Family Quilt

Diversity and the Family QuiltThink about it: Quilting squares are an ideal framework for exploring the diversity of one’s family and the diversity of families within any class. I learned about the power of making quilts in the first chapter of Judy Logan’s wonderful book, Teaching Stories, a chapter entitled “The Story of Two Quilts.” Winning a $200 grant for a quilt project, Judy and her 6th grade class took their research on women and explored categories and individual women to create a quilt that represented and celebrated the role of women throughout our history.

So it can be with our students’ families as we close out the lessons of our Celebrating Diversity theme. We begin with an open-ended web around the word “family” which can be an eye-opening introduction to this important diversity lesson. It’s a simple activity that just asks the students what the word “family” means to them, but can be revealing about your students’ beliefs and experiences and can generate a lot of discussion as students respond to and understand each others’ responses.

Then we begin a process of digging a little deeper by asking questions like these:

  • Who makes up a family? How do you know?
  • What do families do together?
  • What do their homes look like?
  • What foods do they eat?
  • What holidays do they celebrate?
  • What pets do they have?
  • What are important memories for them?

Finally, we ask, “What about your family?” Each student then has a chance to design a quilt square representing his or her family in whatever way seems important to them – traditions, foods, family members, values, etc. When each student has created his or her own quilt square, they may all be joined together to reflect the “family” of the classroom in a way that celebrates each one’s uniqueness. There are some cool examples of what this might look like available here.

Judy Logan’s project took months of hard work, but it represented so many levels of learning, from subject content‚—women in history and in our lives—to sewing, embroidery, ironing, producing a booklet to accompany the quilt, cutting and measuring, drawing and selecting photographs, and using the computer. In her reflection on the project, she asks:

“Why did this assignment work,” and responds with some important pedagogical references such as the writing process that she used for the booklet, the discovery of the differences among the women, the range of learning styles that were accommodated by the complexity of the project, and the empowerment of students because they had choices to make about what Judy calls form and content. An extended project of a family quilt project could work in a similar way.

I think I went down this nostalgic path for this blog post because this lesson is the last of the diversity lessons in our Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum, and it means so much to me because I hope the curriculum is, as a whole, the beginning or the reinvigorating of your journey to include this kind of content in your classroom in an intentional and ongoing way.

When I opened Judy’s book to write this blog post, I discovered a letter she wrote to me when she sent it to me a while back, thanking me and Herb Kohl as “uncles or godfathers” for our “early and enthusiastic support for this book.” I hope these blog posts continue that role of “uncle or godfather” to promoting love, peace, and fairness in your schools.

As always, you help us make these lessons better by sharing your experiences with us. Please write to us at to tell us how this lesson works (or doesn’t!) in your classroom or post your stories to our Facebook page.



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