Fabric in First Grade

By Laura Kalsbeck, Impact | Salish Sea Elementary Lead Teacher

In 8th grade, I had a Home Economics class in which we learned how to sew. I remember it being so exciting that I was going to be able to use my hands to create something! What I also remember was wishing we could learn more about the world of sewing. Where did our fabric come from? What kinds of fabrics are most popular across different cultures? What is the history of sewing? 

 At Impact, our 1st graders recently dove deep into the world of Fabric. Project-based learning is a critical part of Impact curriculum for scholars and that includes using their hands, their minds, and their own lived experiences to inform what they are discovering.

 Impact scholars answered the following questions: How is fabric used in our daily lives? What are the different types of fabric? How are the different types of fabric made? How is fabric used to make traditional clothing in countries around the world? How is fabric an expression of identity? How can we teach others about appreciating and celebrating all special fabrics?

At the start of the project, the scholars learned how 3 different fabrics are made. They learned that cotton comes from the cotton plant, silk is made from silk worms, and wool is made from animal hair. Scholars used their four senses (touch, smell, hear, see) to explore various types of each fabric. For example, a cotton plant, raw cotton fibers, cotton yarn, cotton fabric pieces,  and clothing made of cotton; were all felt, smelled, listened to, and looked at intently. 

It was eye-opening to witness the scholars make connections between their clothing and fabrics at home while learning about these materials. Scholars were excited to go home and read the tags on their clothing, and then report their findings back to the class! 

Both the scholars’ and teachers’ favorite part of the project was being able to create fabric art. Scholars learned about knitting, weaving, quilt making, and sewing. We even learned how to finger knit a bracelet!

What’s more, not only did the scholars learn about knitting, but also how to persevere through difficult tasks. A big project was when scholars used a loom to weave their very own pot holders. They learned about patterns (over, under, over, under, etc.), as well as how to focus and embody encouragement, determination, and patience. There was no instant gratification with this project. It took weeks and we teachers were in awe of how our young  scholars pushed through. Once finished, they were so proud of not only themselves, but each other. In the classroom we heard, “Wow, yours looks so good!”, “That’s amazing!”, “You’re such a good weaver”, and “You could do that for a job.” 

Through read-alouds and class discussion, scholars also learned that fabric is for everyone! Everybody can wear fabric and colors that express their identity. We broke down the misconceptions that only girls wear dresses and boys don’t wear pink. People in various cultures wear different clothing and we also learned why that clothing is important to that culture. It was particularly significant when we had families send in videos sharing which fabrics are special to their culture. 

Each scholar was also given a writing assignment about what fabrics were special to them and how it tied to memorable or impactful moments in their lives. As teachers, we learned even more about our scholars in a unique way. We learned about family members that had passed away, trips scholars held close to their hearts, and what makes certain scholars feel proud. 

From such a seemingly “simple” concept – fabric – came so much learning, self-discovery, and activity! I know scholars enjoyed this unit just as much as I did and I hope they carry these learnings with them for the rest of their lives. Don’t you wish you had a project like this when you were in first grade?