Alta Profitt's Laurel (Indiana) Elementary Preschool class and their quilt. Photo courtesy of Alta Profitt.
Alta Profitt has been teaching preschool at Laurel Elementary School in Laurel, Indiana, for the past 11 years. And for 25 years before that, she owned and operated a nursery school.
In both venues, she has always taught her young students to quilt. Alta credits her love of quilting to her grandmother, who, on cold nights, would pile so many quilts on her granddaughter to keep her warm, that it was almost impossible for her to turn over in bed!
Still, it’s one thing to love quilts and quilting, and another to want to teach nursery school-aged kids how to do it. “When I opened Tot Spot Nursery School, I went to a workshop and a saw a project where children had made ‘story pillows,’ and I started making those with my children,” Alta recalls.
“Then it just hit me that it would be fun to make a story quilt. I took the pictures that the children had drawn for their pillows and traced them onto quilt squares. The children painted them with fabric paint. I didn’t use filling but did do a backing. I painted each child’s hand and made the handprint on the backing. Anita Ratz, a teacher who worked with me, sewed the quilt together and put a binding around it and made a pocket for a dowel so it could hang on our wall. It was such a success that, ever since then, I’ve been making quilts with my students.”
There is always a theme to the quilt that is chosen by the kid—or sometimes by Alta—and she then uses the experience of making the quilt not only as an art project, but also as a means of incorporating all aspects of the curriculum in a variety of ways.
Math principles, the seasons, geography, the alphabet, animals, or whatever is being taught—the quilt engages the students in the learning process in a fun and unusual way.
At the preschool level, though, there is a limit to what those little hands can safely do. While Alta (or another adult) does any cutting and the actual sewing, the kids do learn to use a needle. Some of her classes have tied their quilts by pulling yarn through the top and back layers of the quilt and tying knots in the corners of the quilt squares. Other classes have embellished their quilts by sewing buttons on the top.
An artist at heart, Alta combines that gift with a love of teaching. “Sometimes a four- or five-year-old will say, ‘I don’t know how to draw ______ [whatever they’ve been asked to draw],’” said Alta. “But when you show them that everything is a shape, the look on their faces is wonderful to see. They are always excited to see the finished quilt. And all of them, every single one, will say to their parents when they visit our room: ‘That’s my square. I did that!’”
Some of the finished quilts hang in the school library or hallways. Others have been given away in class raffles. The students are always photographed with their quilt, and that photo goes into the memory books that they take home at the end of the year.
Who knows how many future quilters might be getting their first taste of quilting in Alta Profitt’s classroom? It’s not far-fetched to say that more than one of them, when asked at some future date how they learned to love quilts, will be able to respond, “Oh, I’ve been making quilts since preschool!”
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