A New Quilt – Part 1

And to my surprise, the children have driven the making of yet another quilt.

Over the past ten years, my preschool class has designed quilts.  Each one materialized because of something the children were passionate about.  When they couldn’t get enough of a song or an idea, I knew I had to give them more.  Together we designed quilts.  The process brought everything to life for children, from planning, to sketching, to designing, to picking fabrics.  They did it all, and a wonderful master quilter made their dream come alive.  The quilts are stunning.  Well, that is an understatement; one hangs at the National Liberty Museum in historic Philadelphia, one hangs at the Boston Fisher House, and one hangs at the State House in Boston.  Humbling.  Each quilt was a year-long project, starting with the children and what they loved.

And now it has happened again.  All it takes is a spark.

In the fall, children loved singing “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.  I sing with children all the time, and I sing many kinds of songs.  For whatever reason, they wanted to sing “This Land is Your Land” over and over again.  I’m talking at least two to three times a day.

The book to this song is on our bookshelf.

It’s an outstanding book.  The illustrations bring the song to life.  There are also many illustrations along the edges that give a wonderful visual of America’s landmarks, big and small.  We play “I Spy” with this book all the time.  The biggest challenge is finding thirty flying American flags.  Thirty!  Some are obvious, many are not.  Finding the flags means we have to stop when we find one, like a flag on the Delta Queen, or one on on the Esplanade in Boston – home of the Boston Pops Fourth of July concert, or a flag on Ellis Island.

Geography + history + patriotism at its best.

Most importantly, the children grab the book every time they want to sing the song.  It is the song, their song.  And as they sing, they want the book in their hands.

I welcomed a new friend, Travis, who plays the guitar.  The children love his songs, especially “It’s You I Like”, by Mister Rogers.  Travis started coming to sing on a regular basis.  Interestingly, as soon as he sat down, Eddie or Emmett or Boden would rush over to the book shelf, grab This Land is Your Land, and shove it into Travis’ hands.  They had to have that song – first.

And occasionally I would join in.


By winter, I had ‘lost control’ over the song and the book.  Children ruled the roost, getting the book and singing all the time.  Did you know there is a verse, a page, that is pretty dismal?  No happy America.  Children call it the ‘sad page’, and we sing it in a quiet and slow way, because it is sad.

“In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people;
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?”

Children love this verse.  “Jennie, can you sing the sad page?”  Pretty powerful stuff.  I have to be true to the song, so I sing that verse.  I think we underestimate children’s ability to understand and feel compassion.  The illustrations on ‘the sad page’ are bleak… and then the next page and verse is the same scene, with everything fixed and repaired, and people working together to build a new playground.  I flip back and forth between the two pages to help children find all the changes.  That next verse is the final verse of the song.  It’s the one that gets me a little choked up.  It’s the one where children stand tall and proud.

“Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back;
This land was made for you and me.”

Sometimes children would come to me in the middle of activity time and ask me to sing with them.

Other times they would sing collectively on their own.  No teacher was needed, or for that matter even wanted.  It was wonderful.

And then one morning, something happened.  Something big happened.  Stayed tuned for Part 2.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in America, American flag, Book Review, books, children's books, Early Education, geography, history, patriotism, picture books, preschool, quilting, Singing, The Arts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

68 Responses to A New Quilt – Part 1

  1. Ritu says:

    I’m loving this! Look forward to part two!

  2. GP Cox says:

    Your class is the beacon that shines for me. They give me hope that all will be fine in the years to come!!

  3. I understand completely why the children want to sing that song over and over. Recently, I’ve been listening to it in the car as I drive to and from work.

  4. Great song, Jennie. Can’t wait for episode two to see what happens.

  5. Maggie says:

    What a beautiful story. I look forward to part 2.

  6. Dan Antion says:

    I get so excited with this posts. It’s like the years roll off and I’m a kid again.

  7. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, This post is wonderful! You are the gold standard of teaching!

  8. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is another wonderful teaching lesson from Jennie!

  9. TanGental says:

    Why do you do this to me? I’m having a normal Monday and then read this and Guthrie’s Song is right there, him bunkering the dust bowl across the States and there’s a lump in my throat as I think of Steinbeck and harsh times and your lovely charges bringing all to life. Fab, Jennie, just fab.

  10. beetleypete says:

    Another quilt? Exciting indeed, Jennie. Bring on Part 2! 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  11. ren says:

    No way! Arlo’s daddy did that song? Wrote in 1940, became his most famous song. Was a response to what he felt was the overplaying of “God Bless America”, on the radio.

    When I read the title to this post, I was shook awake. “Thank you, children! You are grand teachers!” In my mind, once Millie transitioned, I never gave thought to you all ever doing another quilt. Silly me! This is pretty exciting…..

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, Arlo’s daddy! And yes, he really didn’t like “God Bless America”, and that inspired him to write this song. Interestingly, Irving Berlin didn’t like “The Star-Spangled Banner”, and that inspired him to write “God Bless America”. Two similar stories that created wonderful songs.

      I also thought that when Milly was gone, our quilts would be, too. Part 2 will tell that story! Thank you, Ren. So glad you enjoyed this.

  12. You have a cool class! I bet the students can’t wait to come. Thank you for sharing this moment with us.

  13. Such a lovely story, Jennie. I especially liked how you described the “I spy” activity. That, along with finding the changes on the sad page, are wonderful examples of how one can share a picture book. I so appreciate you sharing your techniques. Anyone who reads a book to children, whether at home or in a group, will have a lot of fun following your examples!

  14. We are on the Sad Page now, Jennie… I am so glad the writers of the song took into account that history repeats, and we will always want and need inspiration to haul ourselves up by our bootstraps!

  15. Opher says:

    Fabulous – so good to hear one of the greatest songwriters of all time being sung to children and even better hearing them sing it! Wonderful!
    I’m also glad to hear you are singing ‘the sad verse’. That is so important.
    My favourite verse is –
    As I went walkin’, I saw a sign there
    And on the sign it said : ‘No tresspassing’
    But on the other side it didn’t say nothin’
    That side was made for you and me.

    Nobody owns the land; we are just passing through.

    There ain’t nobody can stop us!
    Can’t wait for part 2.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Opher. I love verse 4, too. Have you seen this book? It brings the wonderful song to life. Of course we are among the few that even know the song has more than three verses. Yes, we’re just passing through. Ain’t nobody can stop us!

      Writing (passionately typing) part 2. Posted in a few days! In the short term, typing to you gives me a lightbulb moment – I’m going to invite Arlo into my classroom so the children can sing to him, and he can sign the quilt. Hmmm…!!!

  16. AJ says:

    What an awesome process to do with children! I quilt, but have never thought of doing it with a class

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, AJ. All you need is the quilter. Children can design anything! You’ll see how this starts to work and take shape in Part 2. You can do this!!

  17. sjhigbee says:

    Those children are so lucky to have you as their teacher:))

  18. First quilt without Millie…I think she’d be proud to know you guys are soldiering on the path she paved so long ago…
    Can’t wait to see it unfold into a reality!

  19. Norah says:

    This is gorgeous, Jennie. And I love your quilt stories. You’ve got me very excited. I can’t wait!

  20. Ellen says:

    Every single time that I read your classroom posts I say to myself…every classroom needs and deserves a Jennie! Your school, your students, and their parents are so fortunate to have you. You are the gift that keeps on giving. Benjamin loves that song and the same book that was read to his Mommy. My singing is somewhat less than spectacular and I have been told that I need a paper bag to carry a tune, but Benjamin doesn’t seem to mind! If nothing else, we are loud. This quilt promises to be another treasure, of this I am sure. Thank-you!

    • Jennie says:

      You are so kind, Ellen. Thank you! And I know you are as passionate as I am about children and how we can teach them. Can I have a play date with Benjamin? 🙂 My fifth grade teacher, Miss Pinson, taught us the song. I loved it! And then, after I started teaching, I discovered there were more verses. Three more than I ever knew. Frankly, I think most people only know the first three. Isn’t it interesting how my children have embraced those last three verses, the ones I was ‘sheltered’ from as a child? Children have an enormous heart for compassion and understanding.

  21. How lovely that the children are so interested in this song and book, Jennie. Wonderful stuff.

  22. Absolutely wonderful Jennie…have pressed for later xx

  23. dgkaye says:

    Great song and ever so poignant these days. I’m glad the children are so engaged with this. 😉

    • Jennie says:

      They really have made this song their own. For example, yesterday a child asked me, “Does Woody have children?” I had to explain that he was my mother’s age, and his children are my age. We spent quite a long time on that. What child asks if the writer of the song has children?? See what I mean? Thank you, Debby!

      • dgkaye says:

        That’s amazing. And yes, I know that young kids have a difficult time associating siblings to the older generation, lol. My little grand niece at 5 can’t wrap her head around how her grandmother is my sister, even though she knows about aunts and uncles, it’s tricky for them to associate we were kids once too and came from the same mother, lol 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        It is tricky and hard for children to fully understand, Debby. I need to bring in more photos of me as a little girl and tell the story behind it. Still, that concept and understanding of generations is difficult to grasp. I totally understand where your niece is in this picture!

      • dgkaye says:

        I hear you. Photos are a great relatable tool 🙂

  24. Ah, Jennie… it brought a tear to my eye to think of a quilt without Milly, but I’m glad the tradition thrives. I can’t wait to see what part 2 brings. The video is pos-i-lutely wonderful. Hugs.

    • Jennie says:

      I was a little too heavy on the videos, but I had to include them to tell the story. Thank you, Teagan. I never expected another quilt, because Milly was gone. That story is a good one! Part 2 very, very soon. Hugs!

  25. Annika Perry says:

    Jennie, light and joy shines from your classroom … the children all seem happy, quietly confident and kind to each other! I love this song and even more so after watching your videos …I fear the book will not survive many more classes as it’s so popular!😀

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Annika. Music can do wondrous things for children (and adults). The book is so worn and torn. The children bring it to me to mend all the time, as if they are caring for a loved one. Every piece of tape I use to repair a tear seems to be like a hug.

  26. Sarah says:

    Yay! Another quilt!! Heading right over to part 2!! 😄

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