“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 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: http://www.ellentv.com/2015/03/04/third-grader-finds-perfect-way-to-help-rescue-dogs/ 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.
To learn more about the Not Perfect Hat Club and how you can become involved, visit: http://wp.me/P5CFVj-jC