Caps For Good

hatWant a service-learning project that will empower your students to work with their hands locally, think and give globally, and ultimately save babies’ lives? Save The Children has the perfect project for you! Caps For Good, a part of their Good Goes campaign, is calling for people all across America to donate crocheted or knit caps to help reduce the staggering infant mortality rate in developing countries.

Why ‘knot’ kick off the campaign by reading Kate Klise’s treasure Shall I Knit You A Hat? In this pay-it-forward tale about gift giving and gratitude, Mother Rabbit sees a blizzard coming and knits a cool cap to keep Little Rabbit’s ears warm, and he, in turn, wants caps for all of his friends. He helps his mom by distracting his friends so that she can get measurements for her crafty creations. At first, the animals aren’t all that grateful, but when the cold winds start to blow, they see the beauty of and appreciate the warmth that they received from the Rabbits. When Little Rabbit realizes that he was too busy giving to his friends that he forgot a gift for his mother, her heartwarming response reassures him that love is the best gift of all.

Click here for suggestions on how to get the ball rolling and launch a local Caps For Good campaign. Then download the Action Kit for patterns, the gift-tag template, and a piece of stationary for the letter-writing component of this campaign.

Pass It On!


The Foundation for a Better Life began as a simple idea to promote positive values. They believe that people are basically good and just need an occasional reminder. And that the values we live by are worth more when we pass them on. So they’ve created a place for us to remember. A place online where we can view quality television spots, talk about and celebrate our heroes, and design billboards with a character theme. To advertise for good.

Imagine what your students could create with enough inspiration and encouragement. This simply powerful, free resource will support integration of your core values and encourage the people who positively influence one another to keep up the good work. Use the television spots as discussion starters for your morning meetings or as journal prompts. Then write, film, and post Public Service Announcements of your own to spotlight the good that surrounds us every day.

For other sites that positively promote caring, visit actsofkindness.org, kindacts.org, or payitforwardmovement.org.

Kindness Matters
meanjeanCarly and Sandy enjoy being soul sisters. They play everything together and seem to have a solid sibling relationship. Until Lily Jean moves in, that is. You’re Mean, Lily Jean by Frieda Wishinsky explores what happens when a pair becomes three, the dreaded friendship triangle. I started my lesson using this book by talking about the cover. Which girl is Lily Jean? How can you tell? Who do you think is calling her mean? Does she look mean to you? Why or why not? Oh, that was a good question! She doesn’t really have a mean look on her face, so you can really get into a meaty discussion about how conflicting it is when children are able to disguise their bullying behaviors behind a sweet smile.

As we read the story, we stop to look at picture cues and talk about manners. Notice the moving van in the distance on the first page, foreshadowing what’s about to happen that could separate the siblings. As Lily Jean introduces herself, the reader will notice that she comes in bragging about what she’s good at and not accepting their compliments with thanks. Make note of how quickly she imposes herself into the middle of the Carly and Sandy. Find out from the students if this has ever happened to them and what they did to make the trio work.

Sandy tries on several occasions to stand up for her little sister. How? Is it enough? When? Find out what your students would do differently if they were Sandy. As you read, you’ll be amazed at how incensed your students will become by Lily Jean’s insensitivity and bossiness. Pause on every page to let them air their feelings and try to imagine a solution to the problem that’s being created.

Finally, Carly cooks up a plan that will allow her to stand up to Lily Jean’s bossiness and give her a taste of her own medicine. One of my second graders said “Hey, she’s using reverse psychology.” Find out if your students know what those phrases – a taste of her own medicine and reverse psychology – mean. Another interesting discussion will ensue. As it ends, ask your students to predict if the girls will let Lily Jean play circus with them and, if so, what they might ask Lily Jean to be? My daughter and I actually thought that they might be justified in asking her to be the lion, but the siblings had something even better in mind for their new friend. Pose the question, “What happens the next day?” and ask your students to write the sequel.

Check out this book and empower your students with the skills to say “NO” to bullying behavior and “YES” to kindness and cooperation.

The Bluebird of Happiness
noodle-louWho cheers you up when you’re feeling blue? If you’re reading Noodle & Lou by Austin author Liz Garton Scanlon, it’s your best friend, that’s who. Meet Lou, the bluebird of happiness, and Noodle, a little worm who’s literally stuck in the muck with his self doubts and insecurities. Noodle wakes up one day with a “rain-cloudy heart,” but for every negative thought that Noodle has, Lou swoops in with a positive, upbeat spin on his raison d’etre, reason for being. Yes, everybody’s got a purpose and this unlikely friend (Don’t birds typically prey on worms?) spends his time not only cheering his companion up, but also giving him the gift of confidence to get unstuck and soar through life.

An activity that I’m reminded of that will beautifully complement this book is the Friendship Ceremony that teacher Carolyn Lowe holds at Westwood at the end of each year. She encourages her students to be on the lookout all year for qualities that make a good friend. They talk about what it takes to build and maintain friendships. As a class, they discuss the attributes of a healthy friendship. They practice those qualities, they role play with them, and they weave them into their daily routines. Students learn – yes, this is a skill that has to be taught in their formative years! – to catch one another making good friendship choices and affirm and encourage one another. I’ve seen Mrs. Lowe modeling this by actually stopping classroom instruction to notice someone doing a kind, caring thing for someone else.

When it’s time for the school year (or semester!) to end, Mrs. Lowe’s students each give a Friendship Award to a classmate that they’ve noticed is a good friend with this stipulation: they cannot give it to just anyone and not just because. The students have to write a persuasive essay about why that classmate deserves this Friendship Award: What is it, exactly, that makes him or her a model friend? Is it something specific that he does or something unique that she is? How does the student know, really KNOW, that he or she is being a good friend? As part of the ritual of the Friendship Ceremony and once the essays are approved (use teacher and student editors), students each give a gold medal to their friend in front of the class while they read their essay aloud. Students honoring students is simply powerful!

Click here to visit the author’s website for a similar idea (Mirror, Mirror) and many more enrichment activities in the comprehensive Teacher’s Guide, written by Natalie Dias Lorenzi.

Putting Yourself In Someone Else’s Shoes
thoseshoesThose Shoes by Maribeth Boelts is a sensitive story about caring and compassion. All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, you know, the cool expensive ones that everybody else has. His grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” but when his old shoes fall apart at school and the counselor gives him an uncool pair, Jeremy is more determined than ever to have those shoes. When he buys a pair a few sizes too small at a resale shop, Jeremy quickly decides that sore feet aren’t much fun. But he’s willing to sacrifice comfort for cool until he realizes that the chance to help a friend is worth way more than those shoes.

Talk about the spirit of giving. Living in a largely “me-first” world, it’s often difficult to find examples of “service above self.” Jeremy definitely finds a way to fill a need and serve his friend, even if it meant sacrificing one of his most coveted wants. Those Shoes can get your students thinking and reflecting about sensitivity and service. Ask your students about a time when they had to really listen to their heart, even when they didn’t want to, to put someone else in front of themselves. Discuss or have them write about what it means to “put yourself into someone else’s shoes.” Ask them what Jeremy got in return and you’ll find that they understand, truly understand, that it wasn’t stuff. Nope, it wasn’t anything tangible; not something that comes in a box with a bow on top. It was something so abstract that it might be hard to explain or put your finger on, but it was something more valuable than any gadget or pair of shoes could ever be.

This intergenerational tale has the potential to teach students not only about wants versus needs, but about the true value of kindness and friendship. I love that Jeremy has this interaction with his grandmother and that there’s a counselor who, bless his heart, tries to help in this story. Have students brainstorm about the people in their lives who help them think with their hearts. To visually show caring, list their answers on a giant piece of heart-shaped red butcher paper or poster board. Use it as a springboard for a service-learning project. Whom can you help? What might you be willing to give up to put caring into action and help others? Last year, we partnered with Soles 4 Souls and sent our gently-used shoes to Haiti. We’ve also collected socks for the local homeless shelter. Host a collection to fill a need and get ready to enJOY the feeling that comes from giving.

Creating A Climate Of Caring
maslowI met Abraham Maslow again for the first time recently when I attended a Mandt System Positive Behavior Support training. Wow. Talk about making an argument for the core value of CARING! Take another look at that pyramid; better yet, share it with your students! What comes first? Basic needs like food, water, shelter. How many of your students come to school hungry? Or tired? What can you do to meet those needs? Safety comes next. How many of your students have some anxiety about something? How many lack stability, strong limits, structure, order? What will you do for them? Look at what’s next – LOVE. And belongingness. Relationships are HUGE! How many of your students really feel connected? To one another? To you? To someone? Then comes esteem, under which you’ll find responsibility and reputation. Do your students even know what this means? When parents come by to ask me to help give their children self-esteem, I always ask them, “What are they responsible for?” Give kids some chores and watch what happens at home. Give them jobs in the classroom and see what develops.

Check it out; according to Maslow, ALL of this has to be in place before students are ready to learn. Cognitive needs are fifth on the pyramid. Let me say it again, “WOW!”

So what’s happening in your classrom that creates a climate of caring and helps meet those needs? At Westwood, we encourage morning meetings so class families connect. We also ask teachers to find jobs for our little leaders. How will they ever learn to lead if we don’t give them the chance to lead? We started serving breakfast a few years back so that students don’t start their day hungry. If there’s a need for snacks over the weekend, we send home a Buddy Backpack through a partnership with the Houston Food Bank and the United Methodist Church. If students are having trouble connecting, we plug them into programs like small group counseling, Peer Assistance and Leadership student mentorships, and Book Buddy partnerships. We also provide leadership opportunities like Pillar Patrol, Green Team, and Recycling Club for our third graders; all students are eligible for jobs like line leader, watt watcher, and cafeteria clean-up crew.

Meet Maslow again for the first time and create a contagious climate of caring.