Author Guest Post: “Small Things Lead to Social Emotional Learning” by Marsha Diane Arnold, Author of One Small Thing


“Small Things Lead to Social Emotional Learning

In 2017, my husband and I survived Hurricane Irma in Lee County, Florida. 130 mph gusts right over our house! That same year, the Tubbs wildfire roared through Napa, Sonoma, and Lake County in California. My husband and I had moved from Sonoma county, where we’d lived 35 years, to Florida just a few years before. The fire destroyed the homes of a number of friends, including our goddaughter’s. Disasters seemed to surround us.

When Raccoon’s home is destroyed by lightning in One Small Thing, Mouse says, “It’s such a BIG catastrophe! And we’re so small.” Catastrophes can paralyze. Children can feel overwhelmed with concern and helplessness when they experience a natural disaster or when a calamity happens to someone in their community. One Small Thing offers examples of how each of us, child or adult, can use our energy and talent to spread kindness.

It’s especially important to spread kindness during difficult times, but it’s also important to spread kindness on a daily basis. Doing “one small thing” daily will help children understand their feelings, understand others’ feelings, and assist them in making empathetic decisions. Small actions daily will help them be ready to communicate and act when a “big catastrophe” happens.

After reading One Small Thing, you may wish to discuss a few of the questions found in the One Small Thing Activity Guide:

*How did each animal feel when they learned about what happened to Raccoon
*Squirrel felt so sad, he couldn’t move. Do you ever feel there is too much to be fixed? Do you ever feel things are so hard or sad you may as well give up?
*Which animal felt they didn’t have anything to offer, that there was nothing they could do? (Mouse)
*How do you feel when something scary or bad happens?
*What makes you feel better when you are scared or sad?

After the discussion, have the children talk about “one small thing” they could do as a class.

Lead the children to try a couple of activities for others. Perhaps start with “one small thing” for animal friends.

My educator friend is planning to read One Small Thing to a class and then work with them to make Cookie Cutter Bird Feeders. There are several slightly different “recipes” online; she plans to try this one. She hasn’t tried this yet, but folks who have say this will make several cookie cutter bird feeders.

Materials Needed

  • 2 cups small birdseed (Have extra in case you need to thicken the mixture more.)
  • 2 packets unflavored gelatin (8 gram packets)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Spoon
  • Twine or Ribbon
  • (Plastic Straws, if using straws to poke the holes)
  • Cookie cutters – (Stars and acorns are fun.)
  • Baking sheets
  • Parchment paper

What to do

  1. Place parchment paper on baking sheets.
  2. Place cookie cutters on baking sheets. Set these to the side.
  3. In a mixing bowl place 2/3 cup boiled water and 2 packet of gelatin. You can also do this on a stove in a pan.
  4. Stir until the gelatin is dissolved, a minute or two.
  5. Stir in 2 cups birdseed until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  6. Tie a piece of twine or ribbon into a loop. (Some prefer to place a straw in the birdseed cookies to make a hole. After the cookies dry, the twine or ribbon can be pulled through and tied.)
  7. Fill a cookie cutter halfway with birdseed, using a spoon. Press the birdseed down with the back of the spoon.
  8. Push the tied part of string into the birdseed.
  9. Fill the cookie cutter with the rest of the birdseed mixture.
  10. Some place the cookie cutters in the refrigerator for a few hours to set. Others simply move on to drying.
  11. Dry the birdseed cookies overnight.
  12. Turn the birdseed cookies over and let the other side dry overnight.
  13. Carefully push the bird seed feeder out of the cookie cutter.
  14. Hang the birdseed cookies from tree branches or a bird feeding station.

Now you might have the  children brainstorm “one small thing” they could do as a class for a person. Is there an Assisted Living Residence or Retirement Community nearby that would appreciate colorful cards? You might choose a holiday like May Day and have the children draw colorful flowers on folded paper with a brief message like “Happy May Day!” or “May Basket” and their name.

These two activities seem like small things to do…but that is the point. They are small, but lots of small things add up to something wonderful. May the gentle, cozy message of One Small Thing add to the social emotional learning canon and to kindness, all around.

Educators and parents can find more activities in the One Small Thing Activity Guide on my website, here:

Published May 9th, 2023 by Beaming Books

About the Book: After Raccoon’s home burns down in a lightning storm, his friends don’t know what they can do to help. Squirrel, Beaver, Mouse, Badger, and Rabbit all go back to their own homes, trying to focus on something other than Raccoon’s tragedy. But each animal discovers one small thing they can do for Raccoon–and it turns out that each small act may not be so small after all.

One Small Thing is a gentle and powerful look at how small actions can make a big impact.

About the Author: Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold is a picture book author of 24 books, with over one million books sold.  Her books have garnered honors like Best First Book by a New Author (Heart of a Tiger), Smithsonian Notable (The Pumpkin Runner), and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (Roar of a Snore). Her bilingual Galápagos Girl won the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. Lights Out, about light pollution, has been praised by the Dark Sky community as well as the children’s lit community and was a finalist for the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text.

Marsha enjoys sharing her love of story through school visits, manuscript consultations, her Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books e-course, and especially by reading to her four grandchildren.

Growing up on the Kansas prairies, Marsha lived in Northern California for most of her life. Now she lives with her husband in southwest Florida, near the Caloosahatchee River and her daughter’s family and only a short flight from her son’s family. Besides creating stories, her favorite activities are scuba diving and snorkeling, hiking, traveling, gardening, and climbing trees.

You may learn more about Marsha, her books, and her world, at

Thank you, Marsha, for these activities and the focus on kindness!

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