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Posted by on May 26, 2014 | 0 comments

Capturing Children’s Imagination


Summer Reading with Text1

 I am an author and illustrator of children’s books that I consciously design to be more than books. I want kids to fall in love with my stories about eight goofy mixed breed mutts and come away thinking, “I can do that!” In other words, I want to both entertain and encourage kids to use what they’ve learned in the stories. For example, after reading the tale of Ricky Bobby, a special needs dog rescued from a puppy mill, kids are encouraged to use their creativity to make posters about kindness and help dogs at their local animal shelter get adopted.

These kinds of practical, hands on activities are a wonderful way to engage the whole child – heart, mind and body – and help insure that learning sticks. They are also the reason I am very picky about the kind and number of technologies I ask kids to use. Any digital tool, whether it’s a physical device or a piece of software, needs to support and enhance learning in some way. It also needs to encourage and empower children to use their imaginations and interact with the world with more than their minds. That’s why I was delighted to discover “Write About This” just as we began planning CritterKin’s first summer reading program.

The CritterKin Summer Reading Program will begin June 23rd and continue through the week of August 4th. Kids will have the chance to not only read the books, but draw, write and explore topics based on the stories as well. We are suggesting that kids who have access to iPads use the “Write About This” app to capture images and record their thoughts as they work through the activities. The example below is based on the book Poco a Poco in which an abandoned mother dog and her puppy are rescued and find their forever homes. As you might expect, the story revolves around a difficult situation that is resolved thanks to the kindness, dedication and hard work of the people involved.

Poco a Poco Happy Endings Framed

Since Poco a Poco is based on actual events, visual prompts can be created in “Write About This” that encourage kids to research the location, organizations and people involved. This not only helps bring the story alive, but expands the learning to include subjects such as geography, science and history. Being able to capture and include images and record audio in their documents personalizes and enhances the learning as well.

In short, “Write About This” is a tool that is practical, easy to use and expands a kid’s creative options. We will be using it, along with good old fashioned paper and pencil, to record and reflect our adventures reading the CritterKin books.

Angela - Write About This - Ty1

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Posted by on May 20, 2014 | 0 comments

Perfectly Imperfect



Things did NOT go as planned today.

What was planned was a final GHO to mark the end of  the CritterKin Blog Swap – a collaborative effort between 5 classes in 4 states in which each class read and shared a CritterKin story with the others.  I was scheduled to read the last two chapters of the book to the kids and lead them in a drawing exercise.  Instead, one teacher was unreachable, another was struggling with a bad cold, and for whatever reason Google Hangouts did not want to work at one school.

On the flip side, we had over 90 kids whose technology DID cooperate. As the GHO screen opened, and their classes popped up on the screen, I saw familiar smiling faces whose big grins told me they were up for anything!  And so, as others sorted out their technology, we introduced ourselves, asked questions about our states (Texas, Indiana, Nebraska and North Carolina with some input from the Canadian among us) and compared notes on our CritterKin adventures.

“How many of you think things always work perfectly the first time you try them?” Marty asked as our mystery class connected and then abruptly disconnected for at least the 10th time.

“Noooooo!” 90+ voices shouted in unison.  Smart kids.

In the end, we were able to read the stories, draw our dogs and share our pictures with one another. The great takeaway from the whole visit, however, was how perfectly imperfect it was. So what if the technology didn’t work exactly as planned? So what if each and every kid who raised a hand was not called on? So what if the picture quality was occasionally blurry and we had to start the reading a second time to accommodate the class that was FINALLY able to connect?  We were together; we were learning about, sharing with and laughing with each other. And in the process  we were all – adults as well as kids – being reminded that life is seldom perfect and that’s just fine.

I came away from that GHO resolving to celebrate my perfect imperfection and that of all the talented, hard working and creative people I meet. The best we can do – that anyone can do – is show up, do our best and be willing to adapt, course correct and do a little wiggle waggling to keep our spirits up.  If we can teach our kids to do the same – to see themselves and one another as marvelous one-of-a-kind explorers; to accept their mistakes as just part of the process and keep going with smiles on their faces we will have given them and ourselves a great gift.

Being perfectly imperfect doesn’t mean we don’t continue to strive for perfection, just that we have a sense of humor about it all and don’t give up when things don’t work out exactly as planned.

Check out this amazing video the kids in Monica Evon’s class made chronicling their imperfect adventure today:

Monica - Final Blog1


Watch how the entire Google Hangout unfolded, complete with hiccups, creative excitement and a final wiggle waggle. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. Thank you Kiddos!!

Jena - Final Blog-Thank you

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Posted by on May 20, 2014 | 0 comments

CritterKin Kids Blog 4 Dogs

Blog for Dogs Ribbon1
Six weeks ago five teachers in four states embarked on an extraordinary adventure with Ms. Jenaia and the CritterKin Mutts – The CritterKin Blog Swap! The idea was simple.  Each class chose a chapter to read from the book, “Meet the Mutts” then shared “clues” with the other four classes.  The idea was to tell the students who had not yet read the chapter enough about the story that they could ask questions and figure out what happened. Students who were not reading would read the clues and ask questions.  We went in chronological order so that no one would be overwhelmed.

From the teaching point of view, it was a chance to practice all kinds of communications skills – reading, writing, analysis, logical thinking, etc. – but for the kids it was a chance to connect and talk with other kids from different parts of the country.

Today marks the conclusion of our grand experiment. Like all grand experiments, it had its hiccups and moments of confusion. Each class used its own blogging software, which meant we had to figure out log in information and posting protocol and we had to figure out the best way for kids to post clues without giving the story away. In the end, good old fashioned facts about the characters, plot and highlights of the stories seemed to work best. With that information in hand, the students who were asking questions could begin to unravel the mystery of what happened. Of course things were complicated by the fact that the stories are told from the perspective of dogs, so it wasn’t always easy to understand their thinking. However, I am proud to report that the kids, teachers, mutts and I all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. This is definitely something we would like and plan to try again with other CritterKin books.

It is also my pleasure to send each student who participated the CritterKin Kids Blog 4 Dogs digital ribbon you see above. I hope they will print and post them with pride because I am really proud of not only their hard work, but the amazing amount of insight and kindness the kids showed in their blog posts.

Way to Go Kiddos! You’re the BEST!


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Posted by on May 9, 2014 | 0 comments

Celebrating Teachers During #TAW!

We wanted to do something special to show our appreciation for all the amazing teachers in our lives who show up every day with a goal of making education engaging, relevant and fun.

Thank you for not only caring but continuing to learn and grow with our kids as well. You are an inspiration to everyone here at CritterKin, including  the mutts!


 Words from the Wise










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Posted by on May 8, 2014 | 0 comments

The Best Job in the World

Lance with Apple TransparentI never meant to be a teacher. As the daughter of a teacher, I watched my mother struggle with growing class sizes, sudden changes in policy (she went from teaching physical education to math and science) and low pay. This meant there was never quite enough money to go around. My siblings and I wore hand me down clothes from my cousins, whose father worked for Chevron oil, and felt guilty whenever money had to be spent on new clothes.

“Try not to outgrow these so fast,” my mother would say with a worried frown as she wrote out a check for a new pair of sneakers. I remember looking down at my growing feet with dismay. Even then, at the age of 10, I knew teaching was a difficult profession. My mother was a conscientious, capable and kind teacher who brought papers home to grade every night and went out of her way to make learning fun, but no one seemed to notice. I vowed to avoid teaching at all costs and pursue a career that would allow me to make tons of money and wipe the perpetually worried frown from my mother’s face.

My resolve lasted until the age of 25 when I was offered a job teaching ESL in Japan. I took the job not because I was qualified or interested,  but because I would have the chance to see another country. In Japan, teachers and education are seen as the foundation of Japanese society. The literacy rate is close to 99% and teachers are revered. There is no other word for it. Moreover, they are well compensated for their work. The respect and admiration I experienced as an ESL teacher helped me see teaching in a whole new light. I wasn’t just doing a routine job, but helping shape how other human beings saw and interacted with the world. In short, I was making a difference. I knew it, the parents and school knew it, and the kids showed me they knew it by showing up with smiles on their faces and being willing to try whatever new idea I had to make teaching grammar fun.

Today, I write and illustrate the CritterKin Tales, a series of children’s books designed  to teach kids that animals (critters) are family (kin). Thanks to the remarkable educators I’ve met on Twitter and other social media platforms, I’ve discovered that my teaching days are far from over. Teachers all across the U.S. and Canada are inviting me into their classrooms to read, write, draw and brainstorm ways to make kindness real for their kids. Better yet, the teachers themselves are taking the CritterKin creative baton and running with it – developing school-wide projects designed to help kids not only experience kindness, compassion and empathy but apply it to their daily lives as well.

During this teacher appreciation week I feel it’s really important to not only express your gratitude for the teachers in your lives, but to acknowledge that you too are a teacher of the children in your life and community. Ask yourself what lessons your kids are learning from you, and what you can do to support and encourage the amazing men and women who show up each and every day believing that there’s no better or more important job than helping our children learn.

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