Information for Child Care Providers
A quilting community:
Celebrating diversity in the
Alison Levitch, M.A.,
and Sara Gable, Ph.D.,
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of
Like the nation, Missouri is
becoming more racially diverse. According to the 2000 Census,
- From 1990 to 2000, Missouri’s
Hispanic population doubled, St. Louis and Jackson counties had
the largest growth in African-Americans, and Sullivan County's
Asian-American population increased sixfold.
- Greene County has the largest
Native American population in the state.
- The City of St. Louis has the
largest Asian-American population in the state.
How can early childhood teachers
convey the meaning of diversity in ways that young children will
understand? One method is to use quilts. Teachers can use quilts to
help children see one another as individuals who share both similar
and different life experiences and who are members of the larger
According to Jeanne Helm and Alice
Huebner, early childhood professors at Richmond Community College in
Illinois, and Becky Long, a former kindergarten teacher, quilt
projects can also be used to build a sense of classroom community.
Most children have had experience with quilts. They may have used
one as a baby blanket, played with one in pretend play, or seen one
at home on a bed. In Europe, Asia and Africa, many families pass
quilts from generation to generation. In America, quilts are used
for more than just comfort – some quilts are used to tell the
stories of families. During the Civil War, quilts were used to
depict maps of the Underground Railroad. Quilt projects can help
children learn about one another and appreciate one another's
This simple activity can be done
with groups of four to five preschoolers.
- Have children bring in special
quilts or blankets to share with the class.
- Have each child share a story
about the quilt (e.g. Who did the quilt belong to? How did the
quilt come to your family? What do you like about the quilt?
What do you dislike about the quilt?)
- Have each child describe his
or her quilt to the class. Encourage children to describe the
shapes and patterns in their quilts and the different fabrics
used to piece the quilts.
Extend the activity: Quilt
projects offer early childhood professionals an opportunity to
encourage children's math learning and fine motor skill
Cut out same-size triangles from many different colors of paper.
Encourage children to “piece” a quilt and make patterns with the
colored triangles before gluing them onto paper.
Create pairs of fabric scraps of different textures (smooth
silk, corduroy, velvet, canvas, stretchy polyester, burlap,
etc.). Hide one set in a cloth bag and allow children to see and
touch the other set. Encourage children to find matches in the
bag using touch alone.
This activity requires adult supervision. Place a piece of
burlap in a large needlepoint hoop. Thread a large, dull needle
with yarn; knot end. Start "stitching" and create a few simple
Xs or other shapes. Leave the needle pinned to the burlap and
encourage children to make some stitches. When the yarn has been
completely stitched, unthread the needle, remove the yarn, and
Quilts bring to mind feelings of
unity, comfort and love. They help create connections, not just by
the pieces sewn together, but by the sharing of love and comfort
among groups of people.
Marna Holland, an early childhood
educator at Western Carolina University in North Carolina, suggests
the following books about quilts:
• American Quilt-Making: Stories
in Cloth by Ann Stalcup (1999). Published by the Rosen
Publishing Group’s PowerKids Press. (Book may be too long for young
children. Includes a variety of craft ideas.)
- The Quiltmaker’s Gift
by Jeff Brumbeau (2000). Published by Pfeifer-Hamilton
Publishers. (Ages 4-8, Beautiful pictures, but wordy for young
- Amira’s Blanket by
Helen Dunmore (2002). Published by Crabtree Publishing Company.
- Sharing Grandma’s Gift
by Shelly Berlin Parrish (2000). Published by Peanut Butter
Publishing. (Nice story, a bit long for younger children. In the
story, one of the characters, a grandmother, dies.)
- The Keeping Quilt by
Patricia Polacco (1988). Published by Simon and Schuster, Inc.
(In the story, a grandmother dies.)
- The Quilt Story by Tony
Johnston and Tomie dePaola (1985). Published by G.P. Putnam’s
- Sweet Clara and the Freedom
Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson (1993). Published by Alfred A.
Knopf. (An excellent and gentle example for children of how
quilts were used to find the Underground Railroad, may be long
Helm, J., Huebner, A., & Long, B. (2000). Quiltmaking: A perfect
project for preschool and primary. Young Children, 55(3),
Holland, M. M. (2005). Using quilts
and quilt picture books to celebrate diversity with young children.
Early Childhood Education Journal, 32, 243-247.
Missouri Economic Research and
Information Center. Missouri Department of Economic Development. (http://www.ded.missouri.gov/