Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014 | 0 comments

Channeling Your Inner Canine


Avatar Dogs8

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:

Be sure to check the Kindness Quilt page often to see the magic continue to unfold:


Read More

Posted by on Jun 10, 2014 | 0 comments

Librarian in the Outfield: Part I


Do you remember the 1994 film “Angels in the Outfield  starring Christopher Lloyd as a wise (if occasionally bossy) angel?  Lloyd is out to save the lives of two young boys in need of a home and in the process the reputation of one very bad baseball team. Though bordering on corny, the film is full of silly jokes, improbable miracles and infectious laughter.  It’s key message, embraced and articulated time and again by JP, the youngest orphan in the movie, is hope. “It could happen,” he says time and again as he wishes on a star. In the end “It” does happen – JP is adopted, his favorite baseball team makes a comeback, and children everywhere are reminded that it’s important to dream and believe in yourself. Whatever your dream is, “It could happen.”

For the past several months CritterKin has had its own special kind of angel in the outfield. Her name is Erin Preder. Erin is a librarian, and, like many of her kind, is devoted not only to books and the characters that inhabit them, but to the kids who read them as well. Like Christopher Lloyd in the film, Erin is on a mission. Hers is to find and share experiences with her students that will help them fall in love with learning.  This includes everything from learning about and adopting a wide range of new media (we met Erin on Twitter) to mixing cement and pulling weeds in the garden.  Erin is hands on in the very best way, embracing and helping us share the CritterKin mission to help kids understand and practice kindness with enthusiasm and a healthy dose of humor.

We’ve asked Erin to share her experiences working on the CritterKin Kindness Garden because we believe that kindness – like Erin’s wonderful smile – is contagious.  With her story we hope to plant seeds for future CritterKin projects in the hearts and minds of librarians, teachers and parents everywhere. Kindness, empathy and compassion come naturally to kids. We just need to make them an integral part of their education.

Watch Our Kindness Grow1A

I’m Erin Preder, a.k.a. Erin the Librarian (@butterfli820 on Twitter).  I’ve been working in the Valley View School District serving Romeoville and Bolingbrook for over 17 years. I have been at John R. Tibbott (JRT) Elementary School for 15 years. JRT is a Bilingual Center for the VVSD and is a Title 1 School (82% Low Income). Over the past 8 years I’ve earned over $50,000 in grants and donations for my school because I keep looking for the newest “new thing” my students need to be exposed to. The ramblings you will read in the next few paragraphs are my own and I tend to get long winded when I’m really excited about something, so “buckle up” you are in for a ride. 😉

I have to admit that I used to be the “countdown queen” at my school. During the last month of school I couldn’t wait for summer break.  Not this year! It was the total opposite. I was dreading the last day of school. In fact, each morning on the way to my classroom I passed the “official countdown bulletin board” and continually said to myself, “that can’t be… I need more time!!”  I’m spending the first day of summer vacation back at school tying up loose ends. What changed? A LOT! I would have to say that becoming a connected educator has changed my whole attitude. What does being a connected educator mean? To me, it means using Social Media to connect to other educators or people interested in education through Pinterest, Google+, and of course… Twitter!  Becoming a connected educator helped fill the void of being “teamless”… as the Librarian, I don’t really have a “team” at JRT. Twitter gave me a 24/7 team that took away my isolation.

About two, maybe even three months ago, I was in my favorite Saturday morning Twitter chat #NT2T.  “NT2T” stands for “New Teachers to Twitter.” The hashtag symbol (#) you see in front of the letters is Twitter’s way of creating a group. So if you type “#NT2T into Twitter search, you will be taken to a discussion where teachers who are new to Twitter are getting help from more seasoned users.  I “met” Jena Ball and Marty Keltz in that chat and was in awe about their tweets. Their tweets were about Project Based Learning (PBL) and creating Authentic Experiences for kiddos through something they called CritterKin. Wow! Sign me up!

Shortly after meeting Jena and Marty, I started following Daisy, a teacher who couldn’t stop tweeting about Jena’s CritterKin. It sounded great, but I admit that I was a little skeptical. I started investigating and was thoroughly impressed by what I was seeing in Daisy’s classroom. I wanted it for my kiddos, and immediately contacted Jena to get the ball rolling.

All the talk about kindness, empathy and a “non-bullying” (key messages in CritterKin) were just what a certain group of first graders at my school NEEDED. Jena and I set the first meeting. We were going to hear Jena’s story of RickyBobby, watch a YouTube video of Ricky Bobby’s rescue, a talk about how to show Kindness to dogs, and even a Wiggle Waggle Dance. Even though our author visit wasn’t IN-PERSON, it was one of the best author visits I EVER HAD! Jena had this very active group of about 70 first graders totally engaged for about 45 minutes. These are kiddos that sometimes can’t be engaged for a 10 minute story in the library. I was amazed! The story she reads is interactive and fun!

I could go on and on about how amazing it was, but if you want to experience it for yourself, head over to the CritterKin Pinterest page for John R. Tibbott and you can watch the magic yourself. After the author visit I was eating lunch with one of the teachers who was in the visit and she was RAVING about the experience. There were a lot of “hurt” feelings in the cafeteria that day. “How come you didn’t pick my class?”  was said A LOT that day. From our first visit, I knew that I wanted to get more of my kiddos and teachers involved, so I went to my principal and told her what I wanted to do. She gave me the green light, so I contacted Jena about doing a “Be Kind” project, like Daisy’s school was doing.   – Erin Preder

Stay tuned for Part II …

If you’d like to know more about how to bring the CritterKin stories, characters and “Be Kind” projects to you school, organization or home contact Jena:

Read More

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 | 0 comments

Concentrated CritterKin

Daisy - Fourth Grade Avatar Class - Boys Working1
The students at Warren Elementary, home of the first CritterKin “Start with the Heart” project, were given an unusual task. They were asked to share what they learned from CritterKin by creating and customizing avatars of themselves. We had a grand time drawing noses (up, down, round, wide, flat, pointy, hooked and skinny), creating eyes and eyebrows, making mouths with everything from braces to fake teeth, and accessorizing (think hats, bows, earrings, necklaces and sunglasses). The results were pretty spectacular, but what really knocked my socks off were the things the kids had to say about their avatars.

“What does your avatar say about you?” I asked them.

“I’m beautiful on the outside AND the inside!”

“Don’t let anyone hurt your feelings.”

“Follow your heart.”

“I’m sweet inside and outside.”

“I like myself.”

“I’m the best me I can be.”

“I’ve got swag.”

“I can be what I want to be.”

“Don’t try to be someone else because everyone else is already taken.”

“I’m me and nobody but me.”

Another wonderful thing was seeing how engaged ALL the kids, boys and girls alike, were. There was a happy buzz of sound as the kids and I fiddled with the “look and feel” of our avatars.

The kids will be putting their avatars, along with short stories of what they remember most about CritterKin, on the Warren Kindness mural this week. There are also plans to record them reading their stories aloud so they can create augmented reality posts as well. Stay tuned for more words of wisdom and artistic self-portraits.


Read More

Posted by on Jun 3, 2014 | 0 comments

Swapping Blogs 4 Dogs

Blog for Dogs Button 800x800

Blog 4 Dogs is a simple idea – bring 2nd 3rd and 4th graders together to talk/ blog about stories and characters they love.

The idea for this experiment in collaborative blogging started with an unnerving conversation with a teacher I like and respect very much. She and her kids had just been put through a very stressful state writing exam that required the kids to not only write on demand but do so under a tight deadline as well. Some of  the kids cried. Others got sick and threw up. A third group simply froze and couldn’t write anything. Those who were able to write did not perform well. This despite the fact that they and their teacher had worked diligently on their writing skills all year. Everyone was upset, particularly the teacher who had to tell her students they had done poorly even though she knew better.

This teacher’s experience got me thinking.  What could we come up with that would not only help the kids master and practice basic writing skills, but enjoy and maybe even fall in love with the the reason we write in the first place – to communicate and share our stories with one another. Here’s what we came up with.

As an author and teacher of writing I know that human beings learn best by example.  Good writing needs to be absorbed (preferably through as many senses as possible), integrated and digested.  In short, the best writers are also readers. They have learned as much by reading good writing as they have learned by actually putting words together.  Therefore, it made a lot of sense to use stories we already knew the kids loved. In this case (shameless self promotion alert), the stories were from “Meet the Mutts: A CritterKin Tale.”  We’d been reading and discussing some of the stories already, and they were eager to know the conclusion of the book.

Second, I’d seen how satisfying it was for the kids to be able to draw and use colors in their writing. For some, it was easier to make a visual image before crafting words.

Finally, I knew how much the kids enjoyed having an audience for their writing.  When someone other than their teacher commented or asked questions, they were much more motivated to keep writing.

In the end, I proposed three premises  to the teachers I approached:  read, draw and find be audiences for one another’s writing.  Each class would read one chapter of the book, then post clues about what they’d read for the others. The clues would be based on story fundamentals – plot, main characters, setting, etc.  – and designed to help the other classes figure our what happened in the chapter.

Five teachers in four states took me up on my offer: Monica Evon in Nebraska, Lisa Kincer in Indiana,  Tammy Massman in Iowa, Angela Moses in Texas and Courtney Smeby in Nebraska.  I mention them by name because I have been so impressed by their creativity, commitment to making writing fun, and above all the affection and respect their students have for them. I am proud to know and be learning from them.

The CritterKin Blog swap officially began on April 28th and continued through Tuesday, May 20th when we all met in a massive Google Hangout to read the last two chapters of the book, compare notes on the experience and do one last wiggle waggle.

Like any first attempt at anything – whether it’s learning to use a computer or having more than 100 kids writing to one another – there were snafus, hiccups and technology burps. Through it all, the students remained completely unflappable, cheerfully encouraging one another to ask good questions, provide more information, and as one student put it, “use more descriptive words so I can picture the character.”  For once the teachers weren’t the ones asking students to communicate more clearly. Instead, the questions were coming from their peers.

Are there things I would change or do differently next time? Of course. However, the positive experiences far outweighed the glitches and I am already looking forward to fine tuning and trying again next year.  If you’d like to be part of our second blog swap, just drop me a line at:

In the meantime,  you can see the Pinterest board we created to chronicle our experiences here:


Read More

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 | 0 comments

Quilting for Kindness



Quilt - Mockup2

Today marks the start of a new Be Kind  Project called the  “CritterKin Kindness Quilt.”  A CritterKin Kindness Quilt is exactly what it sounds like – a physical quilt made of fabric – centered around the theme of kindness.  However, there’s a twist. This quilt will exist not only as pieces of fabric, carefully cut and sewn to reflect each child’s vision of kindness, but as drawings, poems, stories and augmented reality videos told on blogs (stay tuned for links), Facebook, and Twitter (see list of folks to follow below), videos and photos chronicling our progress and posted to Pinterest,  YouTube and any other fun social media and creative platforms we think will be effective.

To get the latest updates on the project as it unfolds, please follow the folks listed below on Twitter. They will be watching and posting ideas and questions to get your creative ideas going too, plus lots of fun photos of the kids. If you are a fan of Twitter, we would also appreciate it if you would use the hashtag #GetBehindBeKind when you tweet. It will help us spread the word.




Finally, if you would like information about how to start your own Be Kind Project with
CritterKin, please feel free to contact us. We look forward to exploring and creating kindness with you and your kids.



Read More