Smartpens to Songwriting: Ten Supercool Gift Ideas for Kids and Teens | W.O.R.D. Ink
Vanessa is high-energy smarts and charm, the kind of writer and teacher who captures and captivates readers of all ages.New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia Leitich Smith
Whether it’s teaching a student to become a more vivid creative writer, a more effective analytical writer, or a more selective business writer, Vanessa can do it all.Meli and Stephen Rose
Ms. Ziff maintains a good balance of knowing when to give more help and when to insist that you rise to the challenge of the learning situation. She instills confidence, honors excellence, and respects effort.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
It's obvious that Vanessa is a wordsmith: "Write. Observe. Revise. Discover...W.O.R.D."  These are the four essential ingredients for becoming a writer; two of them about the work (writing and revising) and two of them about the joy (observing and discovering.) Vanessa accomplishes it all.  Julie Larios, award-winning poet and children’s author
What our daughter values most about her time in Vanessa's class is being inspired to become an organized writer who could convey her thoughts in a meaningful manner.Laurie and Chris Harbert
Ms. Ziff set the foundation for my analytical, constructive, and creative skills. Whether writing a sonnet or writing an essay, I still have her lessons in my mind.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Vanessa Ziff Lasdon possesses the dynamic combination of an incisive intellect and boundless passion when it comes to teaching her craft and sharing skills with her students.MaryLynn Richmond
Ms. Ziff always pushed me to do my best, and never let me slack off.  She introduced me to my love of writing and gave me the confidence I needed both academically and in myself.Georgia 9th Grade, The Buckley School
Ms. Ziff’s friendly demeanor and enthusiasm made communicating easy and learning exciting. She taught us to understand and appreciate the material, and have fun in the process.Alivia 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
All of us remember teachers who inspired us to greater heights and who influenced our lives. Vanessa Ziff Lasdon has played this role in my daughters' lives.Jack Tauber, M.D.
The writing skills my daughter, now excelling in ninth grade English Honors, left Vanessa’s class with continue to be an invaluable set of resources.Betsy Leva
Vanessa got my 8-year old son excited and intrigued to dig deeper into his experiences and bring his thoughts to life. Now Evan’s words dance and sing, which makes me want to dance and sing!Sally Micelotta
Ms. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
Vanessa captured the essence of what I wanted to relay on my site without sounding trite, unlike my experience with previous writers.Martin Pugh, Musician
My son learned more about writing and literary appreciation from Ms. Ziff in fifth grade than in any other year of school. I wish all teachers had Vanessa’s passion for teaching and inspiring!Kim Ford
Vanessa’s vast skills, complete dedication, and clear purpose construct a solid core for every student she teaches. Her passionate nature produces both a fun and rewarding learning experience.Michele Noble, Director, Writer, Filmmaker
I honestly don’t know what kind of a writer and reader I would be without the tools I learned with Ms. Ziff. She was always a very understanding, rigorous, and involved teacher, and an incredible mentor.Maddie 9th Grade, Marlborough School
Ms. Ziff is always organized, resourceful, and ready for anything. She believes in a process, [...] the best of all being the Ms. Ziff approach, which makes her spectacular.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Vanessa is a true master of her craft. She is a blast to work with, completely trustworthy and utterly authentic. To work with Vanessa is a privilege; you just want to soak up all her talent, and bottle it up for yourself! She is an inspiration.Sarina Fierro, Head of Lower Elementary, Curtis School

Vanessa is an outstanding writer and a joy to work with.

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer,
While we continue to be impressed by Vanessa’s many attributes, it is her high energy level, extraordinary patience, and passion for what she does that make her truly unique.Melissa and Rob Weiler
Vanessa’s methods are creative, thorough and innovative. She makes writing fun and has turned our daughter’s “like” of writing into a true “LOVE”.The Altmans
Vanessa transformed our son Josh from a decent writer into an excellent writer.  We wholeheartedly recommend Vanessa and her ability to draw out the best in your child’s writing ability.Jill and Larry Krutchik
I learned as much from teaching with Vanessa as any of her students under her guidance. Where so many others fall back on old tricks, Vanessa taps into her extensive experience to invent new methodologies for each and every one of her clients.Patrick Kieffer, Fifth Grade – English & History, The Packer Collegiate Institute
Vanessa is truly a one-of-a-kind teacher. She’s extremely organized, communicates ideas effectively, helps motivate, and has a lively, engaging teaching style that brings out the best efforts in all of her students.Howard Tager
Ms. Ziff is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake
The skills Vanessa taught my son--particularly the value of revising many times […] attention to detail, and high standards—are still with Nico several years later.Liz McNicoll, Attorney, Paramount Pictures
Vanessa’s greatest ability is to help each student realize his or her own untapped potential. It’s the stuff that changes lives!Jacqueline Frohlich
Having an eight-year old highly gifted boy was not enough to make him put all those brilliant ideas on paper. Daniel feels constantly challenged by Vanessa and that ignites him.Liliana Benitez
I know that the many fun and challenging lessons I’ve learned from Ms. Ziff will help me achieve my goal of one day being a professional writer and filmmaker.Jaren S. 7th Grade, The Buckley School
Vanessa has a gift for inspiring even the most reluctant writer and her passion for writing is infectious. She is a favorite workshop leader at our Young Writers’ Conferences.Julie Moore & Rena Svetic, Young Writers’ Conference Founders

Smartpens to Songwriting: 10 Supercool Gift Ideas for Kids & Teens

If you’re like me, the holiday season is somehow slipping from your grasp and your shopping days are limited. What’s more, you want to find just the right gift for each person on your list, although – let’s be honest – some are nearly impossible to please and you’re really trying to steer clear of the plastic gift card route.

In life, I’m big into intentionality, so when I gift, no matter what the age, I go for:

  • Unique
  • Practical
  • Aesthetic
  • Budget-friendly
  • Lovingly made or expertly crafted

Check out the following 10 supercool hi-tech-meets-lo-tech gift ideas for kids and teens that I’ve personally sized up. Each is sure to make everyone’s spirits merry and bright!

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun

A 350-page DIY “activity guide and curiosity-sparker” for all things fun. The book is geared toward ages 8-14, but many activities involve adult participation, and you’re definitely going to want to play! Top 10 reasons I love Unbored. ($16.50)





GOOD calls it the Dollhouse 2.0, and says, “Roominate lets girls play architect, designer, and technologist” all at once. With Roominate, a girl can build any room she can imagine. ($59-$225)





Tabletop Moviemaking

Easy, fun, and palm-sized! Tabletop moviemaking shrinks production from months to hours and down to table-size scope, all captured with an iPad or handheld. Kids sketch, color, cut, paste, tape, sculpt, stage, film, and edit their own tabletop stories. So Awesome! ($49.95)





From “littleBits are like electronic Legos. Kids can build little machines with the various circuit boards. The pieces snap together and have different functions, such as making sounds, lighting up and acting as motors. The company has a special $49 holiday kit for making ornaments and other decorations.”



Portable Ping-Pong Set

This travel-size set is a game changer for any get-together! Materials are well made, net is sturdily built and stays taut, and paddles are really responsive, so slice away! The ping-pong set fits on any table and comes in a handy black travel bag. ($39.95)




Skullastic School Supplies

“School supplies that don’t suck.” These guys are kickass! Each subversive, custom- designed notebook and accessory encourages kids big and little to ‘color outside the lines,’ ‘question authority,’ and ‘raise a little hell.’ My personal faves: spiral-bounds  for lefties and the new “He-Man, Mathter of the Univerth.” ($1-$30)



Cricket Magazines for Kids and Teens

These award-winning educational children’s magazines are the gift that keeps on giving. Fiction and nonfiction choices are available at each age level. Try Babybug for 6 mo.s- 3 years, Click for 3-6, Ask for 6-9, Cricket or Muse for 9-14, and Cicada for 14+. Order digital editions in time for the holidays, with the promise of a print version to come! ($34)



Kindle Fire HD

The device that’s revolutionizing the book industry and definitely boosting reading skills! The Kindle Fire lets you sync audiobooks with Kindle books, bookmark across both text and audio formats, track reading by highlighting in real time or going ‘bimodal’ (audio + visual), and set time limits on use of items like games, apps and videos. (starts at $135)



Echopen & Livescribe

The ingenious Livescribe Pulse smartpen is the best thing to ever happen to your student’s daily school supplies. Along with its hi-tech companion notebook, the pen records everything you write, hear or say, and replays your lectures simply by tapping on the notes. Built in wifi on the newest model means that print and audio notes are automatically synced to organized files in Evernote. Pencasts are usable and shareable in multiple formats for future study. (Echo smartpen: $90. Sky wifi smartpen: $150)


Sessions Songwriting and Music

If you’re in the LA area, you’ll want to get a gift certificate for Sessions Songwriting and Music, “a safe, musical space for kids to comfortably express, experiment, create, and most of all, have fun!” Sessions offers workshops for all ages and abilities in songwriting, piano and guitar, and also features Parent and Me, College Bound, and seasonal camp programs. Sessions has a stellar lineup of teachers and I’m so excited that they focus on both words and music! ($20-$245)



Where to purchase everything: 

  1. Unbored:
  2. Roominate:
  3. Tabletop Moviemaking:
  4. littleBits holiday kit:
  5. Portable Ping-Pong Set:
  6. Skullastic school supplies:
  7. Cricket Magazines:
  8. Kindle Fire:
  9. Echopen & Livescribe:
  10. Sessions Songwriting:



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