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What’s in Your Bucket?

Spreading Kindness Benefits Fillers, Fill-ees


Every student at West Kelloggsville Elementary School has an invisible bucket. Johana Cruz explained the importance of keeping everyone’s full.

“If you’re a bucket dipper, you’re not going to have any friends,” explained the second-grader.

Students at the second- and third-grade school are thinking a lot about “bucket filling” and “bucket dipping” as they interact with one another.

Compliments are free and anyone can give them
Compliments are free and anyone can give them

“The bucket has one purpose: It holds your good thoughts and good feelings about yourself,” said counselor Lisa VanKampen. “When our bucket is full, we feel great. When it’s empty, we feel awful. Yet most children, and many adults, don’t realize the importance of having a full bucket throughout the day.”

When students fill buckets with kind words and actions, almost magically their own fills up too, she explained. But, alas, say an unkind word or act in a hurtful way, and buckets sink low. VanKampen’s “Have You Filled Your Bucket Today?” program, based on Bucket Fillers 101, is all about spreading kindness to benefit everybody.

She says it’s creating a common language at school, a way for students to express their feelings and teachers to state expectations using the bucket as a symbol. Smile at someone: Buckets fill. Scowl? Buckets empty. Students learn everybody has a bucket, regardless of age.

“Bucket filling is inviting someone to play when they are all alone,” Johana said.

“It’s being nice!” said second-grader Scarlett Shepard.

“It’s giving high fives and fist bumps,” added second-grader Angel Gomez.

Counselor Lisa VanKampen is helping students develop a common language around bucket filling at school
Counselor Lisa VanKampen is helping students develop a common language around bucket filling at school

Filling Buckets

VanKampen has conducted two lessons in each classroom on bucket filling and bucket dipping. The idea is based on the book, “How Full is Your Bucket?” by Tom Rath, which tells of a boy who begins to see how every interaction in a day either fills or empties his bucket. The children’s book is a spin-off of an adult version written by Rath and Donald Clifton. Both books emphasize that it hardly takes any time and it’s all free. “Everyone, no matter if you are 1 or 101, can fill buckets,” VanKampen said.

VanKampen passed out cards with behaviors written on them for students to categorize under “Bucket Fillers are people who…” and “Bucket Dippers are people who…” Each class received its own bucket with blue slips of paper that read, “I’m filling your bucket.” Students write positive feelings, comments or compliment to someone in their class. Teachers read out of the classroom bucket to reinforce the lesson.

“I wroted one to my BFF Eaden,” Scarlett said. “I wroted that you’re the bestest friend anyone can ask for.”

VanKampen also has an interactive bulletin board about bucket dipping outside her office. She hangs bucket-filling “tear-offs” around the school for kids to have for themselves or give to others.

Third-grade teacher Bethany Kamps took the program a step further and hung buckets for each child on her classroom wall.

“I wanted to add it into the classroom because I feel like the whole culture and environment of the class really affects how they learn,” Kamps said. “When kids are treating each other positively and getting along, it makes it easier to get learning done.”

VanKampen and East Kelloggsville counselor Hillary DeRidder are hosting a parent night in May to introduce, educate and model the bucket story with the hope that it will be extended to students’ homes.

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Bucket Fillers 101

Have You Filled Your Bucket Today?

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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