The Teddy Bear Project

Helping students cope when their teacher becomes seriously ill.

When a teacher becomes seriously ill and must go on medical leave without having time to say goodbye to her kids, it can be traumatic for the children.  This happened to my wife a few years ago. The following is a project she used to help her kids understand that she was ok and she loved them.

In April of 2013, Cheryl was teaching kindergarten and everything seemed normal, except that she was having a great deal of back pain.  She had an MRI done to see if she had a slipped disc, and learned that she had a tumor the size of her little finger inside her spine.  Upon hearing this news, she and I were both in shock.  She was terrified about the surgery, but she was also worried about her kids. She couldn’t go back to school, but she didn’t want to just disappear and have them wondering what happened to her.  Then she remembered the special teddy bear that had been her class mascot that year.  The teddy bear had left notes and little treats for the children throughout the school year. I took the teddy bear with me when I took Cheryl to the hospital for pre-surgery tests and paperwork. I took pictures of the teddy bear with nurses and doctors.

Prior to her surgery, Cheryl wrote a short note for each day that was left in the school year.  The notes were in the teddy bear’s voice and would tell the students something like, “I saw Mrs. Litton yesterday and she is doing very well.  She misses you and wants you to remember to practice your sight words.”  I typed the notes into emails and added a picture of the teddy bear at the hospital to each email and then I sent them to a dear friend, who would make sure that the substitute read a letter from teddy each day.

 Her kindergarten kids loved the Teddy Bear Project.  They thought that the teddy bear went to see Cheryl at the hospital after school each day, so they began writing letters and drawing pictures for the teddy bear to deliver to her.  Concentrating on getting the teddy bear project ready helped Cheryl by giving her something positive to think about during those stressful days before surgery and helped her kindergarten kids deal with the trauma of their teacher suddenly disappearing.

I highly recommend having a stuffed animal as a class mascot.  Cheryl’s kindergarten kids already had a connection with the teddy bear because she used him in class.  He sat at the table were everyone was on task.  Her kids read to him.  He reminded her kids that he had tiny little ears and they hurt when they were too loud.  She never dreamed that she would use the teddy bear to stay connected to her kids when she was having emergency surgery. Now she is now so grateful that using him bridged the distance from her hospital room to her classroom.


  1. This is an amazing story. I want to know how things went.

  2. I love this so much. Even teachers who have planned sick leave or maternity leave could do this to keep connected with the kids. Years ago I went into preterm labor 2 months before my maternity leave and this would have been great. Thanks for sharing this terrific idea.


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