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Posted by on Mar 5, 2015 | 0 comments

Consciously Kind



Tree - Moon 4

“There’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”  – Scott Adams

Three years ago, while sipping a grande Americano at my favorite table at my favorite Starbucks in Cary, North Carolina the word “CritterKin” popped into my head.  As a writer, words pop in and out of my head all the time, but this one was different.  I liked the meaning – animals (critters) are family (kin) – and the childlike, playful sound it made as I whispered it aloud to myself. Here was a word that had lots to say, and I could hardly wait to get started.

Writing each of the books in the CritterKin series (there are four now with a fifth on its way) has been a conscious act of kindness. Every time I sit down to write a new book, I give my characters another piece of the kindness puzzle to figure out. Kindness, you see, is a catchall word. It’s used so much and in so many situations that its meaning gets watered down. Ask any elementary school student what kindness means and you’re liable hear meaningless cliches like, “Nice, good, neat,” or as one creative second grader put it, “nice means I can’t hit my brother.”

To really get myself and kids thinking about what it means to be kind, I started writing stories that would let us explore why people are unkind. I wrote about Ricky Bobby, a paralyzed puppy mill survivor whose life was saved by an act of kindness. I based another book on an exuberant dachshund who can’t stop digging, and a third on a big black pit bull who experiences prejudice and fear because of his ferocious looks and size.

Then, after reading the stories, I started looking for ways the kids and I could use our kindness to make a difference. We drew pictures and wrote stories to get homeless dogs adopted. We created Kindness Quilts, Kindness Gardens, Kindness blogs, and even a kindness newspaper called “The Des Moines Doggy Daily.” Then, about six months ago, I came up with my best kindness project yet – The Not Perfect Hat Club!

The goal of the Not Perfect Hat Club is to give every kid a place to hang a hat and help them understand that no one is perfect. Or, or as my little, third grade friend Rylee likes to say, “You can only be perfect at being yourself.”

Rylee - Collage3

Rylee is one of 18 students in Tammy Massman’s third grade class in the tiny town of Blairsburg, Iowa. I’d been visiting Tammy’s class – reading, writing, drawing and creating kindness projects – for almost a year when I thought of The Not Perfect Hat Club, so it was a logical place to take the idea for a test drive. Little did I know how quickly and creatively the kids would embrace the idea. They took one look at my Not Perfect battered green sun hat and started making hats of their own – Ninja hats, rainbow hats, hats shaped like trash cans, ski masks and baseball caps. There was even an invisible hat that its creator swore gave him superpowers. Best of all, every time we donned our hats, we gave ourselves permission to make mistakes and have fun while we learned.

In the latest iteration of The Not Perfect Hat Club, Tammy’s students are working on blogs that describe what makes them each perfectly Not Perfect. The first to complete her blog and have it published on the CritterKin site was Rylee. Rylee wrote about her three passions – sewing, animals and art – and how she is using them to make clothes for shelter dogs.

I am delighted to report that Rylee’s wonderful project is the subject of this terrific an article on the Ellen Degeneras Show web site: where she shares her Not Perfect Hat Club wisdom, saying “We can’t do everything right, so it’s good to keep trying.”

Scott Adams got it right when he said, “Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” Every day a ripple created by the kindness inherent in the CritterKin books and projects like The Not Perfect Hat Club touches more and more people, reminding us all that the future of our complex, confusing and conflicted world depends on teaching our children empathy, compassion and kindness.  – Jena Ball

To learn more about the Not Perfect Hat Club visit:


Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

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Posted by on Mar 4, 2015 | 0 comments

Kindness Quilt in Fifth Gear



Cara - Quilt Templates1

Before we talk about the kindness quilt, let’s talk about fifth graders. They are fearless and full of energy; completely uninhibited one moment and painfully self-conscious the next. They love to learn but have begun to think about what it means to be cool. This means they will occasionally fake disinterest, but it doesn’t last long. Their natural curiosity and desire to leap into things feet first will have them asking questions and volunteering opinions in no time.  Oh, and fifth graders are not above getting messy and making mistakes.

All of this came as a pleasant and amusing surprise when I first met Cara Cahill’s 5th grade class in Missouri. Cara is the kind of teacher who gives her kids a lot of leeway to explore, talk, ask questions and figure things out on their own. She had no problem letting me brainstorm and test various ideas for the quilt with the kids. Likewise, they had no problem sharing their opinions and asking questions. It wasn’t long before we’d decided on the design with the hearts in the center (see above), as opposed to the one with the tree (which the boys vetoed for being too girly), and were hard at work creating the hearts for the center.

In our subsequent visits, we:

  • Did the math required to figure out the size of both the overall quilt and each of the smaller pieces that would compose it;
  • Listed and chose “Kind” words to go around the center section;
  • Colored and cut out the letters to form the words:
  • Stood side-by-side and created acrostic poems using each of the letters; and
  • Began the process of creating individual pieces in which each student would tell the story of his/her experiences making the quilt.

We also talked about doing augmented reality using, using the students’ individual drawings as the “triggers” for the videos and planned a final event where the students would have the chance to show their quilt to family and friends.

Then the holidays and all the accompanying excitement and busy schedules descended  upon us and our quilt got put on hold.  We’ll see what the new year brings, but in the meantime I can honestly say that the kids and I have more than accomplished what we set out to do with our Kindness Quilt. We’ve imagined, designed and built all the pieces for a beautiful piece of art and practiced all kinds of important skills like reading, writing, math, cooperation, collaboration and how to be kind to one another. All that and we had a GREAT time doing it! It doesn’t get much better than that. – Jena Ball

Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.



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