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.
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.
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….
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.
Teaching is really hard work. I should know — I’ve been doing it for twelve years as a college history professor. Although teaching a knitting class is not nearly the same commitment in terms of time and mental energy, it still requires a great deal of thought and preparation to teach a good class. There may be a class project sample to knit and techniques to learn (or re-learn).
But you also have to think through the whole class through the eyes of different kinds of students. Where is the beginner knitter going to get tripped up? What did I struggle with when I learned how to do this? How can I keep the more advanced knitter engaged? How long will all this really take to teach? Do I want to hurry them along or let them learn at a leisurely pace?
With this in mind, I am gradually developing a set of teaching modules for knitting teachers. These modules are guides that walk a teacher through the whole process of preparing for and teaching a knitting class. I tell the teacher what to prepare, give a detailed lesson plan, provide a pattern that students can knit as a class project, and a handout that students can take home to help them remember what they learned.
Today, I am launching a new project that I am really excited about: I’m designing a series of teaching modules for knitting teachers. Each module gives detailed instructions about how to prepare for and teach a knitting class on a specific technique.
My first release is a module on how to teach stranded knitting. The module is a PDF that includes six pages of detailed instructions about how to prepare for the class, what materials the teacher and students need to bring, a step-by-step schedule of what to do in class, and how to explain and demonstrate different techniques. Also included are a one-page handout to give to students and a two-page pattern for the fingerless mitts pictured above.
I am really excited about this. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I can contribute to the knitting world, and it suddenly dawned on me not too long ago that — hey — I have a lot of teaching experience. Perhaps I could do something with this besides simply teaching classes myself — which I also love doing.
A few months ago a history department at another small college paid me handsomely as a consultant to develop a Science in World History teaching module. At the time, I was so shocked that anyone would pay that much for my syllabus and teaching notes. (Audra, I know you’re shaking your head right now at my naivete. I’m learning. I’m learning.) But then I realized — well — why not? It took a hell of a lot of work to develop those materials and I do teach an innovative class, if I do say so myself. Maybe that’s a niche for me.
So I thought I’d try it with knitting. And guess what? In the time it has taken me to write this post, I’ve sold two copies of the module. Woot! Chalk one up for the freelancer!