Erin - Making Stones3

Our Librarian in the outfield, Erin Preder, continues her story about working with CritterKin on the Kindness Garden at John R. Tibbott Elementary School in Bolingbrook, Illinois. If you missed Part I, you can find it here:

Growing Kindness, Starting a Movement

Eleven teachers wanted to be part of the Kindness project at JRT, so we set up a meeting with Jena and Marty to discuss what our CritterKin kindness project would be. There were many great ideas that came out of the meeting, but the one that became the focus of our CritterKin PBL was “Kindness in the Garden.”

JRT has an edible garden and our students help with all aspects of tending it. They sow, plant, weed, water and harvest. Each grade level has a garden bed (Salad, Salsa, Pizza, Herbs, Roots, and Soup), and each bed is marked with a gorgeous mosaic garden stone. We decided that each child involved in the project would create a garden stone representing kindness.

Preparations were made to make this a reality. We started making the stones with only 10 days of school remaining. Of the 10 days, only 7 were viable days for creating stones with the classes because of end of school year plans.  Plus, I still had to see all of my regularly scheduled classes while facilitating more author visits for the classes that  joined what I’ve started calling the “CritterKin Movement” at JRT. Many of those days I gave up my lunch and planing time to make it all happen. Teachers were VERY FLEXIBLE about being bounced around to accommodate all the “craziness.” I call it “craziness,” but it was really the most enjoyable experience I have ever had in my 17 years as an educator. I wouldn’t change what we did, and I’d do it all over in a heartbeat!

 The Guinea Pigs

The most memorable class I made stones with was the group of 4th graders we called our “guinea pigs.” They had never met Jena, but their teacher was reading Lead with Your Heart, the newest book in the CritterKin series, to them. Their teacher is very fond of pit bulls because she rescued one, and the main character in the book is a pit bull named Lance. The moment I told her about Jena she was VERY EXCITED. This group was invested without having to know a lot about Jena or CritterKin. They got the CritterKin message LOUD and CLEAR through Lance’s story.

The “guinea pigs” came into the library READY and WILLING to give it their ALL (yes, I turned my library into a concrete garden stones work area… CRAZY) and did an extraordinary job. They created beautiful garden stones and wrote about how their pictures showed kindness. It was utterly amazing. I was walking on clouds that day and brimming with pride! This initial class was followed by 10 classes more. They all did a fantastic job  translating their thoughts about kindness into beautiful garden stones as well.  I was really impressed at how serious they were taking their work.

Crafting a Pledge

The final piece of the CritterKin “Kindness in the Garden” project was to have the students collectively write a Kindness Pledge.  Jena and Marty led 11 classes in the activity. All 11 classes came to the cafeteria. The technology did not work perfectly, but the outcome was amazing. The students made “Kindness Hearts” using words they generated themselves.  Next we talked about what it means to take a pledge and what kinds of people make them. After that, the students broke into groups to come up with promises and beliefs about Kindness. The kiddos were making connctions to their own lives left and right. For example, one little girl found a book about dachshunds. Since Ricky Bobby (the hero of the first CritterKin story we read) is a dachshund, she wanted to show us the book and ask questions about other dogs featured in the book. The students were being more considerate of one another that day, and I even heard one say, “Would you treat Ricky Bobby that way?” What we were doing was really making a difference!

Final Thoughts

Over the last 17 years, I have witnessed many kids in the upper grades and teachers “shut down” as school comes to a close. This year it was different. I’ve already mentioned my own feelings.  This was TRULY the BEST end to a school year on record for me. Teachers were thinking “outside the box” and finding all kinds of way to tie in the CritterKin lessons to additional reading and writing projects. I was really impressed at the buy-in from the kids and the teachers. The teachers who were involved gushed their thanks to me, and had very positive things to say about CritterKin in general. Many teachers who were not part of the “Kindness in the Garden” project expressed regret that they hadn’t joined in. Hopefully, we will be able to expand our work with CritterKin next year so that  more of our kids can experience this!

Honestly, I cannot say enough positive things about our work with Jena and Marty. I am so thankful to have been part of this. It changed my life and I am forever grateful! For a brief moment we made school fun again. The kids were reading, listening, writing and creating art. They were learning AND having fun in (gasp) school. I also feel strongly that the kids, teachers and I were part of something bigger. The garden stones will be a constant and permanent reminder of their kindness work. My one regret is that I didn’t start earlier.  There is so much more that can be done. Good thing I have all summer to plan “what’s next!”  In the fall I would like to do more with what we started, tie in some technology, maybe dabble in augmented reality and have the kids do some blogging.  The possibilities are endless!   – Erin Preder