BRIDGETOWN, NS - When you’re in Krystle Hall’s class, you get to explore your creative side, something Nathaniel Rafuse has been doing to rave reviews. And he’s helping frightened children through some scary times.
Nathaniel graduated from Grade 8 at Bridgetown Regional Community School this year, but he came back to class with his mom Pam Difford June 30 to talk about making comfort toys for sick kids at the IWK.
“For my Genius Hour project I crocheted 30 comfort dolls for the IWK,” he said. “They’re just for children at the IWK to take them into their hospital room or surgery to help comfort them through it.”
The toys are all different shapes, sizes, and colours and are stuffed with regular cotton stuffing. And there are a few baby hats mixed in. Hall, who teaches English Language Arts, has volunteered to take them into the city for him.
“Genius Hour was first started by Google. Google decided that 20 per cent of an employee’s time should be devoted to pursuing a passion of their own,” said Hall. “That helps increase productivity and engagement and their own personal learning. And so we started it last year here, myself and another teacher. We decided that 20 per cent of their learning time should be devoted to them building their own passions.”
“Miss Hall knows I like to crochet and she was the one who really inspired me to do this,” said Nathaniel, “so I just decided I would do something besides baking – because I love to bake – so I decided I would do this instead this year.”
Hall and Nathaniel’s mom Pam dump the comfort toys out on a table in the hallway. Colourful and fun-looking owls and octopuses spill out. In another bag are 18 crocheted blankets his mother made for the IWK, something she’d been working on for a while.
“I’ve never actually been to the IWK, but I’ve heard tons of stories about it and all that,” said Nathaniel. “And I’ve had some baby cousins who had to go there. So I always keep that in mind for stuff like this. “
It becomes obvious where Nathaniel gets his love of crocheting.
“It comes from my mom,” he said. “About four years ago – I don’t know what she was making. I think it was a blanket or something. I wanted to know how to do it, so she taught me.”
He’s been crocheting ever since.
“I’ve made blankets. I made a pillow for my niece one time. I just do anything I can,” he said.
His mom Pam, of Brickton, has her own business called Pam’s Knits & Things.
“When his peers, the students in his class saw what he had made, they loved the owls and the little figures, to the point that they asked him to make them for them as well,” said Hall. “So he went around making them for his friends. He made one for me for my daughter as well.”
Crocheting isn’t Nathaniel’s only passion. For is ‘Passion Project,’ as Hall also calls Genius Hour, last year he explored making chocolates. But his real future may be more to do with bread, cookies, pies, muffins, and brownies.
“When I grow up I want to become a baker, and I want to open my own bakery,” he said. “I’ve had that in mind for about a year and a half.”
Hall is inspired, impressed, and rewarded by her students time and again.
“Last year we had a student who built a fully functioning, working excavator,” Hall marveled. “He mentored with a local mechanic, built it, came to the school, dug up part of the back yard of the old school. We’ve had students build machinery. We’ve had a lot of students build art skills.”
She’s also had students write and publish books.
“And then we end with this big showcase where they get to show it off too to family and friends and the rest of the school,” she said. “And he (Nathaniel) had quite a few of the elementary students stopping at his table this year, hoping he was selling them.”
Hall said Nathaniel impressed her nonstop.
“From the moment we started discussing his Genius Hour project he landed pretty quickly on crocheting and building that skill,” she said. “The more he and I discussed it the more he realized, and I realized, that he really wanted to give back in some way. So we both worked together to try and find as many donations in yarn as possible. I think Nathaniel pretty much paid for the rest himself.”
She said every so often he’d bring something in he was working on and show her.
“And it just became more and more impressive as it went from just a couple of baby hats to the pie slices, to then creating little owls that had the little faces. It was just so impressive to see his growth and just how engaged he got into it and how much he really wanted to donate as much as he could be the end of the year.”