Tales from Lower School
Interdisciplinary Pocket People Project Continues Long-Standing First Grade Tradition
by Tillie Scarritt, Cara Finnerty, and Giovanni Pucci, First Grade Head Teachers
Pocket People are a Calhoun tradition dating back nearly 35 years! These adorable characters have been cherished and saved by many Calhoun alumni and are even reputed to have their own reunions! And now, our current first graders have joined this long line of Calhouners…
Our “Pocket People” unit is an exercise in Calhoun’s progressive methodology and interdisciplinary, project-based learning. It is an integral part of the first grade social studies curriculum that revolves around “What Makes a Community,” reflecting Calhoun’s commitment to community and cooperation while placing great value on self-discovery and creative expression.
Each child designs his/her own fabric doll out of muslin and then stuffs it with batting, small enough to fit in a pocket. The children continue the project by making clothing and constructing a home for their pocket person.
Throughout the process, we discuss what people want versus what they need—and how they get those needs met. These discussions inevitably raise important questions: What about people without homes or jobs? Where and how do we get food? What services do we need for our community? How do people live together in crowded buildings? Why is there a need to compromise?
A crate becomes the foundation for the home; furnishings are crafted out of wood, cardboard and found objects. The assembled homes become a neighborhood. Students decide what is needed for the community and proceed to build stores, banks, movie theaters, hospitals and schools.
Collaborative work comes into play in the construction of these buildings and in decisions made within the community. These interactions provide students with invaluable experiences in problem solving, working collaboratively, and getting along with one another.
The building blocks of this project are many. Math is an important element, as the children observe rules of symmetry and learn how to measure, weigh and estimate. One math activity involves measuring the length, height, and depth of each Pocket Person’s home, using Unifix cubes, rulers, or other math manipulatives. Scale and measurement are used when the children build their wooden crate homes, and when they try to weigh and balance their Pocket People. The children learn how to use the manipulatives and read a ruler when measuring the Pocket Person’s height. Blocks are often used to further expand the community.
Language arts skills are practiced during the whole life of the project. Each Pocket Person-- human or animal—is given its own “character.” Children write biographies, stories and poems about their Pocket People. The children also design a birth certificate for their Pocket Person, which engages language arts and math skills. Completing the certificate requires the children to make a lot of decisions and gather information, including their Pocket Person’s name, birth date, time of birth, weight, height, place of birth, guardian’s name, a photo, and prints of both feet!
When the Pocket People have play dates, the children speak for them. Pocket People are, in fact, integral to the rich, wonderful dramatic role-playing that supports the social, emotional and cognitive development of each of our students. They engage the children’s intellect and imagination, while exercising their math and language arts skills. In addition, this project provides a safe testing ground for the application of critical concerns such as issues of social justice. It gives students agency as they embrace the complex responsibilities involved in creating a community of friends, even if they are only made of cloth!
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