Teaching Peace with Elyse! Beads, Beads, Beads: From Necklaces to Art Pieces!

When the four-year-old boys insisted, as four-year-olds will, that "beads were for girls," I added sports beads to the array of clear, iridescent, alphabet and animal beads.

That was enough of an invitation for gender bias to slow down. As boy after boy sat down to bead, they lead the way for others. Like previous discussions where "pink is a girl’s color" and other myths were discussed, it became a learning moment. I’m happy to say that currently it has stopped completely.

Oohing and aahing, carefully selecting from the great variety available, children love to discover those beads that tickle their fancy. I’ve noticed how quietly they work as they focus and concentrate on threading the beads. Beading creates an inner peace that lingers for some time beyond the enjoyable art-making process.

For our preschoolers, all necklaces must be able to go over the head. This is a safety issue to prevent active children from getting them caught on playground equipment. "Stretchy string," the children's name for beading elastic, adheres to our school policy.

In addition to beading elastic, I also offer pipe cleaners to those who are developing their small motor skills.  

Pipe cleaners, in an array of colors, designs and textures, remain stiff during the time it takes for our youngest to push them through the hole in the beads. The oohs and aahs are again heard throughout the classroom as new pipe cleaners are added to those available. Thick ones, thin ones, fuzzy ones and sparkly ones all create great excitement with the preschool set.

They are ideal for making bracelets. Three- and four-year-olds can bead with relative ease and learn to tie their own knots, proudly twisting the ends of the pipe cleaners together. "I did it myself," is often heard as they form a circle of beaded fuzzy wire.

While beads are first seen as materials for jewelry making, having observed the children over time I now consider beads to be an open-ended material.

In my blogs of May 3, 2013 and February 7, 2014, I described Simon Nicholson’s theory of loose parts as enhancers of creativity. Loose parts are materials with no definite direction. They can be used alone or combined with other materials. Loose parts inspire children to use materials as they choose, encouraging imagination and originality. These open-ended materials help stretch their young minds and imaginations as to what is possible, a concept that can expand throughout their lives.

I’ve witnessed and appreciated the benefit of their joyful jewelry-making. I’ve also encouraged them to use the materials in ways uniquely their own. As the children grow in skills and competency, they naturally tend to utilize the materials in different ways:

  • Designs
  • Patterns
  • Collages
  • Gifts for friends and family

In time, many will combine the beads with other materials. As teachers, it’s the exploring and joy of discovery that we want to encourage. Our focus is on noticing their effort, concentration, sense of accomplishment and how they feel about their art.

Fascination with beads, elastic cord and pipe cleaners for jewelry-making expand by springtime. I often see them used in conjunction with other materials. Adding colored masking tape and paper, they create collages and designs. As the children grow, so grows their art.

Maya turned what she had first intended to be a "necklace for Daddy" by manipulating the fuzzy wire and beads into a beautiful wall hanging. It came about when she attempted to twist several pipe cleaners together so they would fit over her dad’s head. Soon she was engaged in her discovery. With a bracelet in one hand and Daddy’s necklace in the other, she happily carried it downstairs to her classroom. What a beautiful gift for Father’s Day!

Suggestions for Teachers:

As teachers, we create the environments that give children permission to explore the materials. Once the children feel the physical and emotional safety we have created, having the materials available in a small art center in the classroom may be all that is needed to encourage their exploration.

By having the materials available on a daily basis, when a special occasion occurs the children are familiar and skilled with both the materials and the joy of discovery. They can add their special brand of uniqueness to a class project or venture out to use the materials for creations of their own.


  • Creating a more peaceful environment: When the energy gets very high, I often take out beading supplies to bring it down and have the children focus again. This is a lifesaver on rainy days. (Hopefully California will experience more of those in the days to come.)
  • Narrowing the gap of gender play: Sports beads delight both genders and have enticed the boys most opinionated regarding who can and can’t make jewelry into sitting and beading.
  • Literacy: Alphabet beads expand interest in letters through children writing their names and words. I often see their names on the bracelets they make.
  • Patterns: Children often progress from random selection to intentionally creating patterns of color or grouping similar beads.

Suggested Products from Discount School Supply:

Super Sport Beads - 1/2 lb.

Iridescent Heart Beads - 1/2 lb.

Jumbo Alphabet Beads - 260 Pieces

Colored ABC Beads - 300 Pieces

Big Letter Beads - 300 Pieces

Big, Bright Animal Beads - 1lb

Set of Black & White Elastic - 200 yards

Pipe Cleaner Classroom Pack - 250 Pieces