Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jun 26, 2014 | 0 comments

A Six-Act Study in Kindness

CritterKin Kindness Quilt-Two Versions1

CritterKin’s “Quilting for Kindness” project is officially complete in Bellevue, Nebraska but in many ways it is just getting started. The three quilts the kids produced (fabric, paper and chalk) will now be displayed at the Sarpy Historical Museum, and we are being contacted by other teachers and schools across the country about doing a similar program in their classrooms.  To understand what all the excitement is about,  it helps to see what these amazing 43 third graders accomplished in just three weeks!


Lead with Heart 200x252


 They read, discussed & blogged about Lead With Your Heart


C is for Caring500x400


They created kindness hearts (the basis for the center of the quilt) and then used the words they chose to make acrostic poems


First Word Chosen:



Led by Ms. Jenaia they did a series of art projects to help them design their individual pieces of the quilt


Drawing hearts filled with kind words:


Tracing letters and cutting them out of fabric:


Drawing dogs for the paper quilt:


Cutting silhouettes of dogs out of fabric:




With a script prepared by Ms. Jenaia they enacted the last chapter of the book Lead With Your Heart as a one act play


Reading and choosing their parts:


Meeting with actor, Jonathan Keltz, for tips:


NE - Chalk quilt4


 Created a chalk drawing of the completed quilt


Individual pieces of the quilt recreated by each child #1:


Individual pieces of the quilt recreated by each child #2:



Quilting for Kindness Card Invitation600x450


Performed the play in front of a live audience at the school and via GHO:






At the end of their performance, the kids each received a CritterKin Certificate of Achievement and a standing ovation from the parents, teachers and community members who were present.


Read What the Two Teachers Have to Say About the Project



Brittany Braasch: A CritterKin Summer Adventure

“A wonderful experience for all! Students are learning, creating, & having fun!a’ – Brittany Braasch



Moinca Evon - profile

Monica Evon

“This was such an awesome experience! All of us are still smiling. Lots of great learning and creativity took place! I love  how our students were 100% engaged!  They had SO much fun reading, writing and drawing!   This is learning at its BEST!”      – Monica Evon

Quote from Monica1

Read Monica’s wonderful account of our adventure:
Youtube TV


We hope that you will all watch the video made of the kids performing the play and take a moment to congratulate the wonderful teachers and students involved in the “CritterKin Quilting for Kindness” project  by leaving a comment here or on the YouTube page.


Interested in Doing  a  CritterKin Kindness Quilt at Your School?


Contact Jena Ball:


Read More

Posted by on Jun 20, 2014 | 0 comments

CritterKin Kids are Certifiably Kind


Quilt in Chalk1

As part of the grand finale of the third grade summer reading program at Bellevue Elementary School the kids are putting on a one-act play based on the last chapter of the CritterKin book they read. The play will be performed live in the school gym and streamed via a Google Hangout. This is something you don’t want to miss:

The paragraph above doesn’t begin to describe all the kids accomplished in our three short weeks together. In addition to reading the book they blogged, drew dogs, chose fabrics, cut out patterns, wrote poetry, took photos, made videos and collaborated on putting not one but TWO quilts together. AND, even as we speak, they are creating a chalk version of the quilt  to share with folks as they arrive to watch their one-act play!

Below is the program for the play and a copy of the Certifiicate of Achievement each  student received. As the certificate says, they and their teachers have been PAWS-itively wonderful!



CritterKin Certificate NE1


Read More

Posted by on Jun 17, 2014 | 0 comments

Giggling for Kindness


Third Grade Actors as Dogs1Bellevue Elementary School third graders practice being CritterKin Mutts

Today the 43 third graders involved in the Bellevue Elementary School summer reading program spent most of the morning giggling so hard their stomachs ached. The reason? The six kids playing dogs in the play they’re about to perform were really getting into their parts.

While one canine impersonator pretended to scratch fleas, another begged for treats while a third snored so loudly and convincingly that his human partner collapsed with laughter and had to start again.

“I was a good dog wasn’t I?” the snoring culprit asked when the rehearsal was over.

“You were very convincing,” his teacher said, patting him on the head.  “Just don’t snore that loud on Friday or no one will be able to hear the other kids.”

The begging, fleas and snoring are all part of the “Quilting for Kindness” celebration being held to showcase the students’ remarkable work.  During their three weeks together, the kids have not only read an entire book, but created three versions of a  “CritterKin Kindness Quilt” (paper, fabric and digital) while blogging and writing poetry about their adventure as well.

The process of creating the quilts required drawing, colouring, choosing and cutting fabric, gluing, sewing, taking photos, making augmented reality videos and participating in an ongoing discussion about what it means to be kind. The play – which will be performed live to parents, teachers and senior citizens from the community – is the grand finale and will be broadcast to a global audience via a Google Hangout as well.

CritterKin Kindness Quilt-Two Versions1

But the thing that has distinguished this project from start to finish has been the focused joy with which the kids tackled every project we proposed.  We attribute this to several things:

  • Stories and characters that entertained, introduced topics the kids were interested in – making friends, being misunderstood, getting in trouble, fear, prejudice and bullying – and gave them the chance to experience empathy, kindness and respect.
  • Giving kids the chance to put their kindness to work on creative projects that challenged them both mentally and emotionally;
  • Encouraging and supporting individual needs while also requiring collaboration and cooperation; and
  • Giving kids a sense of ownership, empowerment and pride by providing platforms and venues where they could share and receive feedback on their work.

The kids are now in the process of learning their lines, getting coaching from the CrittteKin team (which includes the talents of actor Jonathan Keltz), and preparing their costumes for Friday.  To say that it’s been a pleasure to watch their creativity and self-confidence blossom is an understatement, and we can hardly wait to see their one-act play performed.

Quilting for Kindness Card Invitation600x450

We hope that you will consider joining us for what promises to be a wonderful, giggle filled celebration of 43 terrific kids and  their work:

WHEN: Friday, June 20th at 1:30 pm (CST)

WHERE: Bellevue Elementary School gymnasium

Google Hangout: Visit this Google+ Page for the link

To learn more about the book, Lead With Your Heart,  that inspired the program and the play, please visit the CritterKin books page:

To see how you can start your own “CritterKin Be Kind” project, visit the CritterKin “Be Kind” page:

Questions? E-mail:


Read More

Posted by on Jun 16, 2014 | 0 comments

Learning: Technology and Emotional Literacy


Quilt Done1

Stitching the Pieces Together

On June 2, 2014  Jena Ball and I embarked on a summer reading program with two teachers and 43 third graders in Bellevue, Nebraska.  The goals we had for our three weeks together were simple – get the kids to read, write and work on a creative project that would result in a tangible artifact of our time together. Little did we know that it would blossom into a powerful affirmation of the messages we’ve been hearing and sharing with other educators in Twitter chats for months now.

In particular, the themes articulated and discussed in #EdTechchat and #Ptchat are echoing for me:

  • The need to get technology to support teaching, reading, writing and other basic skills
  • Educating parents about child centered education and the role technology plays  in making it a reality
  • Getting those parents into school buildings to cheer their kids and the innovative teachers and librarians who are daring to do things differently
  • Using technology to build connections to and interest within larger communities that have a stake in effective education

But there is one more piece that catapulted this project out of  “ordinary” and into the realm of “extraordinary,” and that is emotional literacy.  As many know, the belief that children need opportunities to experience and practice emotional as well as intellectual skills is at the heart of CritterKin. We believe that when the two sides of the education equation are in place the very best learning occurs.  Students  who feel safe, respected and appreciated are better able and prepared to learn when presented with engaging  intellectual challenges.


Quilting for Kindness Card Invitation600x450

Looking at the invitation above, I realize the seeds we’ve all been planting are starting to sprout. All those threads, all the articulate statements and wonderful ideas shared by the smartest and most committed educators are reflected in the smiles of the 43 third graders in Nebraska. Those kids not only improved their intellectual skills by reading a CritterKin book, but increased their emotional literacy as well by  drawing, cutting, gluing, coloring, photographing and sewing the pieces of a quilt devoted  to kindness together.

On Friday, June 20th. those students will be sharing the results of their work with the world – literally.  Jena and I will initiate a Google Hangout on Air and join the students and teachers as they unveil their quilt and present a one-act play devoted to kindness.  Thanks to technology,  Jena and I will be able to cheer them on, take part in the play, and answer questions from parents, community members and the media. We hope you’ll join us to celebrate the kids and share your own questions, impressions and ideas.  Here are the Links:

Google+ Page for the Google Hang Out

Check our Facebook page, Pinterest Board and Twitter streams often:



Read More

Posted by on Jun 13, 2014 | 0 comments

Librarian in the Outfield: Part II


 Erin - Making Stones3

Our Librarian in the outfield, Erin Preder, continues her story about working with CritterKin on the Kindness Garden at John R. Tibbott Elementary School in Bolingbrook, Illinois. If you missed Part I, you can find it here:

Growing Kindness, Starting a Movement

Eleven teachers wanted to be part of the Kindness project at JRT, so we set up a meeting with Jena and Marty to discuss what our CritterKin kindness project would be. There were many great ideas that came out of the meeting, but the one that became the focus of our CritterKin PBL was “Kindness in the Garden.”

JRT has an edible garden and our students help with all aspects of tending it. They sow, plant, weed, water and harvest. Each grade level has a garden bed (Salad, Salsa, Pizza, Herbs, Roots, and Soup), and each bed is marked with a gorgeous mosaic garden stone. We decided that each child involved in the project would create a garden stone representing kindness.

Preparations were made to make this a reality. We started making the stones with only 10 days of school remaining. Of the 10 days, only 7 were viable days for creating stones with the classes because of end of school year plans.  Plus, I still had to see all of my regularly scheduled classes while facilitating more author visits for the classes that  joined what I’ve started calling the “CritterKin Movement” at JRT. Many of those days I gave up my lunch and planing time to make it all happen. Teachers were VERY FLEXIBLE about being bounced around to accommodate all the “craziness.” I call it “craziness,” but it was really the most enjoyable experience I have ever had in my 17 years as an educator. I wouldn’t change what we did, and I’d do it all over in a heartbeat!

 The Guinea Pigs

The most memorable class I made stones with was the group of 4th graders we called our “guinea pigs.” They had never met Jena, but their teacher was reading Lead with Your Heart, the newest book in the CritterKin series, to them. Their teacher is very fond of pit bulls because she rescued one, and the main character in the book is a pit bull named Lance. The moment I told her about Jena she was VERY EXCITED. This group was invested without having to know a lot about Jena or CritterKin. They got the CritterKin message LOUD and CLEAR through Lance’s story.

The “guinea pigs” came into the library READY and WILLING to give it their ALL (yes, I turned my library into a concrete garden stones work area… CRAZY) and did an extraordinary job. They created beautiful garden stones and wrote about how their pictures showed kindness. It was utterly amazing. I was walking on clouds that day and brimming with pride! This initial class was followed by 10 classes more. They all did a fantastic job  translating their thoughts about kindness into beautiful garden stones as well.  I was really impressed at how serious they were taking their work.

Crafting a Pledge

The final piece of the CritterKin “Kindness in the Garden” project was to have the students collectively write a Kindness Pledge.  Jena and Marty led 11 classes in the activity. All 11 classes came to the cafeteria. The technology did not work perfectly, but the outcome was amazing. The students made “Kindness Hearts” using words they generated themselves.  Next we talked about what it means to take a pledge and what kinds of people make them. After that, the students broke into groups to come up with promises and beliefs about Kindness. The kiddos were making connctions to their own lives left and right. For example, one little girl found a book about dachshunds. Since Ricky Bobby (the hero of the first CritterKin story we read) is a dachshund, she wanted to show us the book and ask questions about other dogs featured in the book. The students were being more considerate of one another that day, and I even heard one say, “Would you treat Ricky Bobby that way?” What we were doing was really making a difference!

Final Thoughts

Over the last 17 years, I have witnessed many kids in the upper grades and teachers “shut down” as school comes to a close. This year it was different. I’ve already mentioned my own feelings.  This was TRULY the BEST end to a school year on record for me. Teachers were thinking “outside the box” and finding all kinds of way to tie in the CritterKin lessons to additional reading and writing projects. I was really impressed at the buy-in from the kids and the teachers. The teachers who were involved gushed their thanks to me, and had very positive things to say about CritterKin in general. Many teachers who were not part of the “Kindness in the Garden” project expressed regret that they hadn’t joined in. Hopefully, we will be able to expand our work with CritterKin next year so that  more of our kids can experience this!

Honestly, I cannot say enough positive things about our work with Jena and Marty. I am so thankful to have been part of this. It changed my life and I am forever grateful! For a brief moment we made school fun again. The kids were reading, listening, writing and creating art. They were learning AND having fun in (gasp) school. I also feel strongly that the kids, teachers and I were part of something bigger. The garden stones will be a constant and permanent reminder of their kindness work. My one regret is that I didn’t start earlier.  There is so much more that can be done. Good thing I have all summer to plan “what’s next!”  In the fall I would like to do more with what we started, tie in some technology, maybe dabble in augmented reality and have the kids do some blogging.  The possibilities are endless!   – Erin Preder


Read More