World on a String
Fashioned from bone, seashells, pearls, nuts, or, more recently, plastic and Fimo, beads have been central to most great human endeavors: trade, prayer, courtship, not to mention Mardi Gras.
With their place in history secure, beads also sit comfortably on a playroom shelf, where kids enjoy them for what they are — brightly colored objects to capture on a string, carry in a pocket, or roll across a floor (away from younger siblings, obvi).
"Playing with beads stimulates the imagination, builds hand-eye coordination, reinforces basic arithmetic, and elegantly introduces patterning and designing in a way that is tactile and fun," says educator and bead artist Jeanne Leffingwell. She should know. With her help, students from three states in the Northwest wove together 1,000,000 glass beads to graphically illustrate that huge number (millionbeadproject.org).
Shell beads, 82,000 years old, were recently found in Morocco. Scientists believe these to be the oldest objects used solely for accessorizing — a bit of prehistoric bling.