I haven't written a blog post in over four months. I've been über busy with stuff that is largely non-knitting related. Thank God I've had a few stolen minutes here and there to continue knitting, and now I have a few stolen minutes to talk to you about something exciting!
Last week I was visiting with a family I know and their five-year-old daughter asked me to teach her to knit!!! Well, we didn't have any knitting material in the house, so I said that next time I came I would teach her. She also asked me to knit her a toy bird like one which her friend had made. She even drew a picture of it for me. Having worked with children professionally and understanding how it might be inappropriate if I gave her a present randomly (not to mention make her sister jealous and setting her up to ask me for stuff all the time), I said that I'd make it for her for her Birthday, which is at the end of the year. I did feel kind of bad about this, because she asked me so nicely and it would be no big undertaking for me.
I was pretty excited when she first asked me to teach her to knit, but I was also a bit dubious about my own teaching abilities. I've tried to teach people in their teens and twenties before, with limited success -- although, as I look back on it, more success than I gave myself credit for. I went out and got her some rainbow-coloured 8ply acrylic yarn and some needles designed for children. They're Birch brand, about 20cm long, made of pink plastic with smiley faces on the ends (4.5mm, though I mostly picked this size because they were the ones that came in pink). I then went online and looked up websites about how to teach a child to knit. I also started a Ravelry thread about it, which had lots of useful responses, and I joined a Ravelry group about teaching kids to knit. Some good suggestions I found are below (I'll tell you in a little while which ones I used):
So, I was pretty heartened by all the advice and encouragement. I checked with the little one's mother that it was fine by her that I give her a knitting lesson and the associated presents. She was pretty happy to let me give it a go, but I don't think she nor I were extremely confident I would succeed (that didn't stop me from being excited though). You see, this girl is five. She is reading, so I know she has some level of concentration, but it might not have been enough to learn to knit and then continue to knit until an object was finished. Also, you see, this girl is five. She is wearing shoes, but none of them have laces so I've never seen her tie anything in a bow. I have read that a child has the motor skills to knit about the time she has the motor skills to tie her shoelaces. Incidentally, I mentioned this information to my parents and they reminisced about the time my Dad tried to teach my older brother to tie his shoelaces, a little younger than usual, and I -- a mere toddler -- wanted to learn too, so I tried and tried and cried until I had figured out how to tie my shoelaces (before my brother. A similar thing happened when learning to ride a bike and drive a car. Sibling rivalry? Nah, I'm utterly non-comptetitive). I might have learned to knit at the age of 3!
- Using a rhyme to remember the steps of the knit stitch e.g. “In through the front door, run around the back, out through the window, off jumps Jack!”
- Teaching just the knit stitch and not casting on or off (no-brainer for me as this is how my Grandma taught me)
- Doing a bit of the child's work every so often to make the work go faster
- Using needles of two different colours to make it easier to explain which needle needs to be moved
- Teaching the English method as you don't have to worry about tensioning
- Not expecting too much
- Showing kids pictures/videos of knitting and letting them see and touch knitted objects
- Not frogging the child's work -- Someone put this on my Ravelry thread, and I absolutely agree. A child would be really disheartened if someone else frogged their work. However, I did read in my online searching a website which suggests that you encourage children to frog their own work so they remember how they started. I think the point of that is moot (good word, no?) in my case as a knit stitch is a knit stitch and that's all I planned to teach her.
The day before I was to see this family again, I decided that a great first object to make would be a simple toy bird. This would kill two birds with one stone, so to speak (I am a comic GENIUS), by teaching her to knit and letting her have the toy bird she so desired but with me not giving her a gift for no reason, upsetting her sister. So, I spent an hour making a simple bird. I based my design on this one. When I can be bothered I'll put my pattern on here. I used small black buttons for eyes. I made the bird white so it would be less exciting-looking than the little one's finished bird. I was happy for her to keep the toy white bird, too. I also looked through my knitting books to try to find a diagram explaining all the steps of a knit stitch, but I didn't find anything that I was satisfied with, so I decided to do without. I also coloured in two labels different colours. I liked the idea of using two different coloured needles but the 4.5s only came in pink, so I thought putting different coloured stickers on the needles would be good too.
I turned up the next day at their house with a colourful gift bag containing needles, yarn and the bird. I also brought along my own knitting including a project which is still on the needles (which I showed her but she wasn't interested in -- it wasn't shaped like an animal) and some 4.5s with some pink 8ply to demonstrate how to knit. The five-year-old was so excited to see her present! She immediately took the toy bird and made a nest for it out of toilet paper, then drew a picture of bird seed on a piece of paper and cut it out. "This is a baby bird", she said, "The one I make will be the Mummy bird". I find this excitement over a simple knitted bird quite amusing as this girl has plenty of toys already and lots of pets, including four real chickens with real nests and real bird seed.
She asked her Mum several times throughout the day if I could teach her to knit. "Maybe later", "When your sister is having a nap". Quite reasonable, but I imagine to an excited five-year-old these statements sound like "Maybe when you're 30", "When you don't like Peppa Pig anymore".
We finally sat down to knit. I let her choose a couple of buttons from my collection to use as eyes. I told her that I would be showing her how to knit her toy bird using pink wool, and that her sister could have it when I was finished. So, she picked out eyes for that one too, matching the ones she had chosen, "So they're a family". I cast on for her and for me and I commenced with the teaching. I decided to try without the different coloured stickers to start off with. Turns out we didn't need them. She caught on quite quickly and soon my worries about her dexterity vanished. So did my worries about her concentration levels... Me: "Would you like to take a break for a minute?" Her: "No!" Me: "It will help your brain stay fresh so you can keep knitting" Her: "No!". We ended up switching over our projects from time to time, as she wanted hers to go quicker than it was. I did find that doing a bit of her knitting every now and then kept her interested, as it meant the work progressed quicker. I also didn't bother with the rhyme. I think this would work well with some kids but I really doubt it would have worked for me as a child or for this girl (I am reminded again of my tearful attempts at learning to tie my shoelaces, getting very confused by the "rabbit goes under the tree" part of the process. "Put the shoelace in this bit here" would have worked better for me.). I don't think it would have worked for this girl because the bits she struggled with weren't covered by the rhyme e.g. holding the right needle at the back of the left, and wrapping the yarn upwards.
Despite my surprise at her capabilites, there is one step of the knit stitch she is yet to master. It is the "out through the window" part of the rhyme, the bit where you pull the wrapped yarn underneath the original stitch. When she knits, she does every step except for this part, giving me the needles then taking them up again to drop the stitch on the left needle. I'm fine with this, as she is very little and I can't expect her to be a master knitter in one day. It does, however, mean that she can only knit when I'm there, unless her Mum or Dad does some Youtubing and re-learns how to knit.
Next question: English or Continental? Someone did suggest I teach English as "throwing" the yarn means there's less need for tensioning by weaving the yarn through your fingers. However, the English method confuses me. I've tried to teach a friend -- who could knit -- some knitting techniques like lace and bobbles. It confused her that I was knitting Continental so I switched to English, which confused me. Why move your arm all that way when you can just straighten a finger? Anyways, so I decided to teach this little girl Continental, but I didn't teach her tensioning as I think that would just complicate things further. Instead, she just picks up the yarn and wraps it round for now. She'll get there.
I finished the pink bird I was using as a demonstration. Here is an extremely bad picture of it I took with my phone (Notice the uneven tension around the neck. I think this is a bit that my student did; that's my story and I'm sticking to it).