When it comes to building skills such as listening, following directions and manual dexterity, there is no better teacher than learning a craft.
Two unique crafts – origami and knitting – are being taught to students at the Academy of the Sacred Heart through the ministry of retired Religious of the Sacred Heart Carol Burk.
The New Orleans native and 1960 Sacred Heart alumna taught herself the two crafts and many others during her 35 years as a retreat leader, kindergarten teacher, hospital chaplain and religious education coordinator in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Wanting to share her passion for the crafts upon her return to New Orleans in 2009, Sister Burk asked if she might offer her gifts to students at her beloved alma mater.
“The children are very good at (origami),” said Sister Burk, who teaches the Japanese art of folding paper to rotating groups of third and fourth graders during Wednesday library time.
“They have good finger control and they are not afraid,” Sister Burk added. “When I taught adults, I would say, ‘I want you to fold this from corner to corner,’ and they would ask, ‘Is this the right corner?’ And I would tell them, ‘Any corner will do,’” Sister Burk said.
“Children are much more relaxed,” she notes. “If they get halfway through (an origami project) and like it, they say, ‘I think this looks very nice; it could be a hippopotamus!’ And I tell them, ‘Well, it’s going to be a frog!’”
On Sept. 11, Sister Burk’s origami students made paper cranes in commemoration of the 9/11 terror attacks. The crane became a worldwide symbol of peace after Japanese students made thousands of origami cranes to mark the anniversaries of the World War II bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Although the origami cranes appear to be simple, each requires 24 precise folds. The paper birds, constructed out of a single sheet of paper, had the students using geometry terms such as “square,” “rectangle,” “kite” and “diagonal.”
“This (origami lesson) goes very well with the math class we just had,” observed fourth grader Ellie Congemi, noting that she and her classmates were learning about polygons, quadrilaterals, symmetry and perpendicular lines.
Before making the winged cranes – which students agreed was their most complex origami project to date – the youngsters made some simpler pieces under Sister Burk’s guidance, including hearts, star-shaped boxes and “jumping frogs” – ones that “hop” forward when their tails are pressed.
Fourth grader Sophia Temple was amazed when her slip of orange paper blossomed into a recognizable crane.
“I liked the part where you fold everything and then it suddenly turns into something three-dimensional,” she said.
The knitting portion of Sister Burk’s craft-teaching ministry operates as an after-school club of 11 second through fourth graders that meets on Fridays. Sister Burke said many of her young knitters linger after the 90-minute knitting sessions to work on hats, scarves, baby booties and purses, with some even skipping recess to take out their needles and yarn.
Origami and knitting teach other life lessons, such as the joy of working individually and in small groups, Sister Burk said.
“They are very good at helping each other,” Sister Burk said, noting that if there was one thing her students needed to work on, it would be patience. Because of their ability to access information, cook food and watch their favorite movie with the click of a button, some youngsters expect their craftwork to come together just as quickly.
The Sacred Heart crafters soon learn that handmade objects take time. Take Sister Burk’s more complex origami pieces: a geodesic dome requiring 90 separate pieces of paper and a tessellated flower that calls for a whopping 77 folds.
After finishing their cranes, pride was in the air as the young origami artists high-fived one another for a job well done.
“I never thought I could everdo something this complicated,” said fourth grader Kate Ready, waving her crane in the air. “It made me feel like, ‘Wow! I can’t believe I just did that!’”