Getting back to the roots

packing for vacation

My packed suitcase: sewing machine, iron, cutting board, extension cord, cloth, sewing kit, and band-aids for my fingers, among other things.

This week, I’m taking off for a lovely week in the woods.  This time, I’m taking my hiking boots, a change of clothes, and a … sewing machine!

Not the usual thing one might pack in for a week of R & R, but making quilts is how I revive my inner artist and revitalize, refuel and refresh the educator within.  I’m greatly looking forward to this week and wonder what new techniques I will learn on the way.

While I was packing, I had to think back to my very first blog entry, “Teaching is like a quilt,” which I wrote four years ago already.  Back then, the parallel between the process of designing and creating a quilt struck me as very apt, and today I thought back to that time, and realized that it still holds.

First, the inspiration:


The Zen of the Labyrinth

In this case, a book of mazes that look like anything but a maze… creative and intriguing, I soon wondered if I could use any of these designs to make a baby quilt.  I soon decided to give it a try.

The inner educator is always listening, looking, waiting, for something that can be used in the classroom, like some creature in light hibernation.  It only takes a little nudge in the right direction for us to have that “Eureka!” moment.  That’s the moment when we find a new game or book that we just cannot wait to use in our classroom, because we know it will fit so perfectly into this or that lesson, or because it will help a certain child understand the material they need to learn.

Once the inspiration has hit, I use it to focus.  Where do I want to go?  What will fit the child best?  What materials do I have?


My sketch, as copied from “The Zen of the Labyrinth”


Thinking along these lines as a teacher, I wonder about my learners: where do they need to go?  What do they need to learn?  What kinds of resources can we use?  How much time have we got?  What learning activities will be most informative, most interactive, and most effective?

Once I have my rough ideas drawn out, I move on to sketches – in notebooks or on graph paper, depending on the design I have in mind.  Sometimes, I create patterns on bits of cardboard to be traced over and over, or draw the entire image out, full-size on tracing paper, as the design solidifies.


A paper model of the quilt I will be making. This helps me see what kinds of “building blocks” I need to design and where there are repetitive elements.

 As a teacher, this is when I start outlining the lessons: what material will be covered in which lesson?  What is the most sensible way to build the series?   What steps wil my learners need to take along the way?  What kinds of support will they need?

And then it’s time to measure, to cut the cloth, and sew the bits together.  As the blocks are built, I put them in place, making sure everything is still working out as well as I had thought it might.  If needed, I change things around.

In the example given here, I found that I had designed one of my blocks incorrectly.   Fortunately, I could still fix it.  Can you find the difference between the cloth blocks below and the paper blocks above?


The blocks are ready, now to sew the whole thing together.

As a teacher, this is when I finally assemble the lesson, create the power point I need, and create material.  Most importantly,  I check for the logical “flow” to the lesson.  In other words, does the beginning match the middle, and actually lead toward the goal I originally had in mind?  If not, I then make the necessary adjustments while I still can.

And finally, it’s time to sew everything together, quilt the layers, and putting on the edge.


The final product!  Can you enter the maze (at any point), follow the gentle curves, catching all of the butterflies before leaving?

This is when I get to lean back and enjoy the fruits of my labors, when I actually teach the lesson, encouraging my learners to join in, explore, try out new ideas and collaborate as they develop their skills as future teachers, one step at a time.

Happy teaching!  And remember, teaching is many things: it’s a sport, it’s collaborative work, but it’s also an art form.



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