Appearance on New Day Cleveland

11 May 2018

Watch the video here:

Make A Colorful Calming Bottle!


Art with Heart Workshops

6 April 2018

“Feel” in the Blanks Now on Shelves!

25 October 2017

“Feel” in the Blanks™ is available for purchase at the Akron Children’s Museum and the Northside Marketplace’s Made in Akron Shop!


Increasing Capacity for Self-Awareness in Youth

16 February 2015


Vanessa Lee will be presenting a free webinar at Vitality 2015 sponsored by Six Seconds. This webinar examines the concept of self-awareness and how to present it to youth using experiential methods. The attendees will walk away with practical ideas to further engage with the young people they work with.

Attend the live webinar on March 19th at 3pm (PDT) or sign up to have a link of the recording of the webinar emailed directly to your inbox.

Click to learn more about

Increasing Capacity for Self-Awareness in Youth

or the other

70+ webinars on emotional intelligence.


Book Review on the Smile Inside Companion Handbooks

27 February 2014

Personal Development Education at its best!

This review is for both “Smile Inside 12-13” and “Smile Inside 14-15.” I give both books Five out of Five stars.

Can I just start by saying that reading these books makes me smile? I’m an author of Young Adult Fiction and I really like young people, and have worked with this age group casually on many occasions because I think they really benefit from the extra care. “Smile Inside” is special because it is for them! These books contain such warmth and so many light-hearted activities. Smile Inside isn’t about “work”: it’s really about having a fun experience and growing into a whole human being in the process. This is a loving and much-needed approach to dealing with what can be serious wellbeing issues among teenagers, at a time when schools and governments are seeking to engage resilience training and personal development courses for students everywhere.

What is Smile Inside? It is an exciting resource for adults who work with young people, either generally, or in the areas of health and personal development. It includes detailed, ready-to-use exercises for specific age groups: the first book is “Smile inside 12-13” and the second is “Smile Inside 14-15;” although the right exercises from these books can be used with younger and older children, and even adults. It’s not a self-help book for teenagers.

…Although I do think teen readers could get a lot out of reading it, trying the exercises that can be done individually, and finding someone like the wellbeing co-ordinator of their school to run some sessions.

A highlight in “Smile Inside 12-13” is an entire section on Emotions, identifying them, thinking about them and understanding that we all experience them in the same way. In fact all of the exercises in “Smile Inside 12-13” encourage strong connections with peers. One of the things I wanted and needed most through my teen years were some strong, trustworthy allies my own age. Throughout “Smile Inside 12-13,” this connection-building is encouraged by teaching self-control, how to speak in a kind way, and how to stand-up for self and others. Role play, props, quotes and jokes are used to make a specific skill-targeted exercise engaging, while minimising “lecturing” from the facilitator (some of these exercises only take five minutes to set-up and explain). The approach is intelligent (no inadvertent talking-down) and considers the learning abilities of the group (some exercises utilise visual skills, others movement, others writing and listening, and so on.)

As it says in Smile Inside 12-13, “Smile Inside encourages participants to become masters of their own minds and behaviour- skills that are necessary for a smooth transition into adulthood.”

While there are some similar activities in “Smile Inside 12-13” and “Smile Inside 14-15,” they are both complimentary (the one builds up to the other, increasing the learning and target-age) and stand-alone (either book can be used without the need for the other.) The instructions are so clear and concise that a facilitator with no formal wellbeing training can pick up the text, get together their group of young people, and go for it.

A highlight of “Smile Inside 14-15” was finding that the exercises presented everything that I wanted to know when I was that age, in the way of social skills, talking to adults, interpreting behaviour, and making an impression on peers and adults. This is done in a structured way that makes the lessons easy to hold in the mind, while making self-exploration and skill-building almost like being in a magic school! So often teens are critised for “not knowing how to behave” but “Smile Inside 14-15” does away with that by confidently teaching young people, “this is what you can do, this is how you can do it.” Like “Smile Inside 12-13,” movement, props, writing exercises, jokes and role play are all used to engage students at their level, and with their issues (for example teen pregnancy was discussed in one example, as was stealing, mental health, and domestic abuse.) I’m of the opinion that teens will respond to this respectful approach to their humanity.

I intend to use these books to help me when I run book launches and workshops, and since reading them I feel more confident and better prepared with these resources right at my fingertips. I also welcome this information to stimulate ideas as I parent my two daughters and interact with the young people in my community. I can’t wait to see Smile Inside in every school… and the big smiles the young people have on their faces when they know they have the skills to deal with anything life can throw at them.

 -Stephanie Black

Feature Article: An Auction of Values

23 January 2014

Character Scotland is an educational charity that provides news and resources on values and character education. Read my article called An Auction of Values on their website.


Commitment to Young Australians

4 December 2013

The ARACY (Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth) is dedicated to improving the wellbeing of young Australians. The members have developed a Commitment to Young Australians which can be signed by those who “are helping to create a social, cultural, political and economic environment that supports the wellbeing and development of children and young people.”

The seven principles are:

1. The wellbeing of children and young people needs to be a national priority.

2. The whole community is responsible for the wellbeing of children and young people.

3. Families need support and resources to nurture children and young people.

4. Children and young people should grow up in a safe environment.

5. Children and young people should be valued and respected.

6. Children and young people should have learning and development opportunities that encourage them to realise their potential.

7. The capacity of children and young people to contribute to the community should be acknowledged and enabled.

If you would like to join Smile Inside by becoming a member and signing the commitment, more information can be found on the ARACY’s website:

Reference and Research Book News

27 August 2013

This publication reviews books that relate to humanities and the social sciences.

Lee, a private service provider, offers a handbook designed for teachers, youth workers, youth group leaders, and camp counselors who want to encourage participants (ages 14-15) to become masters of their own minds and behaviors, enabling a smooth transition into adulthood. This author explains specific exercises that guide young people towards self-improvement opportunities. Lee provides the facilitator with icebreakers and specific personal growth activities in areas, such as focus and listening, empathy and respect, self-talk, self-exploration, emotions and coping, problem solving and decision making, goal setting, group dynamics, esprit de corps through service learning, and culmination.

View review online here

Reference and Research Book News (pdf download)

Stall at ASCA 2013

26 July 2013
American School Counselor's Association Conference 2013 Philadelphia, PA

American School Counselor Association Conference 2013 Philadelphia, PA

Independent Book Review

11 July 2013

In this current era, teenagers in the fourteen and fifteen year old range, have constant and instant access to information and media content. They’re bombarded with information and misinformation in abridgments in the form of sound-bytes, sight-bytes, and thought-bytes. Due to this instant access, they take in enormous amount of bits and pieces of information at a rapid pace and all at once, which shortens their attention spans. Rather then mulling over and thinking through the big picture, they expect immediate answers to questions that require contemplation and careful consideration.
Today’s teens garner their information more from the media, Internet, social networks and their peers than they do from schools and families. An adolescent’s brain grows at an unprecedented rate while their hormones play havoc with their emotions and they do not always have the emotional or mental maturity to discern fact from fluff. The majority are more concerned with what is “cool” than what is right. The image that they project and their relationships with their peers, take priority over everything else. All of those factors and more are only normal steps of adolescence evolving into adulthood. It is crucial that, fourteen and fifteen year old children are allowed to learn from their mistakes. Their understanding of the world is limited and they need guidance and direction, but not regimentation. When it comes to a program designed to promote building self-esteem, racial and gender equality and tolerance; as well as addressing social issues, like cyber-bullying, abuse, addiction, suicide, etc; adolescents do not want to be lectured nor have their intelligence insulted. Instead, they should be given the intellectual and emotional tools to self-advocate. Vanessa Lee’s book, Smile Inside: Experiential Activities for Self-Awareness Ages 14-15, aptly addresses these issues. In the preface to her book she states, “The Smile Inside philosophy is based on a very simple concept: people thrive when they’re emotionally balanced, self-aware and authentic with themselves and others.”
The Smile Inside plan is derived from David A. Kolb’s and Ralph Fry’s “experiential learning cycle.” and Kolb’s book,Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, which is a revision and enhancement of Kolb’s methodology based directly on philosophies of John Dewey, a founder and herald of Progressive Education. Experiential Learning gives everyone a chance to grow through experience. Students are rallied to participate in certain structured activities and have discourse and make inferences from the results of the said activities. From there, they take what they’ve gleaned from the experience of the previous activities and participate in more structured activities. Hence, what they’ve learned from their collective experiences, after further discourse, emendation and apperception, is applied across the board during more structured activities, to where eventually Experiential Learning is implemented unconsciously into all aspects of the student’s life. Lee writes, “…this teaching method causes participants to revise their prior understandings as they encounter new information in order to deepen their comprehension of themselves, others and the world.”
Smile Inside is designed for up sixteen students. It consists of eleven modules with a specific title that reflects the goal of each module. The modules are broken down into sections that contain activities that pertain to the subject matter implied by the title. For example, Module One is titled, Icebreakers. All of the activities in this section deal with ‘breaking the ice.’ The first activity is called:THE NAME GAME: “Remembering names and expressing characteristics.” Next is, The M&M GAME: “Opening lines of communication through sharing.” And then, an activity called CLUMP: “Discovering common bonds with peers.” This type of step by step chronology is consistent throughout all the modules, from “Icebreakers” to the final module, the appropriately titled “Culmination.” The structure of the modules and the activities within each module fit together like cogs in a perpetual experiential learning machine. Its operation moves as fast or slow as the required needs and abilities of each student. This promotes an atmosphere of true individual experiential and inquiry learning. Lee’s holistic approach with Smile Inside, encompasses all aspects of a child’s life besides scholastic, including such topics as; self-esteem, proper diet and exercise; methods of meditation; real life problem solving; appropriate socialization; working as team and building leadership skills. Throughout the modules, there are inspirational quotes from famous philosophers, intellectuals, inventors, titans of business and industry, writers and artists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ford, Marcel Proust, Anis Nin and Maya Angelou. The quotes reiterate and enhance the subject mater of each module and the eleven modules in Smile Inside are experienced as a whole.
Overall, Lee’s Smile Inside gives teens the tools, like self-esteem, self-discipline and empathy through experiential learning to become productive and humane citizens of the world.

-Lindy K. Gooden and Lee Gooden