read

Children become more interested in reading when they are encouraged to select the books they read. Creating a bookshelf at baby’s level and encouraging her to pick her own stories is a great way to raise a reader for life. Some parents forgo the shelves for a basket since babies tend to want to pull every book off a shelf! Either way, storing books where little hands can reach them is a great way to spark interest in reading.

5. Schedule “quiet reading time” each day

This is a tip straight from the preschool classroom! Teach children at an early age that looking at books quietly for a small period of time every day is part of their daily home routine. Not only is it great for their literacy development, but it will also save your sanity. This is especially great for transition times when you need to keep kids occupied. For instance, you can keep a basket of books in the kitchen so that your child can have “quiet reading time” as you prepare dinner.

How do you instill a love for reading in your child? Share your tips below!

Stefanie GrossmanMore soon,

Stefanie Grossman, M.S.Ed.
Global Program Director, Barefoot Books


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We all know those daily events that serve as epic battle grounds for parent-child contests of will: getting dressed and out of the house, drop-off at daycare or school, toileting, dinner time and bedtime. (Hey, that sounds like all day!) You may notice special difficulties kicking up around each of these “trigger times” in the autumn. Each of these daily events represents some kind of transition, and when they are experiencing larger changes in their lives, children can feel an increased need for control around these smaller daily transitions. Whether your child is in a school programme or not, autumn usually brings about a change of pace along with the change of the seasons.

Last week, I went to a neuroscience-meets-psychology seminar in London about infant-parent relationships. It was delightful to be reminded how even the smallest babies are ready and eager to engage with the adults in their world and to tune into what is being shared with them. In the wake of this experience, I was very happy earlier this week to read the news from the American Association of Pediatrics that it will now be a requirement for health professionals to give guidance to young parents of the value of reading to their new babies.


You’ve probably heard the term “brain drain” tossed around in the media. What is it? Is it a real phenomenon?

Out of the Blue Activity | Seashell Picture Frame for Kids

In our popular wordless book, Out of the Blue, children comb the beach for seashells and other treasures, which they then use to create art. Where do seashells come from? How many different types of seashells are there? In this activity, learn fascinating facts about seashells, work on early math skills with sorting games and create a beautiful, beachy keepsake.

About Out of the Blue

This evocative wordless book about the mysteries of the sea invites readers to tell the story in their own words, which stimulates the imagination and helps develop visual literacy. Follow Alison Jay’s distinctive crackle-varnished artwork as a storm — and what it brings — transforms the seashore for a day.

Includes endnotes on marine life, lighthouses and the intriguing world of items that wash up on beaches. This book suits all ages.