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: