"Giving is not just about making a donation, it's about making a difference."—Kathryn Bushkin Calvin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation
Like many veteran school librarians and teachers, September 11, 2001 is embedded in my mind as if it were yesterday. I was teaching at a middle school only about thirty miles away from the tragedy of the World Trade Center attack, and many of our students whose parents worked in New York City were affected, physically and emotionally. As a seventh grade English teacher I turned to what I knew best...writing. The next day in class my students put their textbooks and notebooks aside and pulled out construction paper, markers, and crayons. They wrote thank you letters to members of our local fire department. They decorated those letters with the kindest words and the most beautiful images possible, and when I delivered them, I realized the impact that my students had on these local heroes.
For the past twenty five years I have seen classrooms transformed through technology, and how society has affected our children (for better or for worse). I have seen the pendulum of education swing with the weight of each new buzzword and trend. I have seen how a connected world can be both a blessing and a burden. And I have come to realize, that the more things change the more they stay the same.
It has been said that we are living through the fourth Industrial Revolution, with technology rapidly changing the way we live and the way we learn through cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. Ironically, as more innovation becomes prevalent the more our humanity will become essential to progress. It is our ability to cooperate, to communicate, to think critically, to create, to be active citizens, and to show compassion for others that will help our students participate in the global community. In the past, makerspaces have focused on the cognitive learning aspects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Some educators have even broadened the learning environment from STEM to STREAM to include research/reading and art.
However, the maker movement is not a movement of things, but of people. We need to help our students develop connections so that they can appreciate how their actions impact others locally and globally. They need to think outside of themselves and to participate in activities where they can help others through even the simplest acts of kindness. If we weave such opportunities into our lessons and school activities, we can promote character education authentically with real life situations and hands-on learning. Makerspace activities that are self-directed, simple to understand, and allow for personalized learning help all students develop independence and social emotional and academic skills regardless of age, ability, gender identity, language, religion, and socioeconomic background.
The simplest way to begin to culture of kindness and making a difference is through a kids kindness cart program. Use paint or duct tape to decorate an old book or supply cart and stock it with some simple craft supplies such as paper, scissors, markers, crayons, stickers, glue, paintbrushes, and paint. You probably already have most of these supplies in your library or can obtain them in your school supply closet. For more expensive or specialty supplies, reach out to your parent teacher organization or your local civic associations. If your district approves, create an Amazon wish list or write a small project through DonorsChoose.org, AdoptAClassroom.org, or PledgeCents. People like to support projects that empower students to make a difference.
Add picture books, biographies, fiction books, and research materials from your collection to promote literacy. You will have the beginnings of a program that can be tailored for various themes, seasons, and celebrations. This mobile makerspace is convenient for full-class instruction, as a station choice during your regular library programming, and for visiting classrooms. Here are some ideas that appeal to student interests, are sustainable, and have a positive impact on local and global communities.
Sending Smiles/Girls Love Mail
Perhaps the simplest way to make a difference in someone's life is to write them a letter of encouragement and friendship. You can begin your kindness program almost immediately with the help of Sending Smiles and Girls Love Mail. Sending Smiles (https://www.sendingsmiles2sis.com/) sends you a pack of fluorescent-colored postcards. Your students decorate the postcards and send them back in the pre-paid postage envelope. Sending Smiles has distributed more than 40,000 postcards across the United States to sick children in hospitals, Ronald McDonald Houses and at home. Teenagers might choose to write letters through Girls Love Mail (https://www.girlslovemail.com/), a charity that collects handwritten letters of encouragement and sends them to cancer centers and programs, where they are distributed to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
Soup Kitchens/Meals on Wheels
Students can create placemats using construction paper or cardstock, markers, and stickers. Laminating the placemats will help to make them last through many meals.
Collect old T-shirts to create toys, pillows, and bandanas. To create the toys, cut strips from the shirt and braid them. Tie the ends to secure them. Pillows are easy to sew by hand or by machine by cutting the shirts under the armpits and sewing the two open ends closed. For a bandanna, cut a triangle out of a shirt, and use fabric markers to decorate it. A personalized bandana makes a wonderful send-off gift for a newly adopted puppy.
Make any child feel like a winner! Cut superhero capes from new T-shirts and decorate them with pops of color and a large "S." Design personalized coloring books by drawing simple figures with black sharpie markers.
Safety can be an issue for our elderly. Students can create anti-slip socks for residents by decorating the bottoms of socks with puffy paint. Paint chips from hardware stores and ribbon make for beautiful bookmarks.
Habitat for Humanity
Although the minimum age to volunteer to help build homes with Habitat for Humanity is sixteen, younger children can still help by painting "Welcome Home" signs on poster board for families as they return to their new houses.
Ronald McDonald House
Ronald McDonald Houses serve as home environments, providing support and resources to families staying there while their young children are being treated at local hospitals. Knitted and crocheted hats for children undergoing chemotherapy are very quick to make. Even the youngest crafters can tie two pieces of fleece fabric into no-sew blankets for NICU babies.
A personalized pillowcase can help a child fall asleep to sweet dreams. Camp Dreamcatcher is a camp for children coping with the HIV/AIDS infection of a family member, the death of one or both parents, or their own HIV/AIDS infection. New, plain, white pillowcases serve as the perfect canvases for masterpieces created with fabric paint and markers.
You don't need to be an expert seamstress or tailor to sew a cooling tie for The Hugs Project, which sends care packages to military service people in the Middle East. Filled with polymer crystals, the cooling ties are worn around the neck help people to keep cool when wet or warm when heated. Students can also use fabric to make flat teddy bears for the military to give to children who they encounter in the towns (http://www.thehugsproject.com/sewing-patterns/)
If you are considering participating in a Global Goals initiative, Students Rebuild challenges have a direct impact on our world. First established in 2010, Students Rebuild is operated and funded by the Bezos Family Foundation. From raising funds to benefit those affected by the earthquake that struck Haiti to the ocean conservation, Students Rebuild offers students the opportunity to engage in an art project while learning through online video conferences and other free resources for exploring culture and geography. Each year students participate in a new challenge. More than one million participants in 83 countries and all 50 states have created almost 6 million pieces of art, and raised more than $4 million dollars for the benefit of over 50,000 children through Students Rebuild (https://www.studentsrebuild.org/).
When students participate in Reason2Smile fundraising they help to provide educational opportunities for children attending the Jambo Jipya School in Mtwapa, Kenya. Organizations can order paper bead bracelet making kits for their patrons and students to complete. The cost of the kit serves as a donation to the Jambo Jipya School. This small organization also loans out education trunks (New York and Montana only) that include Kenyan crafts, jewelry, and music in addition to lesson plans. A copy of Neema's Reason to Smile, written by Patricia Newman and illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, a story of a young Kenyan girl named Neema who dreams of one day being able to afford to go to school is also included in the trunk (https://www.reason2smile.org/).
The Memory Project
When students participate in The Memory Project, their artwork has a direct impact on the life of an individual child. Through the Portrait Program students create portraits for children around the world who have faced challenges such as war, violence, poverty, neglect, or family loss. More than 160,000 portraits of children in 49 countries have been created since 2004. The cost to participate is $15 per portrait which covers the cost of delivering these works of art to their recipients by The Memory Project. Teachers receive as many portraits as they order, as well as a link to a video about the children's home country. When the portraits are delivered, The Memory Project sends another video which includes footage of the delivery celebration to groups and not to individual children. Other than the $15 fee, participation doesn't require any expensive drawing supplies as the portraits must be compact and lightweight for travel (https://www.memoryproject.org/).
A kids kindness cart is a wonderful way to build a sense of community in your library and school. With simple supplies, this program can be a worthwhile, sustainable learning experience for all of your students.