If all you think about when you think of quilts is the afghan on your grandma’s couch, think again. Quilts can teach us the beauty of culture, family, and diversity—especially when it comes to gaining understanding of cultures different from our own. People around the globe celebrate life and family in many different ways, but one common thread (pun intended!) we find in countries around the world is the quilt. 🧶 In some cultures, they’re an heirloom; in most cultures, they tell a story; and in others, they even saved lives. We invite you to learn about the customs and people of our stories while you weave together connections to your own family story. 💕 Want to keep track of your work? Download our printable tracker document here.
Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
- The Quilting Bee by Gail Gibbons (or you can find it here on OpenLibrary.org)
- The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston (or watch this read aloud)
- The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
- The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud OR Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by by Deborah Hopkinson
- (+) Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson (read aloud option) OR The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy (read aloud option)
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- laminator + laminating sheets (optional, but recommended for repeating lessons)
- glue + glue stick
- scrapbooking paper or fabric sampler (optional, but makes the activities feel more authentic)
- brown construction paper (one project calls for 12″x18″ construction paper—you can modify if you don’t want to buy something extra, you will just need to adjust the measurements)
- foam sheets (optional for “make a quilt” upgrade)
- hole punch
- plastic sewing needle (optional for upgrade)
- binder clips
- play dough
- straw, pencil, LEGO block, popsicle stick, and other objects for play dough “printing”
- tangrams (these are a great reusable, educational toy we recommend for your school room, but if you don’t want to purchase them now, you can use this printable version—print them on cardstock to make the tangrams easier to arrange)
- Shut the Box game
What to do:
We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!
What is a quilt anyway? Read The Quilting Bee to learn a little about quilts and how they’re made. If you have a quilt at home, pull it out and tell your child its story. Do you have a relative with a special quilt? Ask your child to help you come up with two or three questions to ask your family member about their special quilt, and then call or video chat them to ask them your questions.
Activity 1: Quilt number cards. This link is filled with letter “Q” activities. Scroll to the “quilt number cards” and print out the PDF to practice numbers. (We suggest laminating them so that they can last you all week and beyond!)
(+) If your child is ready for more, use the cards and your choice of manipulatives (AKA, tangible items to count, like beads, pom poms, etc.) to practice addition and subtraction. For example, have them draw two cards. If they draw a 2 and a 4, have them count out two beads and four beads. Then tell them you are going to add 2 + 4. Join the beads together and have them count out the sum. Say, “So 2 + 4 equals 6.”
(++) Think they’re ready for more? Try adding or subtracting the digits without the manipulatives.
Let’s kick off today with The Keeping Quilt. This story follows a Russian Jewish family for several generations, discussing immigration, family, celebrations, and heritage. Use this beautiful story to talk about how the quilt made by this family connected generations of people, then make personal connections by discussing your own family traditions and heirlooms. You can also listen to the author tell us about the book in her own words in this video.
Activity 1: Quilts around the world. The family in our story is of Russian descent. This print-out shows your child images of quilts from around the world. Here’s what it says about Russian quilts:
“Russia has a long history of using quilts and patchwork to create folk-art. Many of its quilts are acclaimed and world-wide to this day. This technique is known as ‘patchwork collage,’ and became most popular in the 20th century. Using multi-colored and geometric fabrics, Russian quilts often celebrate everyday scenes of animals and the countryside.”
Show your child where Russia is on the map, and then show them how far the family in the book traveled from Russia to NYC, USA. Point to each quilt in the link and talk about the differences between the patterns and where in the world they are from. Does your family have a history with quilts? Point out the quilts that make a family connection for you.
***Psst! Are you doing Passport to the World? “Stamp” your child’s passport for Russia!
Activity 2: Family tree quilt
Activity 3: Me and My Family craft
First, read The Quilt Story. In our last story, the quilt served many purposes and was passed down from one generation to the next. In today’s story, we learn how this quilt became symbolic of safety and security. It keeps the narrator warm and safe through her pioneer travels, her games, and her bedtime. In the end, it’s discovered by an entirely new family who takes it on their own adventures. Try to make connections between the store and your family. Does your child have a toy or a blanket that makes them feel safe? Or maybe a special dress or sweater that was passed down from a relative? Discuss the power of feeling safe and happy when surrounded by what is familiar.
Activity 1: Play Shut the Box. This math game has been played since the time period discussed in our story, and it will be a great addition to your homeschool artillery. It’s great to play as a family and will likely be used for years and years. It reinforces mental math skills in a fun, non traditional way. Here’s a great blog post explaining how this family plays the game, both the traditional way and a few alternative ideas.
(+) If you have a Lego enthusiast in your home, you might enjoy creating this version.
Activity 3: This is also a great time to talk about pioneer life, especially if you started reading Little House on the Prairie in the Canada + Maple Syrup Unit. This pioneer doll craft will keep your child’s fingers and imagination busy as you share facts with them from the above link.
Start today by reading The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom (or one of the alternate options) to learn about the fascinating history of quilts in African American history. After reading the story, use this link to help your child understand the incredible journey to freedom that some enslaved Black people took called the Underground Railroad.
Note: Want a little help talking to your kids about slavery? Try this link. Read the material ahead of time so that you feel prepared to answer their questions. Not sure if your child is ready for this topic? Check out this article to learn more about why it’s important to start having race conversations with children while they are young.
Activity 3: Letter practice quilt. Use this idea to practice letter skills. Use the bottom layer for lowercase letters and the top layer for capital letters. You can use the same printable from the playdough quilt activity for your base!
(+) Need more of a challenge? Use this activity to practice building familiar words. Write the word ending on the bottom layers and the first letter of the word on the top layer. Note: Use this activity to practice words your child is familiar with, not to introduce new ones. Try starting with rhyming words or site words.
Bottom layer will be: -at
Top layer will be: c, m, b, f, r.
Each time the child adds a quilt piece, ask him to read the word he has made.
It’s art and music day! You can also use today to read any additional books you think your child would be interested in or to re-read a favorite from earlier in the week.
Activity 1: Let’s look at the quilt patch the same way we examine art. This lesson from the Quilt Museum will help your child see the artistry in quilt making by observing the picture and creating their own story. As was the tradition of many quilts, instead of writing down the story your child creates, record them telling you the story in a video with your cell phone so you can remember it for years to come.
Activity 2: Even though our unit has been all about quilts, we hope you see that it is also about family. Celebrate your family with a little disco party! Your kids will probably recognize this song from the Ice Age movies, but now you can share the original with them. This song by Sister Sledge (real life sisters) became famous in 1979. Have fun listening, laughing, and dancing to this feel good tune!
Activity 3: If you decide to purchase the tangrams, introduce this activity to your child today. Playing with patterns is a great way to build math and critical thinking skills. Talk about the patterns in quilts and the patterns that are possible with your tangrams. Here are some free printable sheets for you to try to build along with your child.
Optional field trip: We know field trips aren’t always possible (especially during the pandemic), but here is a list of some of the great Quilting Museums around the country you could try to visit if there is one near you.
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