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The “Not Perfect Hat” Club

Posted by on Oct 27, 2014 in News | 0 comments

Not Perfect Sketch-Drop Shadow3

It’s mid-morning, mid-week in a third grade classroom in Iowa. The kids and I are about to start drawing portraits of dogs at their local shelter with a goal of helping the dogs get adopted. It’s all part of CritterKin’s “Be Kind” project designed to use stories and PBL to help kids experience and practice their emotional muscles.

The kids have voted on the dog they’d like to draw and I’ve just started explaining how to draw a nose when I hear the now familiar lament, “This is hard. Mine is terrible.”

In the past, I have either ignored the naysayers, told them their drawings ARE perfect, or lectured them about it being okay to fail. But today it suddenly hits me.  The ability to accept and even embrace being “Not Perfect” is an important life skill. Because the truth of the matter is no one is perfect. Just look at Ricky Bobby, the paralyzed puppy mill survivor featured in the CritterKin book, Meet the Mutts. Despite having lost the use of his back legs and most of his teeth, Ricky Bobby has a wonderful life. Not only does he have a devoted new person to call his own, but he’s become a living, breathing symbol of the power of human kindness as well.

At CritterKin, we use Ricky’s story to inspire kids to make a difference and  show that not always being perfect is a good thing. It’s a chance to apply new found emotional skills like empathy, compassion and respect to ourselves and others.

“How can we expect kids to be kind to others,” I wondered, as I pondered how to respond, “if they can’t cut themselves some slack?” That’s when I had an idea.

“Okay, everybody put their pencils down and turn your papers over,” I said.

Surprised, the kids did as I asked, staring up at the big screen where my image was being projected courtesy of Google Hangouts. “Now I want you all to take your “Not Perfect Hats” out and put them on.  Puzzled, the kids looked at one another, then at their teacher.  Was Ms. Jenaia playing a joke?

“I’m pretty sure I have my hat here somewhere,” I said, pretending to fumble around my desk. In reality, I was turning on my favorite Google Hangout effect – hats! Within seconds I had my Dr. Seuss hat perched precariously on my head. The hat was crooked and part of my head showed through on one side. In short it was perfectly “Not Perfect.”

The kids laughed. “So what’s a ‘Not Perfect’ hat?” I asked. Several hands flew into the air.

“It’s a hat you wear so you don’t have to do everything perfect,” said one third grader.

“Is it okay to be ‘Not Perfect?’” I asked.

“YES!” the kids all shouted at once.

“Why?” A short silence ensued while the kids considered the question. After all, most of them are graded every day on whether or not they have completed a task perfectly. Finally one student said, “Because everybody makes mistakes.”

“That’s right,” I agreed. “Making mistakes is how we learn. But what would happen if all the dogs we drew looked the same?”

“Kinda boring,” one student said.

“I agree,” I said. “So what do your hats look like?”

I have to say I was impressed. There were wizard and pirate hats; hats that were old and dirty; hats that were made of straw and even a robot hat (still not sure what that one looks like exactly), but the point was made. Whenever we have our “Not Perfect” hats on it’s okay to forget about perfection (which doesn’t mean we don’t try our best)  and focus on learning and having fun.

Ever since my first “Not Perfect Hat” class I’ve been sharing and test driving the ideas with all the classes I visit. Not surprisingly, the kids love it, but I’ve been touched and delighted by how teachers respond as well. Many of them draw right along with the kids and cheerfully share their masterpieces.

As a result, I’ve started writing a new CritterKin book, The Not Perfect Hat Club. I will be sharing the process and drawings with you on our “Not Perfect Hat Club” Pinterest page, and would like to invite you all to join me by sharing your own “Not Perfect Hat” experiences and photos. So dust off your hats and click on over to:

P.S. Please send your drawings, photos and stories to:

The Nosey News

Posted by on Oct 8, 2014 in News | 0 comments


Des Moines Doggy Daily-Color and Words

Have you ever thought about what doesn’t make the news? From a dog’s perspective, there isn’t a lot to recommend the TV news programs, or even the printed newspapers. Most of what makes headlines has to do with tragedies, fights and environmental disasters. If an animal appears it’s usually in a story about the bad behavior of a human being (puppy mills, dog fighting and abandonment), with the occasional heartwarming story of a rescue or medical breakthrough. The reality is much more complex, and from our perspective newsworthy. Therefore, the CritterKin mutts – in collaboration with the wonderfully creative 4th graders in Jennifer Houlette, Kendra Carlson, and Julie Campbells’ classes in Iowa – have decided to create a different sort of newspaper. Based on the characters and themes in the third CritterKin book, Lead With Your Heart, the paper will cover stories about kindness, empathy and respect in the school’s community.  It will include editorials written from the perspective of canines, reported pieces about dog related events in the community, and interviews with the terrific people running the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines. The kids will also be reviewing Lead With Your Heart, taking photos, and drawing portraits of pit bulls available for adoption. An online version of The Des Moines Doggy Daily is planned so we can share and compare our adventures with students and schools around the world. The kids have already named their paper The Des Moines Doggy Daily, created a logo (see image above), and are blogging about the process. The students, teachers and mutts working on the paper would love to hear your thoughts, questions and ideas for how we might make our paper even more awesome. Please feel free to comment and follow this blog (link on the right under “Join the CritterKin Pack”) to be kept abreast of our progress. Better yet, get in touch with CritterKin to start your own Nosey News and help us launch a new kind of reporting focused on stories about caring, kindness and belly rubs!

Want to see how a  visit unfolds? Watch:





Phone: (919) 615-0666


(416) 923 -4707

Kindness is Contagious

Posted by on Aug 9, 2014 in News | 0 comments




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At CritterKin we work with educators and parents to help kids experience and practice kindness. We do this through story and by using creative activities that give them the chance to put their new found kindness skills to work.  It’s not only empowering, entertaining and educational, but downright contagious as well! And you don’t have to be a kid to have a good time thinking, talking about and being creatively kind.

Today we had the chance to put our theory to the test with the group of parents and teachers who gathered at the Sarpy County Museum in Bellevue, Nebraska to get a taste of what the 43 third graders in the summer reading program experienced. As many of you know, the students spent those three weeks reading, writing, drawing and sewing about kindness. Their creativity left the CritterKin team and their teachers breathless and resulted in four (yes FOUR) quilts centered around the theme of kindness. If you haven’t had a chance to see and experience what the kids created, treat yourself by following the links below:



Today’s event invited adults to experience some of the exercises the students took part in. We introduced the concept of kindness, read from the book Lead with Your Heart (the story of a misunderstood pit bull whose life is changed by kindness), and then walked them through a “CritterKin Kindness” exercise.  This particular exercise is one of our favorites. We hand out  a template for a quilt square that has a heart in the center and four hearts on the side, then ask everyone to think of kind words.  Using Crayolas, we each fill our hearts with the words as they are identified. Each person is free to place the words anywhere in the heart using any colors they like. Next, they choose the four words that appeal to them most and put one in each of the outer hearts. Finally, they wrote a brief sentence or two about kindness using those four words beneath their drawings.

Watching and hearing the adults as they brainstormed words, colored their hearts and wrote their sentences was inspirational and eye opening. No one was self conscious. Everyone had fun, and just like the kids they produced really beautiful and completely unique pieces of art. We couldn’t be prouder of our adults, and we hope they will take what they experienced back to their families, friends and communities to celebrate and encourage others to be kind. As Scott Adams said:

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”

 Watch the Video of the Event as it Unfolded

Sarpy Adults-collage1A

Click HERE to watch the video

The Who, What, Where and How of Bringing Kindness to Your Classroom

Posted by on Aug 3, 2014 in News | 0 comments

Ann and Kids1

Read Ann Feldman’s Summary of the Program here:

Ann Feldman, an Instructional Technology Trainer for Bellevue Public Schools, has written an articulate and compelling summary of the activities, learning objectives addressed (Bellevue Public Schools Essential Objectives, which correlate to Nebraska State Standards) and the emotional skills the students learned and practiced during their three weeks with CritterKin. To quote Feldman, “Freedom in the creation process added student ownership and passion for the project. Teamwork and collaboration are essential… In sharing all of our strengths, students benefit and the process of teaching and learning is joyful.”

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Celebrate with Us!

The CritterKin Kindness Quilts are part of an exhibition of 100 quilts at the Sarpy County Museum in Bellevue Nebraska. There will be a celebration of the project on August 9, 2014 at 11:00 am EST. The event will include a live reading from Lead with Your Heart by Jena Ball, a drawing exercise, and a chance for audience members meet the author and teachers involved in making the project happen.

If you cannot attend in person, you can join us via Google Hangouts:


Contact Karin Lippert: (416) 923 – 4707

CritterKin Kindness Quilt Celebration

Posted by on Jul 28, 2014 in News | 0 comments

Monica Jena and Quilt1

Monica Evon (bottom right) and author Jena Ball (top right)
celebrate the CritterKin Kindness Quilt created by third graders as part of their summer reading program at Bellevue Elementary School in Nebraska

Listen to Interviews with the Creators of the Project


KIOS interview with Monica Evon
Monica is the third grade teacher at Bellevue Elementary School: 

KIOS interview with CritterKin author/illustrator Jena Ball


The CritterKin Kindness Quilts are part of an exhibition of 100 quilts at the Sarpy County Museum in Bellevue Nebraska. There will be a celebration of the project on August 9, 2014 at 11:00 am EST. The event will include a live reading from Lead with Your Heart by Jena Ball, a drawing exercise, and a chance for audience members meet the author and teachers involved in making the project happen.

If you cannot attend in person, you can join us via Google Hangouts:


Contact Karin Lippert: (416) 923-4707

We wish to thank KIOS-FM 91.5 | Omaha Public Radio for allowing us to share the interviews with you. © 2014 KIOS-FM & CritterKin

CritterKin Collaborators – Daisy Marino

Posted by on Jul 24, 2014 in News | 0 comments

Daisy and Jena Click to Play1A

Daisy & Ms. Jenaia in front of the “Start with the Heart Kindness Mural”

Daisy Marino is the first to admit that certain things terrify her – public speaking,  being pushed to try new things,  and interviews with TV news anchors.  Fortunately, fear has never stopped Daisy from jumping feet first into new challenges. Better yet, she is willing to share the ups and downs of her process, thereby serving as a role model and inspiration for others. Her secret? Don’t let fear stop you and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

We love that Daisy once said that she would NEVER ( yes all in caps) get a Twitter account. She should have known that the moment she said “never” the universe would conspire to make sure the opposite happened. Her school superintendent, Brad McEachern, created an account for her, pushed her to start tweeting, and the rest is history. Some other things Daisy never thought she’d be doing? Creating augmented reality videos, Skyping with other educators around the world, and signing autographs for her students.

The CritterKin team first met Daisy and her good friend and colleague Angela Moses in a Twitter chat. It wasn’t long before we were plotting and planning to bring the CritterKin Mutts to Warren, Texas. The story of how the collaboration blossomed from a single reading at Family Reading Night into the “Start with the Heart Kindness Mural,” is chronicled in the slideshow and links below.

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Students in pre-K through 5th grade, with help from high school volunteers, contributed to the project, practicing not only kindness but important literacy skills such as reading, writing, vocabulary and math as well. All in all, the project was a great success – teaching students invaluable emotional skills and resulting in a beautiful work of art everyone can be proud of.  Bravo!

Start with the Heart

Daisy’s Individual Class

Angela Moses’s Class

Teach from the Heart

Skyping with an Author

CritterKin Collaboration:

Videos by Angela Moses


Kindness Pledge:

Ms. Jenaia’s Visit:

2nd Graders:

Family Reading Night:

CritterKin is proud to celebrate Daisy and other connected, caring and creative educators like her who are working with us to make kindness a reality in schools everywhere.