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Little fingers weaving big projects.

An area in our kindergarten room has been transformed into a weaver's paradise. It is busy at every opportunity with multiple projects in the works. Inspiration has come from many places, from our school chaplain to our outdoor playground area.

As so often happens in successful teaching environments, what began as a simple storytelling evolved into an extensive teaching unit that engrossed the entire class and involved several teachers. The weaving unit began with our chaplain. Father Paul Danielson, telling our kindergartners the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors. The children, on their own, immediately asked if they could weave Joseph's coat. [See sidebar for book suggestions that might be more appropriate for secular schools.--Editor]

Peter Hiller, our school's art teacher, loaned us several looms and visited the class to explain the art of weaving. He shared his love of Navajo weaving, his collection of Navajo rugs and weaving tools, his knowledge of sheep shearing, carding of wool, the spinning of wool fibers into yarn and wool dyeing. He also brought in numerous photographs of his travels throughout the Southwest. It took no time for the class to catch his passion for weaving.

We set up the weaving area in such a manner as to make it accessible to the children throughout the day. After Peter's introduction, the children began working on three different types of looms: an authentic Navajo loom, a table loom and lap looms. The Navajo loom was brought in by Lorrie--it is a family treasure passed on to her by her father. This loom is a jewel in the weaving center and adds an air of authenticity to the area.

The table loom is a one-of-a-kind creation by the art teacher to demonstrate, for his classes, how varied loom design can be. This loom usually "lives" in the art room and is available on a daily basis to students who have finished their other work. Over the years it has become a communal approach to weaving with the weaving that was currently on the loom being finished off by our fourth-graders and given to the kindergartners to use with their small toy bears and blocks as a rug.

The lap looms are part of a class set that are used with our school's older students. These looms were created from wooden stretcher bars, like the ones used to stretch painting canvas. The four bars are 16" x 20" (two each) and slotted together to form a rectangular shape. Broom-handle clips are then screwed onto the opposite 20-inch sides, parallel to each other and about 2 inches in from the ends. Sixteen-inch pieces of 3/4-inch doweling are then snapped into each pair of clips, and the looms are ready to prepare for weaving.

The weaving style that was introduced to these children is referred to as "plain" or "tabby." In this style, the weft (or cross) material is passed over-under-over-under the warp strings, which are the vertical strings. This continues all the way across the row and then returns in the opposite direction and manner: under-over-under-over. The children's tiny fingers are perfect for manipulating the weft items through the warp strings, which were strung by the teachers to ensure they were properly done.

The children began weaving with yarn, but soon discovered that ribbon, raffia and natural, found-objects such as sticks, feathers and ferns were also appropriate materials to add to the weavings. This self-discovery was one of the joys observed by the adults while watching the evolution of learning adventure.

The center is big enough so that several students can work at the same time, a couple of them at each loom. The weaving provides a wonderful opportunity for group work, with students working and taking turns on each loom. The process really takes precedence over the product, thus providing an experience for the class to see the value of working together and being part of a group.

As the children work, they wear a woven belt around their waists, sit on a Navajo blanket, and thoughtfully choose the colors and textures they wish to use. This project provides a perfect opportunity to introduce these elements of art--color and texture--to the children in a very gentle and understandable manner. It also allows for a perfect segue into learning about other cultures.

Throughout the process, we are taking time to read books aloud to the class with stories of weaving in other cultures. Students eagerly bring in examples of weavings from home. It has been fascinating for them to discover that weaving is an art form found in many countries. And, as the cultural component is expanded upon in other areas of the curriculum such as social studies, they begin learning about life beyond their own neighborhood.

The physical act of weaving for the children has provided a wonderful opportunity for the teachers to observe the fine-motor coordination of each child. It becomes clear, very quickly, which children might need additional help in this area of their development.

An affective component of this work has been the unexpected calming effect that the act of weaving has had on several of our students. The specific focus and attention required to work on the weavings has been almost therapeutic for some of them. Some seem to instinctively go to the area when they know they need to settle down.

We are all enjoying the many facets of weaving and find it truly amazing what little children with such little fingers can accomplish.

BOOKS TO INSPIRE

* Castaneda, O. S., Abuela's Weave. Lee & Low Books, Inc., 1995.

* de Paola, T., Charlie Needs a Cloak. Simon & Schuster, 1982.

* Miles, M., Annie and the Old One. Little, Brown & Co., 1985.

* Zierfert, H., A New Coat for Anna. Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Kindergarten teachers Beth Bogart, Lorrie Stiles and Jan White are responsible for this article, which is an expanded version of a piece they wrote for the All Saints' Episcopal Day School (Carmel, Calif.) newsletter. Peter Hiller has been teaching grade-school art for over two decades, the majority of which has been at All Saints' Episcopal Day School.
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Author:Bogart, Beth; Stiles, Lorrie; White, Jan; Hiller, Peter
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Words:1020
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