Pressing the dark-blue crayon as hard as she could without breaking it, Ciera Lord earnestly filled in the sky.
You have to press hard, her teacher at Manchester Elementary had told the class, so that the colors will stand out on the quilt blocks. Ciera and her classmates were creating the blocks for blankets that will be distributed to children who are grieving, hospitalized, homeless or otherwise traumatized.
But these blocks will also stand out because of what they represent.
Each one depicts a Maryland symbol such as the state boat (the skipjack), the state tree (the Wye Oak) and, of course, the state flower (the black-eyed Susan) because the school's Maryland Day celebration served as the impetus for the quilt project.
It was an effort to teach the pupils more about the state's history as well as get them involved in a charitable cause.
"You, in some way, are going to touch some child's life," Nancy Brett, a fourth-grade teacher at Manchester, told her pupils.
Maryland Day is celebrated March 25, the official date of the English colony's birth in 1634. Manchester Elementary marked the day Tuesday because school was closed Friday for the spring holiday.
School officials incorporated the celebration in lessons throughout the day. Pupils researched Maryland symbols during computer lab. They had lessons in mapping skills and played a bit of Maryland bingo.
Then they put all their newfound knowledge to use as they drew their favorite state symbols on the fabric blocks.
The quilt project is part of a nationwide effort organized by a nonprofit group, Project Linus, named after the blanket-toting character in the Peanuts comic strip. Project Linus was founded in 1995 by a Colorado woman who had read a news article about a girl whose security blanket had helped her through cancer treatments.
As of December, the Bloomington, Ill.-based group had 347 chapters across the country that had donated 1,169,831 homemade security blankets, according to the organization's Web site.
The Carroll County chapter, founded in 2001 by Brett's sister-in-law, Judy Walter, has distributed more than 11,000 blankets throughout the Baltimore area.
The local group's volunteers will take the Manchester Elementary blocks and stitch them into quilts that will be distributed to pediatric and emergency room nurses, school nurses and guidance counselors, and workers at child abuse and grief centers.
The blankets - which range in size from 45 inches by 36 inches to 60 inches by 50 inches and must be new, handmade and washable - are given to children up to age 18. Each quilt is tagged with a label that includes a poem on one side and the name and address of the donor on the other.
Walter, who retired from teaching family and consumer science at North Carroll High last year, said the local chapter has about 1,000 volunteers who make blankets, donate supplies and help distribute the quilts.
She said the local group gives out hundreds of blankets each month - a minimum of 100 go to the Carroll Hospital Center's emergency room. Other recipients include the Carroll Hospital Center's pediatric unit, Carroll County's social services and human services departments, the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, the University of Maryland Medical Center, St. Joseph Medical Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Kernan Hospital, Kennedy Krieger Institute and North Arundel Hospital.
Walter is also planning to send blankets to friends and families of the victims in Monday's shooting at Red Lake High School in Minnesota, where five students and two staff members were killed.
"The purpose of Project Linus is to comfort a hurting child with the gift of a handmade blanket," Walter said.
She said it was her sister-in-law's idea to get the pupils at Manchester involved.
"It's a really good service opportunity for the kids because the blankets all go to other kids," Walter said.
For four years, Manchester Elementary pupils have participated in the quilt project, producing blocks for about 16 blankets during that time, Brett said. At least two of those blankets went to Manchester Elementary pupils, she added.
To get her pupils' creative juices flowing, Brett displayed a quilt that had been filled with 30 blocks colored by Manchester fourth-graders last year.
"Notice that the best pictures are big and smack dab in the middle, so it's really easy to see," she said. "Everything in the square will be colored because that's what makes them pretty."
The fourth-graders first sketched their symbols on a sheet of practice paper and then drew final versions on 8-inch square cotton blocks.
Because heat will be applied to the blocks as part of the color-setting process, the children were told to be generous with their coloring to prevent the drawings from fading.
The effort required a bit of elbow grease, but most seemed to think it was worth it.
"I think it's a good project because it'll help other people," said Christine Schuman, 9, who tried to shake off the hand cramp she had developed while drawing the state dog, the Chesapeake Bay retriever.
"The people who receive them could maybe make one, too, because it made them happy and they could make someone else happy," she added.