Guest Post: First Grade Knitting – Why Wait?

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I want to welcome Elizabeth des Roches from Handwork Homeschool to the blog today!  Elizabeth teaches an online course called The Knit Lessons which teaches parents how to bring pre-knitting and knitting lessons into their homeschool days.  I was excited to hear about it so I asked Elizabeth to share some of her experience with us.  Read on to learn why we teach knitting in Waldorf-inspired first grade and what to do in the early years to prepare for handwork....  

Recently, while my mother was visiting us from Canada, she casually suggested that she’d like to teach my daughter (who turned 6 a few months ago) how to knit.   I wasn’t sure how to respond because my Mom would have LOVED to teach her & she would have LOVED to learn but I knew that it wasn’t the right time.

Now, my mother has been knitting almost her entire life – I think there was a brief period when she was a toddler & couldn’t get her hands on a pair of needles – but ever since, she’s been making beautiful things almost non-stop.   She is what is known as a “master” knitter – there isn’t a pattern around that could slow her down!  She was also a very accomplished high school teacher.  To the casual observer, there would seem to be absolutely NO reason why I shouldn’t have accepted her offer.

So how could I explain why I hesitated?

My Mom gracefully changed the subject when I didn’t jump at the chance & luckily I didn’t have to ...  but it’s been on my mind a lot lately.  I’m in the midst of teaching a course called The KNIT Lessons & in a few weeks, I’ll be explaining all of my reasons to my students in detail.

I know that teaching knitting to children is a topic that many Waldorf parents wonder about so I thought I’d share a sneak peek of this upcoming lesson with you.

Waldorf Handwork – When is it the “right” time?

One of the first things that grabbed me & held me tight when I learned of Waldorf education was the fact that handwork plays such a central role in the method.  I’ve always thought working with fibre is very important for children & was thrilled to find out that a lot of other people do, too!

Understanding the neurological, emotional & physical benefits of handwork has changed how I view the fibre arts forever.  Before I knew about them, I allowed my children to explore & play with fibre simply because they enjoyed it.  ( It turns out that was exactly the RIGHT thing to when they were little!)  It hadn’t occurred to me that much more was going on than a few twists & rolls of bits of fleece & yarn. Since my discovery, I’ve gone from making things for fun (& sometimes profit) by myself to consciously making things with my children. As my children have grown older, I’ve been gradually introducing them to the various fibre arts.

What I’ve learned is that there’s actually an order in which they should learn each skill that is in line with how they are developing.  It makes a lot of sense to teach them something once their bodies & minds are capable of processing the idea & physically making the action.

What is knitting DOING to your child?

Knitting is made up of myriad small & big actions, all of which must be co-ordinated & organized in a certain way.  There are steps that you can see & others that you can’t.

Think about it – you have to hold & manipulate not one but TWO tools, then you have to keep track of where the yarn is while remembering what to DO with it.  At the same time, your brain is processing how the yarn feels, how tightly you have to pull it after each stitch & releasing a lovely, soothing array of hormones which make you feel good & enjoy yourself. That’s a lot for anyone, not just a little one, to be experiencing all at once.

The magic of being 7...

Most children’s minds are not ready to orchestrate both hands moving in opposite directions until they are about 7 years old (of course, girls are often ready a little bit earlier but not by much).  It’s around that age when a child has matured enough to be able to spend more than a few minutes engaged in a single focused task & by that time they are beginning to prepare to learn how to read.

Knitting begins to reinforce the horizontal movements that the eyes must make when following a line of text & helps them keep track of a single item in a group (later it will be letters in a word & words in a sentence).  Laying this physical & neurological foundation is one of the BEST reasons why children are traditionally taught to knit in a Waldorf school BEFORE they start reading.

Teaching a child to knit unravels in a totally different way

If you’ve ever taught an adult to knit, you probably found that she complained about feeling clumsy, disorganized & maybe even frustrated.  These are emotions that I believe everyone feels when taking up the needles for the first time.

An adult approaches knitting from a completely different point of reference than a child.  Most adults can drive a car, type, ride a bike & maybe even play the piano.  We have lots of prior experience when it comes to making our hands do two things at once.  Many children won’t be able to some of these activities & I’m pretty sure that none of them can drive a car (the ultimate mental, physical & emotional multi-tasking activity!)  A grown up is probably going to worry about whether or not they are learning quickly enough & immediately start imagining the finished product.   A child won’t be bringing any of your worldly “baggage” to those first lessons & you want to make sure that you do your best to keep it that way.

Wrapping Knitting up in Waldorf Ways

The other reason that I didn’t invite my Mom to teach my daughter to knit was that I wanted to do it in the “Waldorf” way – with sheep stories, explorations of fibre & other complementary activities that would weave knitting into her entire being.

After years of research & homeschooling I’ve developed my own ways of teaching that I feel really speak to my children.  I’ve seen firsthand how incredibly effective & fun they can be.   I’ve also found out what happens when I stray from the Waldorf methods & rush to teach something before my children are ready – resistance, frustration & at times, outright refusal to participate.  Those are not elements that I want my daughter to reflect on years from now when remembering her first knitting experiences!

While you’re waiting

You may be wondering what you CAN do with your under-7 child to prepare him for the day when he’s ready to knit.

Lots!  Just look for activities that require him to use two hands at once.

A few great pre-knitting skills include

  • riding a tricycle or bike,
  • rolling out dough,
  • making bread
  • playing with playdough
  • sweeping with a broom & dustpan
  • skipping rope
  • playing in the sandbox
  • fingerknitting
  • stringing beads
  • & even eating with chopsticks

Soon, soon

Already, I’m planning how I will introduce knitting to my (not-so) little one when the time comes in a few months.  I’ve gathered a wonderful collection of books & stories that I’ll be reading & telling.  We’ll be working on various types of finger knitting this summer & we’ll probably make it to a fibre fair or two to spend some quality time with a few sheep & other fibre-lovers.

In my mind, I can see the sparkle in her eyes when she begins, her head bent in concentration while she works & her happy smile when she finished her first project.  Then I dearly hope, that my sweet one will happily join me, her older brother & my Mother as we sit, chat, sip tea & KNIT – together.

Happy Knitting!

Want to know more about how to include knitting in your homeschooling life? 

Would you like to discover the best ways to learn this timeless fibre art?

Maybe you’re looking for some great tips for teaching it to children? 

Then you might be interested in my BRAND-NEW interactive, knit-along/e-course –

The Knit Lessons. 

If you believe that knitting is about more than just 2 sticks & some wool then please visit Handwork Homeschool to get the full story (plus a couple videos, a pattern or two, and a batch of inspiration)!!

I would like to send a big thank you to Kelly for asking me to Guest Post on her fab site & helping me spread the word about the wonders of KNITTING!

Elizabeth des Roches is a Wild Waldorf Mama, seasoned Homeschooler & Vintage Crafts Explorer who was inspired to create Handwork Homeschool in 2010 -  a one-of-a-kind virtual school based in France, where global students explore & experience the Handwork Arts while learning the most engaging ways to share & enjoy them with children. If you have any questions you can email Elizabeth directly HERE.

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