For Bell Field Elementary School teacher Kris Lindgren, it was a passage in one of her devotional books that inspired her latest project.
“A child’s world revolves around himself or herself,” the passage read, as Lindgren recalls.
Lindgren thought she could start to get her second graders to start thinking beyond themselves.
“I just kept thinking, it would be so cool to work with my 7- and 8-year-olds and give them the feeling of being generous, and giving back without needing anything in return,” Lindgren said. “So much of their world, it does revolve around them, and that’s so normal — they’re seven and eight. And I just wanted them to have the good feeling of giving and outreach for children, even at this young age.”
This school year, Lindgren’s class of 20 second graders have been busy making no-sew blankets. As of last week, the class had made 36 — just four away from their goal of 40.
The students will each make two blankets: one for a child at the First Lutheran Early Childhood Center and the other for a senior at the Heritage at Shalimar Gardens, along with notes offering holiday wishes.
And on Dec. 4, the students will get to experience the feeling of giving. A school bus will pick the kids up that day to take them to both First Lutheran and Shalimar Gardens, where the kids will distribute their blankets.
“They’ll have their blanket and their note, and then we’ll bring the cookies in, and I’ve asked both places if we could just have a chance to visit with the people and tell them what we have done,” Lindgren said.
The project was born out of a new initiative generated by the school district’s professional development team. The initiative asks teachers to pursue “Passion Projects” — and for Lindgren, that was teaching her students about caring and giving.
“Everybody is doing their own passion project, so we’ve got a lot of different things happening,” said Bell Field Principal Chris Raasch.
But this one — with its angle of making and creating something for the community — is unique, Raasch said.
“I’m really excited about it,” he said. “I think Mrs. Lindgren, she’s a very caring individual, and I think one of the things that she prides herself on is passing that on to her kids, and showing what it means to be empathetic for people in the community.”
The no-sew blankets start out as two separate sheets, each with frayed edges, cut with the help of Lindgren’s parents. Throughout the day, Lindgren and her teaching team pull a group of kids aside to work on the blankets in small groups for 15 or 20 minutes, tying the slits along the edges together to create a blanket with two layers.
“We tie it double knots,” said student Rylie Axland. “You have to make sure it’s not too tight.”
The students are very conscious of the core purpose of the project, eager to board their bus and travel around spreading holiday cheer. When asked what they’ve learned, many reflect on the lesson of giving back.
“I learned that even if you haven’t met someone, it’s OK to help them,” said student Maegan McBratney.
For student Emily Beatty, the Dec. 4 trip will have special meaning — her great-grandmother is currently at the Heritage at Shalimar Gardens. But it also highlighted to her the importance of thinking of other people.
“It’s kind to give stuff to people,” Emily said. “It’s not all about you — you should care about other people.”
For the seniors at the Heritage at Shalimar Gardens, the project also presents a new opportunity for residents to interact with a younger generation, says Shelly Everitt, the senior living counselor at the assisted living center.
“Our seniors love it when any kinds of students or younger folks come in to visit, whether it’s for bringing donations, whether it’s for a Halloween trick or treat, whether it’s for holidays or you name it, they love having guests,” she said.
“These generous acts of kindness are very much appreciated,” she added. “It’s going to warm their bodies, it’s going to warm their hearts. And we think it’s going to brighten the holidays a little bit, just showing that compassion and maybe building some connectedness with some of these younger students.”
The project also has several educational components, Lindgren says. In addition to learning about compassion, she hopes they’ll learn about teamwork and get to know each other better. They have a counter on the board keeping track of how close they are to their goal of 40 blankets. In their small blanket-making groups, she’s seen a lot of positive social interaction.
“One of our paras said ‘we’re just having a little hen party in here and it’s just wonderful,’” Lindgren said. “I said ‘I feel like I should just bring you coffee and rolls and all that good stuff.’”
Students will also be able to work on their writing skills. They will be writing their own notes to accompany the blankets, complete with their own artwork. And they’ll also be writing thank you notes to the community organizations who participated in the project.
And certainly, as much as Lindgren’s students may be helping the community, they’ve received help themselves. Lindgren purchased the fabric with a grant from Thrivent Financial, as well as a donation from Wal-Mart. She credited their paras, like Cathy Bachmann and Kathy Gregory, for helping to organize the project in the classroom. Her parents helped cut the fabric. And she credited the organizations who will be receiving the blankets for their participation.
“It takes a village,” she said.