A few years ago, when my kindergartners and I began writing poetry, I searched for new ways to celebrate their work. Each publishing project we embarked upon brought unique learning experiences, but the poetry quilt we made — which hangs in our school library — has perhaps had the most enduring effect. The poets love to read their work in subsequent years, and marvel at how much their writing has changed. Other students and teachers often stop and gaze at the quilt, too.
Why is the quilt so special? As a highly visible form of publication, it informs the children that their work is valued and long-lasting. The project itself requires the children to think in new ways about their poetry — to express the meaning and feeling of their poems through the medium of watercolor painting.
Selecting Favorite Poems
The kindergartners make the poetry quilt at the end of our poetry-writing workshop. (I model my workshop on one described by Georgia Heard in For the Good of the Earth and the Sun, Heinemann, 1989.)
First, each child decides which of his or her poems to publish for the quilt. Some children know immediately which is their favorite. For those who have a hard time choosing, I have them spread their poems out on the floor so they can see the possibilities. I may even read the poems aloud to help them make a choice. I resist the temptation to influence them, however — the choice needs to be entirely their own.
"Painting" the Poems
I collaborate on this step with our art teacher, but you can easily do it solo. She meets one-on-one with students about their poems. She asks the children to close their eyes and imagine the poem as a watercolor picture. (The children have had numerous experiences with watercolors, so the medium is familiar to them.) She then gives them an 8-by 8-inch sheet of heavy watercolor paper that she wets with a sponge, sticking the paper down to the table. These become the quilt squares on which the children paint.
The children make several paintings before selecting a favorite, trying to express their poems in many ways. They create everything from a soft wash of color that matches a poem's mood to a literal image from a poem's narrative.
Adding the Words
Once the final paintings are dry, children transcribe their poems onto their paintings, sometimes reinventing spellings or even reinventing the poems during the process.
Next, I ask a parent volunteer to type each poem using conventional spelling onto the bottom portion of each quilt square by simply rolling the square into the typewriter. The children understand that correcting the spelling is part of the publishing process. I've noticed that when the students read the poetry quilt as kindergartners, they look at their handwritten versions, but when they read their work the following years — as more experienced readers — they look at the typed text.
Stitching the Squares
I have each student decorate a paper border to surround his or her quilt square. After laminating each quilt square and its border, I ask a parent volunteer to help stitch the quilt together. He or she punches holes in all four corners of each square and then ties the squares and border together with yarn. We then hang the quilt on a large wood dowel. (For extra pizzazz, invite the kids to paint the rod with bright acrylics.) Then, find the perfect spot to hang your creation — and enjoy your quilt for now, and years to come!
This lesson plan is adapted from the article "A Poetry Quilt," by Patti Seifert, which appeared in the November/December 1994 issue of Instructor magazine.