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For 43 third graders the summer reading program at Bellevue Elementary School in Bellevue, Nebraska is decidedly different. Different because in addition to reading they are being asked to explore the themes in the book through singing, dancing, drawing and quilting. Yes, you read that right – quilting. It’s all part of the CritterKin project based learning approach to helping kids experience and practice kindness while falling in love with reading.

The three-week project centers around the latest CritterKin book, Lead With Your Heart. The book is about a misunderstood black and white pit bull named Lance and the challenges he faces adjusting to life with humans. As they read, kids are taken into Lance’s world where shoes, vacuum cleaners and cell phones are great mysteries and certain people recoil from him in fear. Being a gentle dog who wants nothing more than to be loved, Lance is puzzled by the prejudice he faces and must rely on his human family to help educate others about his breed.

As the chapters of the book unfolded, students created various components of the quilt. Their first undertaking was to make hearts filled with kind words. Next, they took those words and made them into acrostic poems.  The words at the heart of the poems – Considerate, Love, Thoughtful and Nice – were then made into actual letters that the students colored, cut out of fabric and sewed onto the quilt. In our third meeting they tackled learning to draw and tell a story from a dog’s perspective.

Today’s exercise challenged them in a new way.  Each student was given his/her own square for the quilt and asked to draw an image of a dog that matched how they saw themselves  inside. In other words a canine representative of themselves.

Led by Ms. Jenaia, who showed them how to draw a wide variety of noses, muzzles, eyes and ears, the kids tackled with project with evident glee. There was lots of laughter as the kids experimented with floppy ears, crossed eyes and long pink tongues. When they all had their dogs just right, we asked them to close their eyes, picture their dogs and feel what they had to say about them.

Finally the kids showed us their drawings, telling us their dogs’ names and what each said about them. You can see photos below, but some of our favorites included:

– Iron Man, who said his person was awesome.

– Lollipop, who said her person was kind and nice.

– Ghost, who said his person was a cool dude.

– Toby, who said his person was a “silly kind of guy.”

The kids are now hard at work tracing and cutting out the fabric versions of their dogs and will be blogging about their experiences here: http://kidblog.org/CritterKinAdventure/

Be sure to check the Kindness Quilt page often to see the magic continue to unfold: http://critterkin.com/about/be-kind-pocket-projects/kindness-quilt/