Kindness in the Garden


Watch Our Kindness Grow1A

“In the out-of-doors, knowing what things are is important. Knowing how things work is interesting. But there is more to nature than the facts of nature. There are beauty and poetry and awe and wonder.”  E. W. Teale

The natural world and the creatures that inhabit it have fascinated me for as long as I can remember.  As a child, I was lucky to have a large yard with trees, a pond and lots of overgrown weeds to play in;  a grandmother who loved gardening and was willing to teach me what she knew; and plenty of animals to keep me company. These included three dogs, a large, black tom cat who sprayed the drapes, a pet blue jay who’d sit on my wrist to be fed, and a succession of lizards, fish and once a rat we agreed to babysit. From these critters I learned to be gentle and respectful; to listen with more than my ears, and to appreciate the spark of life that shines in every creature, however small.

These are the lessons I am writing into the CritterKin books and work to share with the students in every classroom I visit.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was to meet Erin Preder, the librarian at John R. Tibbott Elementary School (JRT), who told me the school not only had a garden that the students tend, but would be delighted to expand their CritterKin lessons to include the creation of “Kindness Stones” for that garden.

Read about the project as told by Erin herself in the blog posts below, then follow how the project unfolded step-by-step in the photos and descriptions that follow:

Librarian in the Outfield Part I:

Librarian in the Outfield Part II:

Erin - Garden3
The Garden at John R. Tibbott Elementary School

Like all CritterKin “Be Kind” projects, this one began with the story of Ricky Bobby and his rescue from the puppy mill. Having the chance to see and experience his story, seeing the direct and lasting effects of kindness on his life, is a simple and effective way to awaken children’s natural empathy and compassion. The practical aspects of being kind – remembering to feed, water, play with, train and clean up after a dog – are discussed as well. Students left  this lesson not only moved by Ricky Bobby’s story, but with a clear understanding of what he needed to be happy and healthy as well.

The initial CritterKin visit was followed by a drawing and storytelling lesson. Students were shown three dogs waiting for adoption at a local shelter, then voted on which to draw. After completing their portraits, they worked together to create a story told from the dog’s perspective with a goal of getting it adopted. Below is a video Mrs. Preder created to illustrate the process:

Erin - CritterKin Drawing Video
Drawing with Ms. Jenaia

We also did our best to capture the full range of ages and abilities as we shared the CritterKin message with first, second, fourth and fifth graders. Below are some of our favorite photos of the kids and their drawings.

The Stones

At long last it was time to work on the Kindness Stones for the school’s garden.  The school had already worked with mosaic artist Vicki Orlando, so it was decided that once all the students had completed their “Be Kind” introduction, we would have them start thinking about how to use colored pieces of rock, tile and  glass to create symbols of kindness.

The process involved mixing cement, pouring it into square molds, then having the students press their colored stones into the wet cement. Below are the photos and video we captured of the process. Once again, kudos to Mrs. Preder whose artistic and technology skills are only exceeded by her love for and commitment to her students.

Here is what the kids had to say about the process. We’re so impressed by how articulate they are!

Erin - Making Kindness Stones3

 Making Kindness Stones: Part I

Erin - Making Stones Video1

Making Kindness Stones: Part II


Placing the Stones in the Garden

Finally it was time to take the stones to their new home in the garden! The students help tend the garden during the year, so it is a special place for them. Everyone was really excited to see how the stones would look, and talked about the beauty  the stones would bring to the garden. Below are images of the little ceremony that was arranged to place the stones. Wonderful!

Final Day

All good things must come to an end, and after all their hard work everyone was ready for summer vacation to begin. But before it started, we asked everyone to tell us what they thought of the “CritterKin Kindness Project” and whether or not they would consider continuing our collaboration next year. Here is what they had to say:

“Every educator hopes to provide students with experiences that are meaningful, thought-provoking, inspirational, and empowering.  This is almost an impossible task unless we seize opportunities that seem to arise from out of nowhere!  This year, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time! It is through my connections on Twitter that I discovered Jena Ball’s CritterKin project.  Shortly after meeting her in a live chat and subsequently reviewing her website site, I was hooked!  Clearly, this would be an outstanding opportunity for John R. Tibbott students to participate in an authentic learning project.  I immediately knew I wanted to bring CritterKin to JRT.  Jena Ball’s stories work to instill a sense of empathy, kindness, and compassion within children and adults alike.  Earlier this year, Jena Ball began working with three first grade classes. Each and every student actively participated in author chats, drawing lessons, and more. Now, the CritterKin project at JRT has grown to eleven classes, and I am already planning to extend the program in the upcoming school year.  Our students are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside the very talented, Jena Ball.  She is an amazing author, teacher, and an inspiration for all!”   – Erin Preder, Head librarian, John R. Tibbott Elementary School.

From Teachers

“CritterKin is a great opportunity for students to learn about taking care of our loved ones through stories.”  – Mrs. Heisler:

“I have found that CritterKin has caught the interest of several of my kids and they are loving reading the books.  We have read the first book in class and I find that the students are totally engaged in the books!  I also know that the students loved drawing the dogs with Jena and found that even though they didn’t think they could do it, they were successful!” – Mrs. Dodd

“I Loved that this project brought the students, the teachers and the writer together in a super cool interactive relationship that was full of creative energy, fun times, and learning. We are lucky to have had such a cool experience! Our students really enjoyed it!”  – Miss Duran

Quotes from Kiddos 

“Listening to Ms. Jenaia read is fun because you get to do stuff.”

“Jena Ball is a great author.”

“Critterkin is treating animals like family.”

“Being kind means treating everyone nicely.”

“The best part of Critterkin is the animals.”

“Ricky Bobby is a lucky dog because he got rescued.”

“Listening to Ms. Jenaia read is entertaining.”

“Jena Ball is always kind to animals.”

“CritterKin is fun.””

Being kind means doing nice things for other people and animals.

“The best part of Critterkin is the stories about real animals.”

“Ricky Bobby is a strong dog.”

“Jena Ball is cool because she wrote all those books.” – Jacob

“I like Ricky Bobby because I like dogs. I also like his name and his color.” – Leo

“Being kind means to take care of your friends and family.” – Aiden

“It is so fun when Jena works with us!” –  Chaz

“Drawing Sandy was really fun.” –  Caitlyn

“Being kind means being nice to the people at school.” –  Exadrian

“The best part of CritterKin is Ms. Jena!”

“The best part of CritterKin is learning about what dogs love and learning about dogs.”  – Airyel

“This is the best library time ever!”


Thank you again Mrs. Preder. Hope you have a great summer. See you next year!