Kindness Heart1

I couldn’t be happier about the fact that the latest CritterKin book Lead With Your Heart has finally hit bookshelves everywhere. As an author, there’s nothing better than seeing the characters you worked so hard to bring alive become real for others as well. I actually took my advance copy into the Starbucks where I do most of my writing and said, “See, I was talking to myself for a reason!” They gave me their long suffering stares and when back to steaming milk, but I didn’t care. Lance the misunderstood pit bull and his goofy pack of people and mutts was finally out of my head and into print.

All that said, it really isn’t enough to stop with the book. Giving kids a great story and characters that allow them to flex their emotional as well as intellectual muscles is a great first step. But you have to ask yourself, how will the lessons they explore in the pages translate to their everyday lives? How can you make the learning real – give them ways to apply what they’ve explored and understood to actual situations and events in their communities? Because unlike memorizing a fact or mastering a mathematical concept like addition, developing emotional skills like empathy, compassion, teamwork, honesty and respect require interaction with others.

The answer my business partner, Marty Keltz, and I have come up with is project based learning. We’ve already had great success with the “Be Kind” campaign we created for the launch of our second book, Meet the Mutts, but we knew that Lead With Your Heart had the potential to be and accomplish more.

Lead With Your Heart Book Bound1For one thing, the entire book is devoted to a single character and his struggles to understand his new family and overcome the prejudice and stigma associated with being a pit bull. For another, Lance’s lessons will be very familiar to any child who has been bullied, made a mistake, felt left out or different. But even more important is the theme of teamwork and collaboration that runs throughout the book. Lance is rescued, adopted, taught, and ultimately defended by not only his family, but everyone in his community as well. In the end, Lance’s victory over ignorance and fear is the entire town’s victory because everybody led with their heart.

We’re calling the PBL activities connected to Lead with the Heart, “Start with the Heart.”  They include working with individual teachers, schools and communities to create collaborative spaces (both physical and digital) where kids can practice their emotional skills. If you’d like more information, visit Start with the Heart and/or stop by our Pinterst board where we are chronicling our first project with the wonderful educators at Warren Independent School District in Warren, Texas. We’d love to launch a “Start with the Heart” initiative with your school.  – Jena Ball