Teaching kids to knit: what I learned this week

I got to teach a kids-and-parents knitting class this week and the whole experience was so interesting that I had to tell you about it.

For many (perhaps even most) knitting teachers, the idea of teaching 5-8 year olds how to knit is a total nightmare. Talk about a chaotic, twitchy group of people who might not have wanted to come in the first place — not quite the ideal audience for a class where you’ve got to sit still and do intricate things with your hands for 90 minutes.

But somehow I found the challenge exciting. When the LYS where I do most of my teaching asked me to do a class for parents with children too young to take the store’s independent fiber camp, I jumped at the chance.

As it turned out, this first time around I had two kids — a good small number to use as guinea pigs. They were both seven, one boy and one girl. The former came with his mom and the latter with her grandmother. Both adults already knew at least a bit about how to knit, so I didn’t have to worry about teaching them much. Plus, they were able to help out when their kid was struggling.

Here are my take-away lessons from this experience, which I’ll use to improve my August class.

  1. Keep it short. Next time I’ll make each session one hour long. Either that, or I’ll need to incorporate a very different yarn-related activity into the 90 minutes. Sitting and concentrating on a difficult task for more than an hour is trying for kids this age. On the second day, even the more patient kid moaned a half-hour into class, “We have a whole hour left?! Unnngggghhh!” And she was enjoying it.
  2. Change it up. The little boy who took the class was really struggling with knitting — to the point where he just kept melting onto the floor in defiant embarrassment. So I had to think fast and come up with something else for him to try. How about finger knitting? He liked that and busily made a bracelet for himself, so I brought a crochet hook to the second class and showed him how he could make the same chains using a hook. His face lit up. Bingo. One of my mottos has always been to go with a plan and be willing to change it. That approach is especially important with kids.
    Next time I do the class I’ll also get them up and moving about more. I might take a page from Melanie Falick’s ingenious Kids Knitting book and teach them to dye yarn with Koolaid. I was also thinking I might figure out some way to dramatize the making of a knit stitch, having each kid play the role of a stitch. Still working on that one….
  3. Don’t take their comments or behavior personally. Kids are brutally honest — most have little filter between their reptile brain and their mouths. You can choose to be bothered by this, or you can decide (even if it’s only for the 90 minutes you’re teaching the class) that it’s refreshing. Kids let you know right away when they’re bored. Or frustrated. Or tired. Respond to their honesty with a light sense of humor and a willingness to change, and you will have them in the palm of your hand. When the little girl moaned about how long we had left in class, I could have gotten really upset (jeez, I spent so long planning this — how could she be so rude?!), but I knew she was just tired. So I said, lightheartedly, as her grandmother looked mortified, “I know you’re tired, sweetie. Why don’t we take a break, maybe have a snack, and then try something new?” So we took the break, she had a little food, we learned how to purl, and she perked right up. (“Look, grandma — my knitting looks different now!”)

I’m teaching the class again in August — it’s full to the brim this time (four kids and four adults) — so I’ll report back on how it went.


9 thoughts on “Teaching kids to knit: what I learned this week

  1. Thank you so much for teaching my daughter Yvonne to knit. She recognizes quality instruction and she was quick to point out that you gave a good introduction when everyone took time to touch and talk about different types of yarn. She learned so much in just 2 days. She really enjoyed it.

  2. Oh! How fun it sounds. My friend’s child is mesmerized by my knitting. She’s about a year and half so I’m still working on her not trying to eat my yarn and to pet it gently.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. I’m a knitting teacher as well and can totally relate! My 6 year old son just started getting the hang of it this year at Stitches! I had tried teaching him myself a few times, but all it took was a group setting during the “learn to knit” class for him to finally focus on it. He always gets too distracted at home. 😉 My 8 year old daughter has been knitting for almost 3 years. She was a quick learner from the start!

    • I think you’ve put your finger on something there — some kids (well, some people in general) learn better when the teacher’s not a parent and when the setting is new. I had several parents who took the class tell me that while they already knew how to knit, they didn’t think teaching their own kid would go all that well. I’m positive if I took my 8yo to Stitches, he’d quickly dive right in, too!

      • It’s the truth! We’ve struck a chord! I think my son was also excited to be getting some free Fantastic (100% Merino Wool) yarn and a new pair of Kollage square needles as well! Stitches went all out this year in having their “Learn to Knit” sponsored by Kollage Yarns! 😉

  4. I was greatly encouraged to read this article. I just started teaching our homeschool co-op group to knit. I’ll be doing it once a week for 10 weeks. The first lesson went great for the older group, but teaching the younger ones felt so chaotic and discouraging. I didn’t have much for adult support though, so maybe I will request that parents stay if they can. I am not certain the 5-6 yr olds are ready to even do finger knitting. I’m going to try again this week… I had also planned to have them do spool knitting. I’m not sure if that will be easier or harder. My 5 yr old did ok with it when she learned about a year ago. I might change my plan to have them do 10 minutes working on knitting and the rest of the class doing yarn art. I am definitely learning as much as they are in this process! Here’s the tenative plan I have for now http://thechickenwire.blogspot.com/2013/01/teaching-children-to-knit-series-plan.html

    • What a wonderful class series that you have planned out, Katrina! And I hear you about the rewards and frustrations of working with this age group. Having a few other adults around is definitely a huge help. I suspect spool knitting might work well for kids who have trouble with two needles — crochet is also easier for some kids. As far as age goes, I’ve successfully taught a 4 1/2 year old to knit and watched 10 year olds struggle mightily with it. (Heck, I’ve had 40 year olds struggle mightily with learning to knit.) Really depends on the kid. Best of luck and have fun!

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