Quilting: A Window Into
Research and Storytelling
Kindergartners go on a shared journey of discovery through an interdisciplinary study of quilts that culminates in their own quilt-making project.
In Heather Jupiter and Richard Amelius’s kindergarten classroom, a beautiful communal quilt, with squares designed and sewn by each of their students, hangs from the rafters. Onlookers marvel at the handiwork. But the quilt was much more than an enjoyable arts-and-crafts assignment; it was the unexpected outcome of a months-long, collaborative research project. And when these kindergartners first embarked on their study, no one could have predicted just how engaged they would become and where their ideas would lead.
The project began after winter break, when each kindergarten class was looking to choose a topic of interest for an in-depth research project. Heather and Richard’s cluster first began exploring symmetry. But it was after reading a book called The Quiltmaker’s Gift that the teachers noticed the story had struck a deeper chord. Students were fascinated by the quilt patterns they observed in the story, and many tried to re-create them during art activities. With their curiosity as their guide, the class embarked on a full-fledged study of quilts.
During the course of their research, the kindergartners learned how to investigate a subject from multiple angles and make connections between disciplines. Indeed, their quilt project spanned the fields of literature, history, art and math. They read books that featured quilts as a literary motif, and studied quilt-making traditions across different cultures. They used quilt patterns as a lens through which they examined geometry and shapes. They even looked at quilt-making as a form of memoriam and activism, and talked about the AIDS Quilt--the largest piece of folk art in the world.
One of their most exciting discoveries was that quilts were part of many of their own family histories. Several family members visited the class to share their expertise on quilt-making and showed examples of heirloom quilts. “It was really moving to see how quilts were such a huge part of our community,” Heather recalls. Another huge source of inspiration was author and activist Faith Ringgold, whose children’s picture books, they discovered, had begun as story quilts.
Struck by the narrative power of the quilts they were observing, the children decided to make their own communal quilt, which would tell the story of their cluster. The group worked together to compile their ideas for their quilt, with the consensus that each quilt square would represent a theme or memory that had been important to their class throughout the school year. Then the teachers met one-on-one with each child to come up with an action plan for how to execute his or her concept for a square. After sketching and illustrating their designs, students set about cutting, sewing, embroidering and assembling. Finally, the finished quilt was revealed. What had started as just an idea had become something much bigger, each individual square coming together to form a beautiful patchwork. It was a moving reminder of the class’s shared journey of discovery.