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Jena Ball – What Do Your Shoes Say About You?

Posted by on Jul 10, 2015 | 2 comments


Shoe Collage1

We’d been talking about what it means to feel different – to be misunderstood because of how you look, the clothes you wear or the language you speak. The conversations stemmed from a book we were reading called Lead With Your Heart in which the main character decorates an ugly pair of white tennis shoes and wears them to school. The reaction of the other students was predictably unkind at first, and most of the students reading the story with me could understand why. As one eleven year old put it, “She was asking for trouble. You don’t want to mess with the fashion police.”

Fast forward a week. The students had had a chance to read how the challenge was resolved in the book, but more importantly had been asked to design their own shoes. We asked them to decorate their shoes so they showed what they were like on the inside.  As usual the kids surprised and delighted me with their creativity and candor as they revealed their love of rainbows and stained glass, pit bulls and Jurassic Park, and Notre Dame football. But don’t take my word for it. Here is what some of the 2nd – 4th graders had to say about their shoes:

Bianca – Go Black Hawks!

My shoes have a lot to say. I put bows on here because I have lots of friends. The rainbow shoelaces show I am a happy person, and the hearts show I am a hugger. I like to hug people. I also love cats, so there is a cat down here on the side beside the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is there because I am part French. Oh, and I love the Black Hawks! Go Black Hawks!

Emily – My Dog Shoes

My shoes show that I love my dogs and they love me. I love them like they are human. My mom has three pit bulls and my grandma has two. Grandma also has a border collie named Rocky. Pit bulls are the best dogs. They are loving and kind and sweet.

Elyssa – Bob’s Shoes

I love Bob’s Shoes because they make purple and green shoes and those are my favorite colors.  Green is also my Mom’s favorite color. Blue makes me think of watching TV. I used orange because it shows I like playing and purple because it makes me think of playing outside.

Gloria – Fuschia Shoes

I really like to paint things pink. These lines show water moving. I like the way water sounds when it moves. These lines here show trees blowing in the wind.

Arjum – You Rock!

My shoes have stars because I rock. I also made them red and green because I like Christmas. The purple and yellow are to show a cool pattern, and the blue reminds me of water.

Caleb – Notre Dame Shoes

These are my Notre Dame shoes. I made them because my brother plays football for Notre Dame. He is a defensive lineman. I love football, but I miss my brother. He left in September and I hope he comes home soon to visit.

Diego – Stained Glass Shoes

I like rainbows and stained glass a lot. I used blue because it’s my favorite color.

Shivam – Jurassic World Shoes

I made Jurassic World shoes cuz I love Jurassic World. I used yellow in my shoes because yellow is the color of a lot of dinosaurs. I used blue to show the creatures that live in the water and green to show the leaf eaters. I used red to show the meat eater animals. In my Jurassic World you can level up so I created a three star system.


Shoe Collage2


Okay, so now it’s your turn! What do your shoes say about you?







Jena Ball – Taking Down the Walls

Posted by on Jul 9, 2015 | 0 comments


Take Down the Walls2
I believe one of THE most important things we can do for our kids is to give them an opportunity to experience their own power. By power I mean the chance to articulate and share something that has meaning for them and get a response from the world. It is by finding their voice  (their own unique ways to express their thoughts and opinions) that they discover they have a role to play and their participation in our collective process is vital to its success. These are the kind of adults we want and need to be raising – caring, compassionate, engaged and above all capable of using their unique abilities to have a positive impact.

Engagement with the “real world” in the form of project based learning is built into the CritterKin stories and every project we run at every school, camp and after school program. We not only read stories, but ask kids to research and tell their own stories so that they are heard and have the chance to see that what they create has an impact on others.

This summer, CritterKin is working with 150 students in the Valley View School District in Illinois who are currently reading about and formulating their own ideas on how best to educate a local community about pit bulls. After reading the book, Lead With Your Heart with me, they are forming and articulating their own opinions by writing, drawing, making videos, taking photographs and creating collaborative “Kindness Quilts.” The quits will be on display at the end of our six weeks along with the students’ stories of how the process unfolded for them.

To see some of the kids’ amazing work, visit their Pinterest boards here:

I couldn’t be prouder of these kids, but more importantly they are living proof that when the walls to our schools are permeable the lives of our kids expand and are enriched.  Thanks to six committed and patient teachers, and a supportive tech and administrative staff, I visit these classes virtually once a week.  For one hour, we take down the walls between my world in North Carolina and theirs in Illinois and explore important topics like feeling different, bullying and how to handle prejudice and fear. We also have an enormous amount of fun, which after all is the most important fuel for my own and the students’ learning. Seeing their smiles and the sparkle in their eyes when they think of something they want to share is what gets me up in the morning. It’s the thing that makes being an author-educator one of the best jobs in the world.

If you would like to help take down the walls, consider joining the Not Perfect Ha Club Blog It Challenge (#NPHCBlogIt)  this fall, or give us a call to discuss how we might customize a CritterKin program for your school. We’d be delighted to hear from you!

NPHC BlogIt - Announcement

Click HERE or On the Image Above to Learn About #NPHC Blog It

Jena Ball – Reasons to Smile

Posted by on Jul 6, 2015 | 0 comments


Collage - reading and drawing1B


I have concluded that teaching is one of the most, if not THE most challenging professions anyone can choose. In addition to subject area expertise, a teacher must have the ability to walk into a room full of unique individuals (each of whom has his/her own set of ever changing challenges) and somehow inspire, cajole and otherwise entice them into learning. Things are made more difficult by an education system that expects all students to learn the same things the same way, and by rigid schedules that have a tendency to interrupt learning just as it gets started. But this is not a rant about our education system, it is a celebration of what I am seeing as I have the pleasure of working with 6 teachers and 150 students in the Valley View School District in Illinois this summer. They not only give me reasons to smile, but reaffirm my belief that human beings – an in particular children – have a deep and joyful desire to learn as well. Given environments where they are able to explore and express what they’re taught, they flourish.  Here then, are some smile inducing highlights!


Acrostic Collage - Jamie1

Creative Kindness is Alive and Well

As part of making kindness real for students, we ask them to come up with words that mean kind (in Spanish too) and then use those words as the basis to write and illustrate acrostic poems.  The results pictured here, and proudly displayed in the hallway of their school, are nothing short of astonishing. They are a reminder that if we provide the reason and the tools, kids will run with and make a project their own. I LOVE these poems, don’t you?

These particular acrostic poems are by Jamie Harbacek’s terrific kids. To see more of their work, visit:

Design My Own Shoe2
Click HERE or on the image above to watch a video of the kids explaining their shoes

Design My Own Shoe

In Lead With Your Heart, one of the main characters decorates her white tennis shoes to express her creativity and kindness. Student in the Valley View Summer Enrichment Program did the same with wonderful results. The images pictured above and in the video come from Yvette Almaraz’s class. You can see more of their wonderful work here:

Jamie-Pawprint Collage1B

Paws for Reflection

We’ve been talking a lot about how each person (and each dog) is unique, with special abilities to be discovered and practiced. Here the kids were asked to imagine what their unique paw print might look like and what those prints say about what makes them unique. These paw prints will be part of the artwork that forms the outer edge of the classes’ Kindness Quilts.

These particular paws come from Jamie Harbaeck’s wonderful group of kids. To see more of what Jamie’s kids are working on, visit:

Acrostic Poem3

CritterKin’s Quilting for Kindness-Yvette

This PowerPoint shares the highlights of our four weeks working together on a variety of exercises to make our quilt.  We think the smiles say it all :-)

Peter - Acrostic1Peter – Acrostic Poems Collected

This remarkable collection of Peter Kujawa’s students’  acrostic poems will make you smile.

Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved,









Creative Self Reflection

Students have been thinking of paw prints as finger prints. What would your paw print say about you f you were one of the dogs in CritterKin book, Lead With Your Heart?








Acrostic Poem - Team3-V3

Kindness is Alive and Well






Acrostic Poem - Team3-V3