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With their own 2 hands

Students are sprawled on the floor of Barbara Renneke's classroom.

In groups of three or four, they surround rectangles of fleece. They talk and laugh as they tie the tabs on the fabrics edges into knots.

The Shannon Park Elementary School third graders are creating gifts for people who need them. They're having fun. And they're learning a few lessons along the way.

The blankets the students are creating started with Carol Miller, whose granddaughter Katie is in Renneke's class. Miller was a home economics teacher and school administrator for nearly 40 years and it's clear she hasn't left the classroom behind. She likes working with kids, and she likes helping them learn.

A talented seamstress who's always on the lookout for bargains on fabric, Miller recently found herself with more fleece than she needed. That's when her mind went back to school and to her granddaughter's class.

Miller approached Renneke about working with the students to make blankets for charity. Miller would cut and sew. The students would tie the pieces of the blanket together. And the 18 blankets that were the result would be donated to Project Linus, a group that provides blankets to sick or otherwise traumatized children, and to Blue Star Mothers, a group that provides support for soldiers and their families.

In the meantime, the students get lessons about helping others and about the men and women serving their country in the military. They might even learn a little something about tying their shoes.

Apparently you can learn a lot from a blanket.

"I think when kids get in third grade it's time they realize how to share," Miller said. "Not only that, I've found out that in this day of velcro kids don't even know how to tie a knot, so they're learning that.

"I hope I'm inspiring gift-giving and sewing."

The students tied blankets two days last month and for the final time on Wednesday afternoon.

Renneke said she uses the blanket project as the basis for a number of lessons.

"We talk about doing for others and other less fortunate," said Renneke, whose son served in Iraq and who is a member of Blue Star Mothers. "They're just so used to getting things, so we're trying to teach them about people less fortunate and especially talking about -- because it's so close to home -- soldiers and how they don't all come back healthy and why a wounded soldier would need a blanket."

The project has been a hit with students. They like doing the work, and they take pride in showing off their finished products to classmates. Miller said other parents have told her daughter their children talk about the project at home.

"Seeing their enthusiasm is really great," Miller said. "The boys, that's not their big thing but they've really been very cooperative about it. They're playing the boys' role and that's girls' stuff but they go ahead and do it.

"I'm enjoying it," she said. "I think the kids are finding fun in doing it and pride in doing it. They are beginning to realize how important it is to do things for other people."