What My First Grade Class Taught Me This Year

I have been teaching for over 18 years at the university level.  This year, with the vast shortage of elementary grade teachers, I decided to help out.  This is what began my time as a first-grade teacher.  A post COVID classroom experience is one you have to experience to truly understand.  Some children learned the art of self-teaching and are far above their peers.  Others are struggling with the very foundation of reading and math skills.  The challenge for teachers (assuming other teachers are experiencing the same thing as I) is how to manage the growth for all students when there is such a wide range of learning readiness.  Teachers also have a shortage of teacher support.  Parents do what they can, while constrained school budgets limit the availability of in-class teacher assistants.

Imagine teaching 21 seven-year-old students who have different abilities to sit in their seats.  Each with so much to say that waiting to be called upon is more than they can manage!  Add a curriculum that only affords 20 minutes of recess (Lord help us all when the weather calls for indoor recess) and 20 minutes for lunch.  Arrivals start at 8:00 am and dismissal at 2:15 pm.  I joke that I can’t get my college-age students to sit that long!  Teachers have to be quite skilled to integrate active learning and “brain-breaks”.  Not to mention the bathroom rotations of the entire class three times a day!

But what I learned from this experience, so far, is that boys are still boys and girls are still girls.  Give the class of boys and girls a piece of paper and markers and boys will make airplanes, while girls draw and color.  Not that girls don’t like to fly an airplane or boys to draw and color, but they seemingly play just as their ancestors have for generations.

When making their holiday wish lists, girls still asked for dolls and boys for toy guns.  This along side of requests for technology toys.  I was taken aback.  All the media talks about are how children of today’s technology are different, but what I witnessed was that children today are just like children of years gone by.  They have more options for things to play with, but simple things such as paper, markers, dolls, and toy guns are still as relevant as ever.  Perhaps, we should stop pushing our assumptions on the children of today.  Instead, let’s find the joy in just watching them play and then facilitate that play to help them explore their imaginations.



Healthy Anger Management for Boys

I titled this post as anger management for boys not because I think girls do not have anger they need help to manage, but as a personal story about my grandson.

I grew up in a generation and a family where anger was to be hidden.  We talk only about positive things and scorn those that appear to promote conflict or violence.

As a toy maker for children, I seek to promote toys that encourage healthy play environments and to that end, navigate away from creating toys of “conflict or pretend battles.”  Well, at least until I entered the world of play found in communities of boys.  I started to examine more closely traditional boy play environments seeking to understand the why of play conflict, such as super heroes and villains.

I then pondered a world filled with conflict, divorce, separation, and hurt.  Could it be children can benefit emotional well-being through conflict play environments?  A place where the good guy and bad guy are clearly defined?  A place where children are safe in expressing feelings of anger, fear, and triumph?  A place to reconcile feelings they don’t quite understand?  A place where children have complete control over the outcome…who the winners and losers are?

I have researched and written papers on the role-playing aspects of play.  How repetitive play acts as rehearsal and can build positive skills in children.  My worry was that combat play would rehearse the wrong skills—reinforce aggressive behavior.  But I see now, that I was short-sited with application.  Not only do children rehearse and build desirable skills through a guided play environment, but they also practice how to manage conflict, fear, and uncertainty.

For many years we have put aggressive boys into sports teams to help them direct their aggression in a positive environment.  Sports are a type of battle—there are winners and losers.  Here we teach how to be a gracious winner and a tempered loser.  We teach that losing is not the end.  To keep on trying to win at your goal.  The same type of positive application can be true of combat play using toys.

I said this was personal.  Yes.  My grandson is separated from his father.  A father who has not found the value in being an active participant in his life.  Additionally, my grandson has some emotional disabilities that make it harder for him to control his impulses.  The combination of feelings of sadness, loneliness for his father, anger, and lack of control leads to episodes of behavior problems.  My goal is to give him a healthy way to vent these feelings before they build up and contribute to problems that can impact his ability to interact socially.

My grandson is very smart and creative; he loves to make things.  So, I made him a bad-guy that he helped design.  I suggested when he feelings anger, this bad guy is tough enough for a pretend battle.  I gave him permission, if you will, to act out on this character.  My hopes are the stuffed bad guy, that he help make, would help him transition from feelings of anger to feelings of confidence that he can win even when life hurts.  I understand that this toy is not a “magic bullet” in the war over hurt and sadness, but perhaps it can be a tool to help him in times when he needs to express the negative energy created by being hurt in his situation.  At a time when his maturity is not enough to reconcile the situation of his broken home.  I figure, at minimum, he will know his grandmother loves him and this bad guy that we built together represents a positive element in his life.

Via E Japanese Oni Plush Toy PDF Pattern

The feature picture is of the stuffed bad guy my grandson designed.  He selected the colors. (The color selection gives insight, doesn’t it?)  Later today, he will glue on the face pieces and decide what his Japanese oni should wear and we will make it together.  Perhaps we will make some more battle tools to aid his play experience. I hope my story and thoughts create conversations on how we can help our little ones navigate a big and sometimes difficult world.

Bumper Cars

Have you ever been on a bumper car attraction? 

Perhaps they are most enjoyed from the sidelines as you can’t help but to smile and feel joy.  Some bumper cars cruise around the arena intently avoiding others.  Some charge at full speed to bump the car of this methodical avoidance.  With triumphant glee, they “got you.”  And in the spirit of bumper cars, perhaps you laugh and then maneuver to a safer space.  Then there are those who get caught up in the crowd, bumping and being bumped.  It seems there is always a car that gets stuck against the edge of the arena that can’t seem to figure out how to get un-stuck.

I was thinking, life is like a bumper car attraction—bumping others and being bumped.  We get bumped by people, employers, governmental policy, etc.  And in our attempt to find a safer space, we bump others.  I wonder if a secret to living a joyful life is more about inner joy and the ability to move on after being “bumped.”

Perhaps it is about creating a circle around those who are being targeted by the “got you” bumper types.  But doing so in a way that the act of protecting is its own reward, creates its own joy.

I think a joyful soul is a powerful elixir.  So many tales of extreme hardship have turned into powerful messages that leave a positive imprint on society’s reflection.  You see, people are watching.  They see you.  They feel you.  If you can be joy filled, love filled when you are being bumped, the blessing of peace will be yours and it will spread to others.

Yes, it is a game of bumper cars.  We will be bumped.  Sometimes gently, other times with great force.  We can’t control what bumper cars are going to do, where they will go, we can only control our reaction to being bumped.

Fill your minutes, hours, days with joyful thoughts.  Reflect on your best memories, your cherished ones, and plan the next.  Let good fill your mind and pull it deep into your soul.  Be a protective bumper for those in need and share your joy with others.

Be a light unto the world and darkness will be nothing more than a shadow of passing bumps.

Together we can extinguish, or at least make burdens less heavy, by having a joyful heart and sharing it with another.

My heart to yours,


What is the story of Alexis, and who designs Dollfriends(R)?

Alexis O'Shay, Alexis, Alexis doll, Alexis Dollfriend, Via E
Alexis 2012 Release in her “Fun in the Sun” outfit

Alexis was created in 2012 but her story goes back to 2009 when I, Ellen Callen, created two characters – Alexis and Elena to share a world of diversity and love of learning.

Originally, Via E was an online retail store selling over 800 items for 18″ dolls. Alexis and Elena were the characters and models. Mattel, Inc., who owns American Girl, LLC, was quick to have their legal team shoot a warning shot across the bow of the young Via E concept. That was my first lesson of their power. I had sent out a simple email promotion the first week of opening Via E and within days they ordered me to close my doors, stating several legal statutes and scary language. Some of what they were upset about had merit and some was just an effort to push me off the industry map. In the end, I quickly evolved to a place where Via E could move forward without Mattel drowning me in legal battels.

Over the years they (American Girl, LLC.) have “borrowed” concepts from Via E…in the industry it is known as taking inspiration from others which is completely legal. I’ve had my own legal advisors review merits of such activity and have had some experienced industry lawyers tell me I had a case against various violators who became too inspired with my work. When a company takes another company’s concept and makes it their own it is seen as unfair but it is also the American way.

Recently, I was contacted and notified that American Girl, LLC, has created a character and named it Alexis. They have created a line of themed clothing representing different countries around the world and as they have done before, they have used similar hair color and style, eye and skin color as one of our award-winning characters. If this is true, what does that mean? What it means is we are now the inspiration for the largest toy company in the world. Everyone knows Mattel, et al, “borrows” from many industry players so that doesn’t make us special but it does validate our little company.

Should we feel threatened? NO.

Mattel and their American Girl division is loved by many and not so loved by others. Mattel can not be Via E. American Girl cannot be Via E. Only we can be Via E. Our stories, our characters, our designs, our community, our friendship is ours and ours to share.

YES, I am the designer and Via E Inc., is the copyright owner of Alexis Christine O’Shay(TM) Dollfriend(R) and the same is true of Tatiana, Elena, Kewanee, Melina, Mako and Nikan and my inspiration comes directly from YOU.

I do not visit any other doll company sites. I do not research any other dolls to find my inspiration. In fact, I purposely stay away from such activities because I don’t want to dilute the inspiration that is YOU.

So, let’s continue designing new Dollfriends(R) and Brothers Adventures(TM) our own way. If others are inspired, let’s smile knowing our light is burning brighter when others are warmed by it.

Alexis is a name shared by many, but there is only one Alexis Christine O’Shay(TM) and we know who she is and are the masters of her continued journey around the world. After Melina and Mako arrive and we have our celebration time, we will start another Advanced Production Adventure together. A new girl and a new boy will join Alexis as she and her friends learn about different people, places, and cultures.

So, spread the word that our community is open to all and inspired by all who wish to join our family known as Via E.

(Legal disclaimer: Mattel Inc, and American Girl, LLC are not associated in any way with Via E, Inc. This story is my own accounting of events that have transpired and are disclosed only in an effort to further differentiate Via E copyrights from possible consumer confusion between the brands aforementioned.)

Melina Akemi™ Dollfriend® Activity – Japanese Kanzashi Flowers

Making Japanese kanzashi flowers are a wonderful craft for all ages.  I suggest you first use squares of paper, two inch by two inch (has to be perfect square.)  When you move on to fabric, make sure you use heavy starch on the fabric or ribbon.  This will help hold the fabric in the folding process.  When you start to make small flowers, use tweezers to help you hold the fabric as you move from stage to stage of the folding.  Post your Kanzashi on the Facebook page for all to see!  Facebook.ViaE.Dollfriends.

Via E Melina Akemi Dollfriend

Via E Melina Akemi Dollfriend

A Fashion Designer in the Making

Dollfriend Sewing, Via E, Meet Zaleeya, a budding Fashion Designer.  Many dreams and careers are launched during the tender ages of youth.  It is then when we often know ourselves the best–before the world tells us what we are supposed to become.  I met Zaleeya at a Girl Scout event where she was being recognized for her accomplishments in math and science.  Zaleeya’s goal is to someday become a Fashion Designer.  I thought to myself, why not now?  So, I asked Zaleeya to create a fashion for our Tatiana Dollfriend®.  Happily, she was as excited to take on the project as I was to ask her to do so.

I put forth no guidelines or requests, the design was to be just Zaleeya and her own creativity.

FIRST:  Zaleeya sketched many different design ideas and then selected her favorite design.

NEXT, she was off to the local fabric store to find the materials needed to create her vision.

THEN having the design and the fabric, it was time to get busy making the pattern and fitting the design for Tatiana.  Zaleeya spent many days with her sewing teacher, measuring, cutting, sewing, and adjusting until she came up with her finished product.

Via E Sewing, Dollfriend Sewing, Tatiana Dollfriend

A, little bit of sparkle, coordinating accent rose belt with three flower accents to pull together the perfect pallet of color.  Part of being a Fashion Designer is knowing how to create fashions that will make the person wearing the outfit look their best.  I think we would all agree Zaleeya has a promising Fashion Design Career in her future!Via E Sewing, Dollfriend Sewing, Tatiana Dollfriend

Be a Dollfriend® Fashion Designer like Zaleeya.  Make your own patterns or find patterns for Dollfriends at https://via-e.com/collections/sewing-patterns-and-activities.

Thank you Zaleeya!

Tell a friend about Elena

I’ve made a flyer to help spread the news about Elena.  Please print or copy it to an email and use it to tell a friend about Elena so we can spread the word that we have something special at Via E.  Your help is greatly appreciated!!

(To print, copy and paste into Microsoft Word Doc or other application.  To copy, right click on your mouse and then select copy.)