Three instructions were given to our 2nd graders this week as they set out to construct puppets out of felt.
2. Cut out paper
3. Cut puppet out of felt – two times
Working from a design they’d finalized during the last class, they were asked to transfer their design to a piece of paper, making it large enough for their hand to fit inside.
After a short demonstration, the kids, uneasy about the open-endedness of the project, and not quite sure about how to begin, started to ask questions. With a little encouragement from their teacher, “be creative, it’s what you think – that’s why there are less instructions,” the kids got to work.
Encouraging 2nd graders to believe in their own abilities, practice imagination, and to make choices on their own significantly encourages the development of self-reliance. Self-doubt seems to seep into the classroom around this age. The kids are comparing themselves to one another, beginning to see the differences and similarities to their peers. Helping them embrace their individuality can be a great practice in the classroom.
As the teacher or as a helper in a making classroom environment, it might be helpful to throw on an apron with pockets when students are working on projects. That way, scissors, markers, tape, sewing needles, and extra thread – anything that you might need during class is on hand when you need it.
Making choices (buttons, fabric, patterns, designs, how to stitch, asking for help) was exciting and scary, depending on whom you asked. However, as an observer, I saw nothing but engaged and eager learners.
Threading the needle was a struggle for some. Which brought up a question that I think many of us struggle with, when should we intervene when a student is struggling? And how should we intervene? Best practices for threading a needle would probably be letting the student struggle for 10 minutes tops, giving them tips – wet the end of the string and twist it, or cut the end off and then try again. If we let them struggle for too long, their frustration will turn them off from the project as a whole and that is definitely not the goal.
For others, choosing which beads and buttons they wanted to add was the learning opportunity. Some elaborately went at sewing and embellishing their puppets while others really took some time to consider their options. It is in making that we often see the kids who struggle, excel. One little girl told me that she’d been sewing for a couple of years now, having been taught by her grandmother in Mexico – she became a great resource to her peers who needed help.
Every 2nd grader ended the class asking when we would be finishing the puppets, it was a hit. A project like this definitely needs to be broken down over classes to allow time for the technical growth, without rushing. Just have the kids toss their puppets, patterns, and materials into a Ziploc bag that can be tucked away.
Sometimes the best lessons come from intrinsic questions, and sometimes the best learning happens amidst what might feel like chaos. Yes, buttons, and needles, and thread, and felt can get messy – but it is totally worth it to see the excitement and accomplishment run across the faces of second graders as they design, make, thread, and sew!
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