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Author: susantara

One Year Later

One Year Later

Soon buds and leaves
will fill the empty spaces.
In the mind of this love
The fissures mend themselves.

-Sharon Salzberg

This week marked my mom’s first “angelversary.” In the early evening on Memorial Day last year, our family gathered around her bed to say goodbye. She passed on during the night, in the wee morning hours.

This year, Memorial Day weekend was pretty rough as I remembered each day leading up to her death. Ideally, I would have been more mindful and resilient, but I was worn out from various personal and work-related matters and was not at my most resourceful. I cried a lot. However, one morning later in the week, I woke up feeling peaceful and hopeful. Mercifully, the energy seems to have shifted.

On the evening that marked the official anniversary, the weather and the colors of the sunset were essentially the same as they were exactly one year prior.

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There was a familiar holiness to the evening, a deep, comforting peace in the air. Before going to bed, I stepped outside and savored the intoxicating fragrance of black locust blossoms that permeated the warm, evening air as a few fireflies flashed under the light of the rising moon. I returned to the practice of writing in a daily gratitude journal, realizing that gratitude makes all the difference in the world.

The remainder of my mom’s ashes were interred during the week, and yesterday, family and a few close friends gathered for a ceremony at the cemetery and formed a circle of love around her grave. The circle of the year – a long cycle of holidays and rituals – is now complete.

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But I have to say… This past year has been the most intense, challenging, and vulnerable year of my life, as I tried my best to adjust to the physical loss of my mother and best friend. The toughest parts have been not being able to pick up the phone and call her to share news and yearning for the kind of presence only a mom can provide. 

I  journeyed deep into the wilderness, although on the surface I continued to go to work every day and did my best to fulfill my various roles and responsibilities. I functioned to the best of my ability despite feeling like I was living two different lives. And I learned so much.

I learned a lot about the nature of codependence and the importance of putting our foot down even when it breaks our heart to do so. I learned that we can neither depend on anyone else to rescue or complete us, nor can we save anyone from doing the hard work that is necessary for their own growth. The best we can do for others is to be a loving, radiant presence – a beacon of light and inspiration rather than a sponge. I learned not to look to anyone else to give me what is already latent inside me, for others can only support me in finding it within. I learned that what matters most is love and that we can only love and nurture others to the extent that we love and nurture ourselves. 

I learned that grief comes in waves that can throw you off balance if you’re not mindful, and I know what it feels like to have my body ache with the heaviness of grief – to feel it in my heart, solar plexus, and sacral chakras, and deep down in my bones. To feel it so intensely that I want to scream at the top of my lungs or do whatever I can to expel it so it won’t suffocate me, even though resisting it only makes it worse. It’s not just the loss of my mother but the loss of so much else as well. To restate it in more hopeful terms, it has been a year of clarity and clearing the way for what’s next – even though I don’t yet know what’s next.

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Perhaps most important of all, I’ve learned that when I feel shattered, empty, and severed, my core essence remains whole, immaculate, radiant, and indelibly connected.

For about 25 years, I’ve had recurring nightmares in which a door of my house couldn’t be locked. I feared an intruder would enter and harm me. On Memorial Day, I dreamed that two different doors had broken locks and was afraid when I heard a man call my name in the distance. Then I noticed two adolescent boys entering the garage and shooed them away. They returned later and took some of my possessions, which I demanded that they return. When they gave them back to me, I looked at the objects in my hands and realized I had no use for them. I told the boys they could have them – and anything else they wanted. I realized I was surrounded by things that I no longer needed and wanted to open up the garage and let people come and take what they wanted and thereby lighten my load. I wanted to let go of all the stuff, rather than hold onto it, and realized there wasn’t anything that really could be stolen from me. It was a wonderful dream that had a deeper meaning and also filled me with a strong desire to purge so many possessions in my waking life. Get rid of what no longer serves a purpose to make room for something new.

On this anniversary of my mom’s passing, I feel as if I am emerging from the forest. I spent a full year wrestling with the illusion of separation and loss and becoming clear about what is not healthy for me. Letting go is a process, but I am finding my way back to the Source and turning toward the light. My backbone, which had softened for a while, is on the mend.

I’m sensing that all the while during the deep, dark winter of grief, I was like a chess piece being moved by the unseen hands of a master. I am beginning to sense the brilliance of this cosmic dance we do on earth and the energies that come to our aid. Perhaps what felt like a humbling fall from grace is all part of the dance, and there are no mistakes, only opportunities to learn and grow.

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Recently, I took my kindergarten class to see local puppeteers perform The Wizard of Oz. Before the performance, I summarized the story for them, and tears welled up in my eyes when I talked about how each character yearned for something they thought they lacked. They put their faith in the great and powerful Wizard of Oz to give them what they desired. However, in the end, Oz explained to them that they had these qualities in them all along. At the end of the show, Glinda assured Dorothy that now that she knows in her heart where Home is, she will be able to go there. And after she returned home, she always remembered and was enriched by her adventures in Oz.

What a great metaphor for the past year.

This morning, I woke up and realized that, like Dorothy, I was wearing silver shoes of protection fashioned by my mom’s love for me as I wandered through the enchanted forest. All is well – and I believe it always has been.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mother’s Day Anyway

Mother’s Day Anyway

I did not intend to write a Mother’s Day post. I meant to write about ferns, which I fell in love with all over again this week. However, when I walked the labyrinth this morning, I realized that ferns will have to wait.

Tomorrow will be my first Mother’s Day without my mom, and I wanted to pretend it’s just another day. Skip it. I made it through the week with my kindergartners. A substitute teacher read them a Mother’s Day story, and my classroom volunteer took the lead in helping the children put together a Mother’s Day gift. She bought all the supplies and planted flowers in terra cotta pots they decorated with Sharpies. She is an angel.

While walking the labyrinth this morning, it occurred to me that the best way to remember and honor my mom on Mother’s Day is to be the person she raised me to be. The person virtually every mother tries to raise her child to be. Simply put: A good human being.

There is a big difference between being and doing. My mom and I were forever at odds when it came to doing – the more superficial layer that made us appear to be so different. Being is who we are at the core, and it is where we are much more alike than we are different. It is the manner in which we travel rather than what we do along the way.

As a mom, I know from personal experience what mothers want for their children and how forgiving they are. Our moms don’t want us to suffer or have a difficult life. They want us to thrive.

I know my mom would want me to be happy, kind, and hopeful about the future. She’d want me to be gracious and to bring light to this world.

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Spend more time with family.

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Keep company with people who are good to me.

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Work hard but also relax and have fun.

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She would want me to do what I love

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…and to continue growing and cultivating new interests and friendships.

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She’d want me to have a smile for everyone I meet – and that is probably the biggest and easiest thing I can do to carry on her essence because it comes naturally to me.

My mom modeled all of these qualities to me for nearly 50 years, so I have had a good teacher.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often describes his mother as extremely warmhearted, kind, and gentle and considers her his earliest teacher of compassion. He explains that when we are babies, our survival is completely dependent on our mothers, and therefore we learn warmheartedness and compassion from them. He advises parents to give children maximum love and affection so they may develop these qualities. Some mothers are kinder and gentler than others, and I was fortunate to have an extraordinarily nurturing mom who made you feel like the most important, wonderful person in the world. This didn’t only apply to her own children but to everyone with whom she interacted. That is how many people describe her. Being raised by such a loving, nurturing mother not only helped me develop those qualities but also served as the basis of my belief in a benevolent and forgiving Universal Life Force.

After walking the labyrinth, I went to my dad’s house, where my mom’s tulips were in full bloom. Her gardens look so lovely this year, and I spent quite a while walking around the yard photographing them.

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How wonderful that her flowers continue to come up in the spring even after she has departed from this earth. The flowers represent ways in which my mother made the world more beautiful – acts of kindness that carry on.

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The dainty lilies of the valley caught my attention. No flower transports me back to childhood like lilies of the valley. They grew at the edge of our yard right next to the swing set when I was young and emitted such a sweet fragrance that must have combined with leisurely hours of play to produce a sweet, indelible memory. I used to imagine that if you shook them gently, lilies of the valley would tinkle like little fairy bells.

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Upon spotting the lilies of the valley, I had a mental image of a few lily of the valley sprigs on the kitchen windowsill inside a miniature vase I got from a trip to Hawaii. I remembered how fragrant the mini bouquet smelled when I walked by and knew that if my mom were still alive, she’d clip a few lilies of the valley and put them in that little vase with the broken handle to brighten up the kitchen. So that’s what I did!

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Sometimes we parents are surprised when our children don’t recall experiences that we believed would make a big enough impression to be remembered. But sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that become planted deep inside us and grow into lifelong memories. Tiny but comforting gestures. As a mother, I find hope and comfort in that.

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As much as I have wanted to just wish Mother’s Day away, it happened anyway – a day early. And it seems my mom even made an appearance! As my dad and I drove past the local recreational field,  a car was backing into the road from the parking lot just as we went by. It was my mom, in her car (the same one in which we were driving)! I exclaimed, “There’s Mom!” It was so matter-of-fact, but when I was alone afterward, it hit me: Perhaps she has been trying to get through to my dad, but he needs some help to notice? Several friends have claimed they have seen her, but this was the first time I saw either her or her twin with an identical car! There’s more to this story because of the context in which it took place, but I’ll just leave it at that.

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Last night I went through pictures of my mom to send to someone who is making a video about the hospice house in which she died, and I came across pictures of her and my grandmother together. They both died within 3 1/2 years. Each was the epitome of kindness. Until recently, I was able to lean on them for the nurturing that nobody else in this world can provide. But now they’re gone, and I am the matriarch even though I don’t feel ready to step into that role. I didn’t see it coming so soon! It is a role I will need to grow into, and I hope everyone will be patient with me. I’ll get better at it as time goes on.

Fortunately, my mother and grandmother provided me with nearly 50 years of role-modeling, and every time I act with kindness and compassion, I feel their spirits being channeled through me. And thus, their legacy lives on.

Although many tears have been shed today, I realize I’m not alone walking this twisting, turning path of grief. And that does bring some solace. My heart is with everyone else who is missing his or her mom on Mother’s Day.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Waterfall at the Edge of the Wilderness

A Waterfall at the Edge of the Wilderness

It is May, the month my mother died last year, on the 27th. And lately I have been experiencing a gaping, intense sense of loss.

It’s not just the loss of my mother. It’s how her death has opened my eyes to the brevity, gift, and opportunity of our human lives and shown me what is not working in my life and what needs to change. After a fairly frenetic summer and fall, I spent a long, dark winter wandering through the vast wilderness of grief. Deep snowfall covered the path for several months, and I lost my way, bewitched by shadows and longing for light. It was a very long winter of record-breaking snowfall. But below the thick, silent blanket of snow, there was movement. I confronted issues that were long overdue and witnessed people close to me undergoing painful yet powerful transformations. To witness extraordinary transformation – to know it is even possible – is a blessing. Even in the deep darkness of winter, there is a light that can nourish us and help us grow if we choose to turn toward it.

Eventually the snowbanks melted, the first flowers bloomed, and the birds began to sing again. Trees and shrubs sprouted buds from unpruned branches still hosting the lacy ghosts of last year’s blooms.

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The snow and ice to which we had become accustomed melted, and the water began to flow. The river levels rose, and grief took on a different, more fluid quality that came at me in waves, like labor contractions. Some particularly huge ones hit this week.

Again, it wasn’t just the loss of my mother – although that is big enough on its own. There is a confluence of loss arising in my heart, including the loss of my profession and having an empty nest earlier than I had planned. Two nights ago, I began sobbing uncontrollably. I felt grief and loss deep in my bones and in my heart. It was perhaps the deepest manifestation of emotional pain I ever have experienced in my life. I became a human waterfall that continued to flow all day yesterday. When a stranger wished me a good day and smiled at me, it brought tears to my eyes. And it occurred to me that when we have reached the limit of what we can endure and feel so broken, we are about to learn that we are much stronger than we believed ourselves to be. It is an opportunity to redefine our limits and our lives.  And to remember the importance of basics, like getting enough sleep and exercise.

Putting up the May pocket chart calendar in my empty classroom, I had to blink back tears – especially when I put the 27 card in place. Tears flowed again when I took out the May books and came across some Mother’s Day books – which I realize I will not be able to read to my class this year.

I checked my email and, as if on cue, received A Note from the Universe that read:

“Any and all forms of separation, disconnects, divides, partings, breakups, and goodbyes are temporary. Very. You’ll be together far, far longer than you will ever be apart.”

Realizing I was having a grueling day, a woman whom I consider a soul sister assured me that it will get better and that even when you think you have gone backwards, you will find that you moved forward but just didn’t know it. She assured me that I will be myself again, but it will take time. She said I will never forget but will find peace. I am grateful for her wisdom and friendship.

At the water’s edge, I recently watched several geese floating peacefully. Whenever a wave approached them, they floated calmly,  gracefully, and effortlessly up and over it, as if not phased by it in the least. Oh, to navigate the waves of life and loss with such grace!

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And I know I can do it. I have an incredible toolbox that has been underutilized in recent months. Now that spring has arrived, life feels more spacious, and it’s time to put those tools into fuller use once again. First of all, I must restore my own center as the axis about which my life spins, for it has wobbled.

Now that the snow has melted, the labyrinth I love to walk has revealed itself and invited me to enter. Filled with a bittersweet mix of gratitude and sorrow, I walked through the threshold of arched willow branches and along the winding path to the center. The sun was descending in the sky and shining through the daffodils surrounding the labyrinth, giving them the transparency of stained glass mandalas.

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The scene was just like it was a year ago, when I found it so breathtaking that I called my mom and asked her if she wanted to see something beautiful. She said yes, and I immediately jumped in the car, picked her up, and brought her to the labyrinth to be amongst the flowers.

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I continued to walk the labyrinth with hot tears streaming down my cheeks. One step at a time, I returned…to myself and to my sacred space. And the sunlit daffodils whispered: This is your life. Enter it fully. And I knew these words to be true.

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And I shall do so, with gratitude. This little life of mine is far from perfect, and there is much room for growth. But it is mine, and it is time to shake off the spell of the wintry wilderness and reclaim it, one mindful footstep at a time.

As for all that no longer fits or that moves beyond my embrace:

I release you to the universe with gratitude for the gifts we have given each other and for the seeds we have planted in each other. We exist forever in the places we were together and in each others’ memories and heart. All is well. And in the end, love is all that remains.

And so I wake up to the spaciousness of this new day, this new month – no longer a waterfall but with a heart budding with hope and open to the generous offerings of spring. The daffodils seem to be a good place to begin.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flotation Restoration

Flotation Restoration

Today I did something I’ve never done before. I spent 90 minutes inside a float tank (or sensory deprivation tank) in complete darkness and silence, floating ever so peacefully at a local massage center. It was a deeply relaxing, amazing experience.

I first heard about sensory deprivation tanks many years ago – I think in reference to Michael Jackson. They’ve been around for about 60 years. Though the idea sounded intriguing, I didn’t give it much thought until I came across a brochure for the Saratoga Springs Float Spa when I was in town last week – and called to make an appointment as soon as I got home! I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately and wanted to try something new to relieve the stress.

The float tank was located in a tranquil, dimly lit room with a harmonious, feng shui decor that matched the rest of the massage center and the warm and welcoming energy of owner, Tyler Fedigan. It felt like a very protective and nurturing space. Next to the tank was a shower, and I was instructed to shower before and after using the tank.

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The  tank contains about ten inches of salt water (five times denser than the ocean) that is kept at body temperature. There was a dim light on inside when I entered the tank (which felt like entering a cave), and when I pushed the button to turn off the light, I was in complete darkness. When I lay back in the water, my ears were submerged, and the only sound I heard was my breath. It was actually quite loud, almost like a respirator. (I was wearing earplugs to avoid swimmer’s ear.) But aside from that, there were no other sounds whatsoever.

I felt safe inside the tank, and it didn’t take long at all to become completely relaxed. The buoyant salt water supported me completely. I floated effortlessly and allowed every muscle in my body to relax. Since the water was at body temperature (“skin-receptor neutral”), it was nearly impossible to discern my physical boundaries. I felt at-one with my environment and was surprised when gentle music began playing under water to signal the end of the 90-minute session because it didn’t seem as though that much time had passed.

I tried to do a form of mindfulness meditation in the float tank. However, aside from the sound of my breath, there weren’t any anchors for my attention! Usually when I meditate on my breath, I fix my attention on either the air entering and leaving my nostrils, the elevator-like movement of my diaphragm, or my belly rising and falling with each in-breath and out-breath. However, since I wasn’t aware of my physical boundaries in the tank, I couldn’t focus on the latter two sensations. I could barely feel my body at all! The only time I became aware of my physical boundaries was when I made a slight movement. When I moved, the water felt a bit cool against my skin but immediately warmed up, and I once again lost all sense of physical boundaries, weight, and mass. I just felt weightless and light.

Although people’s experiences in the float tank differ, for me, thoughts did not take hold. Any thoughts that started didn’t get very far. They had a very short lifespan. It seemed that, due to the complete absence of external stimuli, there was nothing to sustain them. Any thoughts that arose had absolutely no emotional charge. It seemed that no negatively charged thought could exist in the absence of gravity, light, and sound. All was well. Complete peace.

It was a very womb-like experience. Coming out of the tank at the end of the session felt like being born. I emerged covered with extremely salty water, which made me think of a baby being born covered with vernix.

It was interesting to hear people’s reactions when I told them about it – from “There is no way in heck I would get in that thing!” to “I’ve heard of those and always thought it would be awesome to try,” to “Do you think I’d like it?”

My time in the float tank served as a profoundly peaceful experience that I can recall when I’m feeling anxious. I can return there in my mind to facilitate relaxation, just as I visualize floating in my kayak or sitting by my favorite waterfall. I remained extremely relaxed and peaceful for the rest of the day – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’ve read that this afterglow usually lasts for days and sometimes up to a month!

Before leaving, I signed up for additional sessions. Between the heavy workload of the final two months of the school year, the first anniversary of my mom’s death coming up Memorial Day weekend, and other personal matters that have been weighing on me, I think some gravity-defying, deep relaxation in the float tank will be greatly therapeutic! I’m so glad to have discovered this form of relaxation!

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Creating Board Games Based on Children’s Literature

Creating Board Games Based on Children’s Literature

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is sharing quality literature with children – which is rooted in positive, engaging experiences I had reading and discussing books with my own children. When my daughter and son were in elementary school, they rarely were seen without books in their hands. They toted them around wherever they went. When my son was five, he began creating movie posters and sequels based on favorite books. It was something he loved to do! Some of my favorite family memories revolved around J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. My daughter began reading the series  when she was in third grade and introduced us to the first movie, which got us hooked. From then on, we spent summers anticipating the release of a new book or movie in the series. We completed the series through a combination of reading aloud and listening to audiobooks together.

Following the release of the fifth book, we created a Harry Potter Monopoly board game as a family project just for fun. But it could have been a great school project, as well. Creating a literature-based board game is a creative alternative to the standard book report. Comprehension can be demonstrated through the creation of questions written on cards, directions located on the board, and/or illustrations. For example, cards and game spaces could reference positive events that move a player forward and negative events that set a player back. Creating a board game also can be a means of reinforcing lessons in social studies, science, and math, and integrating technology. It even could be an alternative form of autobiography. The level of technology used in creating a board game can be varied according to factors such as student capabilities and home or classroom resources.

The rather involved and high-tech process of creating our Harry Potter game touched upon numerous learning standards for English Language Arts (ELA); Math, Science, and Technology; and the Arts. This post will describe in detail instructions for creating board games from books. It also will describe the specific procedures involved in designing our Harry Potter Monopoly game.

Choosing a Theme and Format

Materials:

  • Store-bought board games

After reading the book, the first step in creating your own game is to choose a theme. The rich details in the Harry Potter series offer endless possibilities. However, virtually any book or series that appeals to a child could be incorporated into a game. For example, picture books written by Eric Carle or Jan Brett are well suited to the basic Candyland format.

It goes without saying that there are many different kinds of board games. The next step is to examine a number of pre-existing games. Consider theme, rules, design, and whether they are based on skill, chance, cooperation, or a combination. After comparing and contrasting a few different games, you can begin thinking about what kind of game you would like to create. We chose to create a Monopoly game, which is a fairly complicated undertaking. However, simpler formats could be based on examples such as Candyland, Slides and Ladders, Trivial Pursuit, or Sorry.

Designing the Layout

Materials: 

  • Paper (larger is better)
  • Pencils, pens, makers, and/or crayons

After selecting a format and a theme, it’s time to design the board by sketching a rough version on a piece of paper. For example, you could create a meandering design like Candyland or a grid of squares like Chutes and Ladders.

Game templates (click to view and/or download)

This step might involve some mathematical computations, in order to create evenly sized spaces or determine how many spaces can fit. Now is not the time to make a final version of your game board. It is best to wait until the rest of the materials have been created so you can test it out to see if it really works.

We examined our store-bought Monopoly game and plotted the individual spaces on our Harry Potter board by identifying significant locations and innovations mentioned in the books. After reading the fifth book in the series, we decided on the following color-coded spaces:

Purple: Wizard Chess, Quidditch

Light blue: Privet Drive, The Burrow, Grimmauld Place

Magenta: Platform 9 ¾, The Leaky Cauldron (pub/bed and breakfast), Eeylops Owl Emporium

Orange: Flourish & Blotts (bookstore), Madam Malkins’ Robes for All Occasions, Ollivander’s (wand shop)

Red: The Three Broomsticks (pub), Zonko’s Joke Shop (had we made the game after reading subsequent books, this would have been Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes) , Honeydukes (sweets shop)

Yellow: The Infirmary, The Library, Slytherin House

Green: Hufflepuff House, Ravenclaw House, Gryffindor House

Dark blue: Dumbledore’s Study, Ministry of Magic

There also were four spaces related to transportation (Hogwarts Express, The Knight Bus, Portkey, and Floo Powder) and two related to magical inventions (Invisibility Cloak and Time Turner). There were two special spaces: Snape’s Dungeon (lose a turn) and Lab Fee (make a payment). There were three Trivia Challenge spaces and three Chance spaces. When a player lands on these spaces, he or she chooses either a Trivia Challenge or Chance card (described below). The four corner spaces were: “Go” (collect money), Azkaban (jail), Free Parking, and “Go to Azkaban.”

Creating Cards

Materials:     

  • White cardstock or blank, unlined index cards
  • Scissors and/or a paper cutter
  • Stamps, stickers, pens, colored pencils, or crayons (low tech version)
  • Ink jet printer, page layout or drawing program, Internet access, browser, and clip art (high tech version)

Cards are an optional but effective means to demonstrate comprehension and incorporate the book’s events into the game. Blank index cards work well. They can be used whole or cut in half. First, write questions or statements on the front of the card. You could include positive events that move a player forward and negative events that set a player back. Then decorate the back with stamps, stickers, simple drawings that are easily reproduced, or even digital images.

If you decide not to use cards, directions and/or illustrations on the game board can serve the same purpose. For example, you could write directions on individual spaces that reflect events in the book. One (Winnie-the-Pooh related) example could be: “Tigger is stuck in a tree; go back three spaces.”

Here is an example of a Simple Board Game Template.

Our Harry Potter Monopoly game required two sets of cards. First, we created “Trivia Challenge” cards. For these, we came up with multiple-choice format questions about characters, places, and events in the books. This activity was rather time-consuming; we ended up with 250 cards and could have kept going! We started by writing the questions on index cards but then decided to give them a more “professional” appearance by putting them into a desktop publishing program, with 15 cards per sheet. (Correct answers were indicated in purple ink.) After formatting all of our comprehension questions, I searched for and then downloaded a whimsical PDF image of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I used the image to create a design to be printed on the back of the cards. Finally, I printed the cards on cardstock, front and back, and we cut them to size.

HP Trivia cards

After completing the set of Trivia Challenge cards, we made “Chance” cards with Harry Potter scenarios and consequences that involved going to a certain space on the board or paying or receiving money. This was fun for everyone. A couple examples we came up with were: “You came out in the wrong fireplace; go back 3 spaces” and, “Snape caught you wandering the corridor at night; advance to Snape’s Dungeon (but don’t collect any money for passing ‘Go’).” After creating about 50 of these cards, I designed a back, printed the cards on cardstock, and then we cut them out.

HP chance cards

Creating Game Pieces

Materials (choose one of the following):

  • Flattened marbles (in different colors)
  • Small, polished stones with or without stickers
  • Light cardboard (cereal box weight) and pens and/or pictures and glue
  • Small, dull stones, Mod Podge, glitter, a small paintbrush, and small photos or other images
  • Any other small objects

Almost any small objects can be used for game pieces. The most important considerations are that they can fit on the board spaces and be easily distinguished from one another. You can make a simple game piece by putting a sticker onto a smooth stone. Or you could make a simple cardboard game piece by drawing a picture or design on a small piece of light cardboard. (Alternatively, you could glue a picture or photo onto the cardboard.) Cut out the game piece. Next, cut a ½” rectangle from the same kind of cardboard. Cut a slit in the middle of the rectangle, going halfway through. Also cut a slit of the same length in the bottom of the playing piece, and fit the two pieces together to create a standing figure. Or simply save game pieces from commercial games.

We made magical game pieces out of small, smooth stones. First, I downloaded and printed images of several of the most prominent Hogwarts students onto plain white paper. For a low-tech alternative, children could draw and label their own characters on paper, cut out Harry Potter character images from print ads, or use stickers. We carefully cut around the images and then decoupaged the images onto the stones using Mod Podge mixed with a bit of fine glitter. We applied three coats of the Mod Podge and allowed the stones to dry between coats. Once the final coat dried, we had magically sparkling, beautiful, and durable game pieces.

HP game pieces

Printing Currency (for Harry Potter Monopoly)

Materials:

  • White cardstock
  • Internet access
  • Ink jet printer
  • Scissors

We decided that our Harry Potter Monopoly game could be played either with regular Monopoly money or wizard money. Conveniently, the Harry Potter section of the Activity Village Web site (http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/harry_potter_coins.htm) contained free downloads of galleons, sickles, and knuts. I printed out several sheets of all three kinds of wizard currency, on white cardstock. Then we cut out the coins. We had to make lots of them! It became clear that players could accumulate ridiculous amounts of galleons (the largest coin) during the game, so we decided to use regular Monopoly $50, $100, and $500 bills to represent 50, 100, and 500 galleons, respectively.

HP money

Creating Mortgage Cards (for Monopoly)

Materials:

  • Page layout or drawing program
  • Ink jet printer
  • White cardstock
  • Colored pencils or crayons

To make mortgage cards, I returned to the file in which I created board spaces. I enlarged the spaces, eliminated the images, and listed the rental amounts. There is actually a “dollars to galleons” converter on my favorite Harry Potter website, and I determined rental amounts by using the regular Monopoly properties as a guide. We decided to include both dollar and wizard currency amounts on the mortgage cards. This fairly time-consuming step was one I did on my own. After printing the mortgage cards, we colored them in manually with colored pencils because we liked the effect.

DSCF4878

Testing the Game

Before making the final version, it is highly recommended that you test the game by playing it a few times. That way, you can discover what elements need to be changed, eliminated, or added in order to make it work better. Refrain from making the final version until you have it just how you want it.

Before testing the game, it’s good to talk about how to help the creator(s) of the game by providing kind and constructive criticism. For example, you could establish a rule that before someone suggests an improvement, he or she must say one good thing about the game. Suggestions must be useful and neither critical nor hurtful. In the end, the creator(s) of the game has the final say.

When we tested our Harry Potter game, we found it cumbersome to work with a large amount of galleons, so we decided to also use regular Monopoly $10 and $20 bills to represent 10 and 20 galleons. We also realized that, depending on the age, math ability, and attention level of the players, using three types of wizard coins might slow down the game too much. Therefore, we added an option to use only galleons (the coin with the highest value). If players decide to use only galleons, they would also determine whether or not to round sickles to the nearest galleon. For example, if there are 17 sickles in a galleon and the cost of a given property is 20 galleons, 12 sickles, and 18 knuts, players could decide to simply consider the price to be 20 galleons, or to go an extra step and round the number of sickles up or down to the nearest galleon. In this case, 12 sickles would be rounded up, making the price 21 galleons.

We also realized that we needed to spell out on an instruction sheet the number of knuts in a sickle and the number of sickles in a galleon. In addition, we had to determine a realistic reward for answering a Trivia Challenge question correctly. Finally, we found it necessary to designate in writing the number of coins and bills players would receive at the beginning of the game.

 Constructing the Game Board

Recommended materials:

  • Corrugated cardboard, illustration board, a cereal box (unfolded and trimmed), or an old, unwanted game board
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Poster paper or tag board
  • Elmer’s glue and paintbrush
  • Permanent markers (Sharpies work well)

Optional materials:

  • Double-sided tape or spray adhesive
  • Wrapping paper, mulberry paper, etc.
  • Stickers
  • Clear contact paper
  • Waxed paper
  • Magazine photos
  • Paint
  • Felt
  • Colored paper
  • Aluminum foil

You can be as creative as you want with this step—though simpler tends to be better. In general, games are easier to play when the board is less cluttered. Begin by sketching the design using a pencil and a ruler. You could draw directly on cardboard, draw on poster paper and then glue the paper to the board, and/or cover the board by gluing wrapping paper or mulberry paper all around it. You could paint the board; glue on felt shapes, colored paper, or foil; draw on the board with permanent markers; create a collage out of magazine or book illustrations; or create designs, logos, etc. using a computer. To better preserve the board, consider laminating it with clear contact paper. (If you are drawing on poster paper that will be glued to the board, laminate the poster paper prior to gluing.) Make sure that the spaces are large enough for the game pieces to fit on them. We found that cutting the board in half is an easier alternative to creating a board that folds. If you use glue, you can prevent warping by wrapping the board(s) in waxed paper and pressing them overnight (or longer) under a stack of heavy books.

To make our Harry Potter game, I formatted the spaces in Quark Xpress (desktop publishing software), using the regular Monopoly board as a guide. This was the most time-consuming step. It involved searching the Internet for free and appropriate clip art to download. (Alternatively, children’s drawings could be used.) Images for the board spaces were comprised of: chapter illustrations from the books, stills from the Harry Potter movies, and general clip art found on teacher Web sites.

After selecting images for all of the spaces, I converted U.S. dollars to wizard currency with the help of The Harry Potter Lexicon Wizarding World Currency Converter. At the bottom of each of the spaces, I listed a price for that “property” both in wizard money and dollars to give players some flexibility about which kind of currency they want to use in any given game. After listing all of the prices (using the regular Monopoly board as a guide), the game spaces were ready to be printed onto cardstock and cut to size. We printed the game pieces with the colors at the top of the spaces already filled in and decided we didn’t like the way they looked. So we printed the game pieces a second time, leaving the color rectangles empty, and then colored them in ourselves with colored pencils. We all agreed that the colored pencil effect looked much better.

To assemble the game board, we lined up all of the spaces on a large piece of illustration board to make sure everything fit together all right. I cut the board in half (for more convenient storage) and used Elmer’s glue to cover each half with dark green mulberry paper embellished with gold threads. Next, we glued decorations to the center of the board (spaces for the Trivia and Chance cards, game logo, the Hogwarts shield, an illustration of Harry, and gold stars). Then I carefully arranged the game spaces onto clear contact paper (with the front of the game spaces against the sticky side of the contact paper), put glue on the back of the game spaces, attached the contact paper to the game board (making sure that the spaces lined up precisely), smoothed the contact paper down, and trimmed the edges. To prevent the board from warping, we individually wrapped both halves in waxed paper and pressed them under piles of books for 24 hours.

DSCF4866

Packaging and Storing

Materials:     

  • Shoe box or larger box
  • Permanent markers
  • Rubber bands
  • Ziplock bags
  • Small tin container (such as Altoids; optional) or fabric pouch

The final step is to organize and package all of the parts to the game. To keep the game intact, you’ll want to rubber-band cards together and keep game pieces and other paraphernalia in plastic ziplock bags and/or small tin containers. If you can’t find a box large enough for storing the game board, then store everything but the game board in a shoebox, and rubber-band the board to the shoebox, or just keep the board and shoebox next to each other. In a classroom setting, it’s preferable to store the board inside the box if at all possible. Decorate the box so it can be identified clearly. When the game and packaging is complete, the game can become part of the classroom resources for indoor recess or center time, or an addition to your family’s game library. Students or siblings can exchange their games with one another and enjoy playing one anothers’ games.

In our case, we rubber-banded the three sets of cards (Trivia Challenge, Chance, and mortgage) separately. Then we put the three different kinds of “coins” into ziplock bags. We stored game pieces and dice in a revamped Altoids tin. First, we created a “Game Pieces” label for the top of the tin. We laminated the label with wide tape and then attached it to the tin with double-sided tape. Then we measured and hot-glued a piece of felt to the inner, bottom surface of the tin to make a nice cushion for the game pieces. We stored everything (cards, money, game pieces) in a shoebox. We sometimes used glass jewels for hotels and tiny, colored pebbles (fish tank gravel) for houses. Other times, we used the regular Monopoly houses and hotels for our Harry Potter Monopoly set, but left them in the regular Monopoly set until they were needed.

DSCF4869

Conclusion

For our family, the process of creating a Harry Potter Monopoly game was much more involved than we initially anticipated. However, my children got to practice a variety of skills, had a great time demonstrating their comprehension of the Harry Potter book series, and were obviously proud of the way it turned out. The finished product was a beautiful, one-of-a-kind game that everyone was eager to play.

PlayingGame

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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