Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Teaching Kids to Knit

I have hundreds of hours of experience teaching kids to knit. What that really means is I know that they make many of the same incorrect assumptions about knitting that adults do.

That wisdom is brought to you by a summer as a day camp counselor. The majority of my time was spent wrangling a limited yarn supply for 4-12 year olds with an inflated sense of entitlement. You read that right. 4 year olds. To say they taught me more than I taught them would be an understatement. 

You learn things about yourself when you untangle the same ball of yarn seven times throughout the course of a summer. You gain patience when you are asked the same three questions an average of 142.7 times a day. 

Graphic used with permission. Visit A Gamer's Wife for a different perspective on teaching knitting to kids. 

If I were a particular co-counselor of mine I might have actually calculated that, but being me, I estimated based on how many kids were usually in attendance. She was the music instructor and she tallied every time she heard the demo track blare from the electric keyboard. 

We all had our rough days at camp, but it will always be an experience I am unspeakably grateful to have had. Before that was a stint as a volunteer in a 2nd/3rd grade classroom that I like to think left me properly prepared for the onslaught. I was able to pick up a few things about how to best help them pick it up, but nothing really could have taught me how to ease the learning process like being a teacher in a "self directed learning" environment where yarn and scissors are involved. 

Self directed learning is a cute way of saying the kids can do whatever they damn well please. With such a myriad of options available, and other counselors to become appendages of, I luckily never had to bear the physical and intellectual weight of all 142.7 of them all at once. They trickled in and out throughout the day. There was one week it seemed like every single time I counted heads in my "studio" I came up with 36.

I did have a few tiny-human appendages despite the availability of clay and sewing machines, cooking appliances and karaoke machines, bouncy houses and huge inflatable water slides, and iPads and MacBook pros. There were a few that never left my den of yarn, but had a lot of progress to show for it. I helped an 11 year old knit herself a striped poncho. Several kids knit hats, both on looms and circular needles. Some just made funky rectangles. Others finger knit endlessly until I was forced to cut off their yarn supply.

I didn't know how to use a loom or how to finger knit when I started. Both are good introductions to knitting for motor skill challenged individuals. Aka what the 4 year olds mostly stuck to. It's worth learning any basic yarn craft so you can teach it to someone who wants to knit but gets frustrated easily.

A few useful things that might not occur to you if you've never taught knitting to kids before:

-Skip center pull balls. It took me a couple weeks of tangle induced pain to relinquish the center pull balls. I love center pull balls. For my knitting. Kids are gonna throw em down and let them roll on the floor anyway. They don't have to get very far before the center is hollow enough to risk implosion.

-Mnemonic is not just a funny word. There are many different ones but whichever you want to use is fine. You are going to want to say it over and over and over while you teach them. Tell them to repeat it to themselves until they've got the hang of it, tell them they can use it if they don't knit for a while and forget the steps. I found this by googling "how to teach kids to knit." Don't judge me. I'm hoping thats how you got here.
Here is the one I used for the knit stitch:
          Go in through the front, wrap around the back, jump out the window, and off jumps jack. 
And the purl:
          Come out through the back, wrap over the top, back out the window, and off jumps jack. 

Each part is important, reminding them to stick the right needle into the stitch on the left while helping them learn not to twist their stitches. Then reminding them to bring their yarn behind rather than in front of the needle to make the next loop. Then to pull that loop out of the hole they can see when they separate the needles a bit. Then to slip the original loop off its needle. 

-Have a learning project available. If the first thing you do is put a peice of knitting in a resistant kid's hands with at least 10 rows done on it, you reduce the chances of them quickly deciding knitting is too hard. I had several learning scarves that I changed the colors on every week, making them stripey and raggedy with loose ends. They were the first thing that any camper who had never knit before HAD to work on. After that I would teach them or cast on or do it for them depending on how confident they seemed with the learning scarf. I told the kids the scarves belonged to no one, they were everyone's. Really they are my souviners from camp. *evil laugh*

-Put a large variety of needle sizes and types in front of them and let them choose. Some will not be comfortable with circular needles. Some will love them. There is no truth to any generalization about any size range being better for any particular age.

-Variagated yarn will disappear first and get kids really excited about it. Followed by light blue, pink, white, purple, black and then red. Orange, yellow, and then green will be chosen in roughly that order. Brown can stay home.

-Show a group of three or four kids at a time and then let them try it for themselves. You can even move on to another group and come back to them if you are teaching a large group. Let em whine if they will. You will be surprised by the ones who don't. They will be silent for a while until suddenly, "What do I do when I get to the end?"

-Display projects you have completed. If you show them what they can make will make them a whole lot more motivated to struggle through their first scrappy rectangular object. DO NOT let 142.7 kids a day try on your hats. You will perpetuate head lice. You may get it yourself, like I did. You'd think I'd been warned enough times. But that's precisely it. I had been warned too many times and never seen a louse. So I didn't think about it until my head itched like crazy.

I hope this is helpful and that you have as much fun knitting with kids as I did. I may add more ideas as I think of them.

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