Hand Sewing: Nine Patch Pillow

For our last co-op Sewing Club project for the older students we chose a simple nine patch quilt square that they will make into a pillow.

To introduce/aid the students in laying out their design, I made these miniature “quilt boards”.  I cut numerous 1 1/2″ squares of the three fabrics we would be using and then cut 4″ squares of off-white felt for each student to use as their pattern board. We talked a little about patterns and color value and then gave them 5 squares of each color and let them experiment. (Side note: This is an addictive activity and I can see me turning it into a “quiet book” page in the near future. I would need to stabilize the squares with iron on interfacing, so they could stand up to frequent handling.)

After they settled on a design, they “copied” it onto a 14″ piece of felt with the actual squares they would be sewing.  This will keep their pattern in order as they sew piece to piece and row to row.

With the fabric/pattern selection done, we then reviewed the running stitch, focusing particularly on how to achieve the smaller-sized stitches they would need to make strong seams. So in addition to helping them draw a 1/4″ seam allowance stitching line, we also directed them to divide that line into inches with a short perpendicular line. The goal was to get 5-6 stitches per inch and then one back stitch before continuing on. They caught on quickly to this and could consistently achieve the “goal”. We also directed them to “weave” 2-3 stitches on their needle, before pulling the thread through to keep their stitching line straight. (One of the girls liked when I said “take several bites of your fabric, before pulling your thread through.” 🙂 )


All in all, it was a good start and we are all looking forward to next week.











Language Arts Warm-Ups: Mystery Box

How could a simple box with a hole for your hand have anything to do with improving vocabulary and communication?                                                                              

The answer to that question is the reason for this post. 🙂

I have had a mystery box in my home/school for over 30 years, no kidding! I can’t take credit for the idea of using a mystery box to aid in language development, and it has been so long since I first heard about it, that I also can’t give credit to whom it is rightly due.

What I can do, is share with you how I have used it over the years.

Benefits of using a Mystery Box:

  • Enhances the sense of touch
  • Helps build precise vocabulary
  • Strengthens thinking skills/use of analogies

Due to its versatility, I have used my mystery box with ages 2 and up.  I hope when you are done reading this post, you will be inspired to find a box in your home that’s just waiting to be upgraded to your home’s mystery box. 🙂


  • For toddlers, place objects in the box that have different tactile properties like soft, rough, smooth, hard, bumpy, squishy,etc. and ask them to reach in and pull out something “hard”, “soft”, and so on. One variation on this would be to have them reach in and touch an item and say a tactile word description, maybe even guess the object and pull it out to see if they were right. Another variation would be to have a duplicate set of the items in front of them, and you point to one of them and ask them to find its twin in the box.
  • For grammar stage students, the process is similar, except you are expecting more words from them as they describe what they can feel with their hands. They can guess what it is, or if they are certain they know what it is they are touching, they can keep giving clues for you or a sibling to guess. The variation on this, is to let the person who listened to the description put their hand in to select the object that was described.
  • For grammar stage and up, put familiar objects in the mystery box and let everyone have a turn selecting an item by touch and then describe it in detail to another person/group, including how it is used. (I have used this many times as a fun way to review sewing tools/items/terms.)
  • For grammar stage students, you can record the word clues/descriptions they give and then use them later for copy work and eventually for dictation.
  • For grammar stage and up, give everyone the same object (though they could be different sizes) in their own “mystery bag” and have them write down all they can about it and what they think it is. Then before looking in the bag, they compare and discuss the descriptions with the other participants.
  • For grammar stage and up, establish together what properties can be discovered just through the sense of touch: Texture, Size, Material, Geometric shape/2-D or 3-D, Weight. Then you could build a vocabulary word bank for each of these properties as you go along. This helps guide their analysis. If they run out of descriptions, you can direct their attention to the chart and point out which properties they have/haven’t mentioned.

I’m sure you will find even more uses for this prosaic learning tool.

Happy Teaching!


( I made mine from a shoe box that I covered with fabric. For the hole, I used the sleeve from an old sweater, but I have used part of a sock before. It’s helpful to have something that keeps one from easily seeing down into the box.)

Machine Sewing with Children: Free Printable

Printable Basic Sewing Guidelines and Terms –  a helpful reference/checklist for both teacher and student.

Sewing Guidelines/Terms

Good Sewing Habits:                                                                                001

  • Wash hands before sewing.
  • Organize work area.
  • Adjust lighting.
  • Set up machine.
  • Put items away promptly.
  • Clean up your sewing area after each session.

Good Safety Habits:

  • Pins – Keep in pincushion or in your fabric – No loose pins!
  • Needles – Keep in your needle book or in your project.
  • Shears and scissors – Keep closed and on the table when not in use.
  • Seam ripper– Cut away from yourself when using – keep away from your eyes!
  • Iron – Hold by handle only; keep face and fingers away from steam. Rest iron on its heel, not flat down on its sole plate. Turn off iron when you leave the sewing area.
  • Sewing Machine -Use slow speed when first learning to operate. Keep your fingers away from the needle. Follow cleaning and maintenance schedules as noted in owner’s manual.

Good Terms to Know:

  • Back stitch- the reverse stitch on the sewing machine used at the beginning and ending of a seam to secure it.
  • Baste – a long temporary stitch done by hand or machine.
  • Grain – the lengthwise and crosswise threads of a fabric.
  • Guide sheet – the instruction sheet that explains how a sewing project is constructed.
  • Marking – transferring pattern details to fabric from the pattern pieces.
  • Notions – small items used in sewing, such as thread, buttons, elastic, snaps, etc.
  • Pivot – to change the direction of the machine stitching by turning the fabric while the needle is still in the fabric.
  • Seam allowance – the amount of fabric from the cut edge to the seam line.
  • Seam line – the line on which the seam is stitched.
  • Selvage – the finished edge of woven fabrics that runs parallel to the lengthwise grain.

Sewing Guidelines

Unit Study Template

Creating a Unit Study                                         
To aid me in standardizing my ideas and practices for unit studies, I created this short mission statement.
• To expand knowledge through:  reading of real books.
• To expand knowledge through: increasing their vocabulary in various topics/subjects.
• To expand knowledge through: experience and hands on interaction with the topic/subject.
• To expand focus through: long observation and attention to the details of the topic/subject.
• To expand confidence and retention of knowledge: through narration, journaling, puzzles, etc.
• To encourage hard work and perseverance through: independent work assignments.

That led to the following template. This became a great organizational tool in my lesson planning last year when I was teaching a unit study on My Side of the Mountain.

(Check ‘On Their Own’ work)
Expanding Concentration and Observation Skills: Drawing copy work of the day.
Encouraging Laughter : “Mad Libs” on topic.
Enabling Retention: Narration, journaling, acrostics, puzzles, quizzes…
Extracting Background Knowledge: Play ‘Know/Want to Know’
Expanding Knowledge: Research topic of the day using ‘real’ books.
Expanding Awe and Wonder: Plant/animal of the day.
Expanding Experience/Curiosity/Confidence: Hands on activities.
‘On Their Own’ assignments

  • reading assignment
  • age appropriate research
  • vocabulary work
  • copy work
  • nature notebook entries


Take Time to Reevaluate Your Education Goals

Are we there yet?

Curriculum Coach

Though a dreaded and oft repeated question coming from children during long car rides, the good news is it reveals they realize there is a tangible ‘there’ to be arrived at.

I may often refrain from verbalizing it, but I feel the question in many areas of my life. Sometimes I can see the answer easily because the destination is near and tangible. But many times, like a child, I despair of ever arriving. I have either lost sight of where I am going or I have forgotten how to get there. Also, I can be so focused on ‘achieving the goal’ that I lose the ‘joy of the journey’.

As painful as it can be at times, I greatly benefit from taking the time to evaluate ‘where I have been and where I am going’. I encourage you to do the same for your school year, if you haven’t already. Make a point of recording your thoughts/answers.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What have I learned about myself as a teacher and my teaching style?
  • What have I learned about each of my children and their learning styles?
  • How has my view of homeschooling changed?
  • In what areas was I too hard on myself (and family)?
  • In what areas was I too easy on myself (and family)?
  • How have I grown in _____________?
  • How have my children grown in ____________?

Thankfully, there are many tangible goals that are ‘short term’ and give us great satisfaction and courage to carry on with the journey toward those that are very ‘long term’. Even in those long term goals, we can see and should acknowledge progress along the way.  Enlist the aid of the Triune God to see with His eyes and to keep your goals harmonized with His.

Then move on confidently with choosing the destinations for the coming year and the route you will take, by the grace of God, to arrive there with joy:)