restricted access Elementary Students Quilting through Social Studies
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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 42.1 (2008) 90-99

Elementary Students Quilting through Social Studies


It is enchanting when over twenty students' quilt squares make a quilt. The common yet diverse techniques for making a quilt transform the students' quilt squares into a shared quilting experience. A quilt made by students in one classroom can demonstrate a unique characteristic of each student by combining their squares into a quilt about a common theme in the social studies curriculum. The quilts become a lasting record of the students' depictions of the theme under study and contributions to a class project. The six quilts described in this article demonstrate how to make class quilts using social studies themes. The lessons learned by the students and teachers are shared and additional resources are provided to extend the experiences of elementary students quilting through social studies.

The Elementary Curriculum

One of the first decisions when making a quilt in elementary school is how the quilt connects to the curriculum. Each year I ask my child's classroom teacher what social studies themes are in the curriculum, and with the help of the classroom teacher, the students design a quilt that matches the curriculum. The teacher determines how much class time to use for discussion of the theme and the best quilting technique for the students.

The typical elementary social studies curriculum centers around self, family, school, and community in kindergarten through third grades, and the local state (in this case, Missouri) and the United States in fourth and fifth grades. Quilts can depict social studies strands such as culture, history, [End Page 90] geography, psychology, sociology, or political science. Families, friends, the school, local or national history, state or national symbols, and social issues are among the themes of quilts made by first through fifth grade students. As a parent who is also a social studies educator, I contribute to my children's elementary education by making quilts about the social studies curriculum with the students in their classrooms.

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Figure 1
"Rights of the Child" quilt.

Quilting can integrate many curricula in elementary school. When elementary students make a class quilt based on a theme in the social studies curriculum, they are integrating content and skills from literacy, mathematics, science, or art into the social studies expectations. Within language arts, students read, write, and research the social studies theme and the art of quilt making. Students use mathematical skills when measuring, cutting, and stitching. Science is integrated into social studies through themes such nature, global issues, or changes in the environment.

Visual arts objectives for elementary students are intertwined into the quilting lessons. The artistic design of the quilt is the result of each student's fabric selection, design, and applications to the squares. The students use their hands, hearts, and minds as they make the quilt squares, and they learn the purpose and value of the art of quilting through the connections to the social studies curriculum.

Sharing the Quilts

My desire is for the students' enthusiasm for quilting to inspire other elementary school teachers to quilt with students. Several specific quilts are discussed below; first through third grade students have made quilts depicting the themes of families, friends, and the Rights of the Child, while older students (in fourth and fifth grade) made the pioneer quilt and the freedom quilt. [End Page 91]

Figure 2. 'Families' quilt with hearts.
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Figure 2
"Families" quilt with hearts.

For the "Rights of the Child" quilt (see figure 1), made by first and second graders, the students considered the rights of children while the teacher read A Children's Chorus and For Every Child a Better World.1 Each student made a quilt square about a right using fabric crayons. The quilt hung in the local public library to celebrate the rights of the child. Next to the quilt was a diagram with the first name of the student and the theme of his or her square.2

Learning the names of friends and sharing...