by Nicole Cormier AOR

A lot of our folk want very badly to pass things on to our kids that we learned, forgot, and promptly remembered as we realized what it was that we were giving the heave-ho. Kids love to learn, and they soak up information like little sponges.

Learning a craft like knitting or crochet helps a child in many ways.  Firstly, it helps boost self-confidence and self-esteem when a child starts and finishes a project, no matter how small. It is a sneaky fun thing for kids that actually helps to get both halves of their brain working together on something. There is a technical and creative component to both knitting and crochet which assures that their math, planning, and creative visualization skills will all get used in one little garter stitch dishrag.  My two favourite fibrecrafts will also help children develop manual dexterity as they learn to manipulate strands of yarn around their fingers while also using hooks and needles. Knitting and crochet are also calming activities that can help folk of all ages to unwind after a stressful event or long day. Very often when I’ve had a trying day, I will sit and simply work row upon row of garter stitch. I have no plan in mind, there is no goal to be met, but the clicking noise of the needles, the feel of the yarn in my hand – it’s every bit as mindful and restful as meditation or worry beads – and I have the added bonus of having knit myself some lovely “Stress Scarves”!!!!

Learning to knit or crochet is also a skill that your child will have for life. They will be able to create things for themselves such as potholders, placemats, mittens, scarves, hats, gloves, socks, sweaters, blankets, baskets, belts, and many other items. I am deliberately referring to “children” or “kids” but not to “her” because I believe that boys should
learn to do this, too.

Most people these days do not think of knitters or crocheters as men, but it is important to remember that men brough the art of knitting to women. I know there is a tendancy for men in this day and age to think of these things as “sissy” but to be honest, there is nothing wrong with knowing how to make something that will keep you warm and looking sharp at the same time.  Besides, for those of us whose ancestry contains the blood of fishermen, know that they used these techniques to maintain their nets, knit their own gloves, socks, sweaters, and hats, and spent lots of time coming up with new stitch patterns as they passed away time on their boats. I dare any one of you reading this to walk up to some big burly fisherman and tell him his grandfather was a fairy because he could knit socks. No, seriously. I want
to see how that works out for you.

During WWI and WWII injured soldiers took up the needles to make sweaters and socks for their comrades still in the field. They did the same during the War of 1812 and the American Civil War. They didn’t do it during the Canadian Civil War, but that was because our civil war was a bar fight, it lasted a few minutes, and it was over before anyone left the premises.

Back on track here……

Keep it simple for kids, and keep it fun. If it becomes “work” then it will never be learned or loved. Limit their learning to a few minutes, a few times per week. Most kids don’t have huge attention spans, so don’t waste their time with a lot of explaining. Put something in their hands, and get them doing something right away. You can talk while you roll yarn balls around on the floor or twirl string.

First, get them helping with small things while you knit. Teach them how to make a centre-pulled skein, or give them small balls of scrap yarn to wind up. Ask them how the different yarns feel, and what colours they like. Show them how to make a simple slip knot. For some kids, this simple act will take a bit of doing. Close up shop and call it a day. Leave them be for a few days and then come back to the yarn. Chances are, they can remember the slip knot, which is the basis for the knit stitch and the crochet chain.

The next time they play around your yarnpile, show them how to make a crochet chain using a 6.0mm hook and some worsted weight yarn. 6.0mm seems to be the optimum size for most little hands. This is a US Size 10, knitting
needle or crochet hook. It is a fairly big size and produces something that works up quickly, important for small learners. Let the kids make chains to their heart’s content while you continue working on whatever it is that you
are doing. Again, once they are bored, close up shop and leave it be for a few days.

If you leave them be for a few days, especially if they are frustrated, you will find that they take to it much quicker than the last time. This is where I get to use some of my degree (Social Anthropology and Neuroscience). When you learn something completely new, for which you have no basis, your brain has to create new “pathways” for the information to travel on. Areas of your brain that may not get used a lot, or used in this way, are getting stimulated. This can cause confusion as even the tiniest, simplest act can bombard your nerve centre with new information that needs to be processed. Over the days that you are not doing this new craft, your brain is busy creating the pathways that it needs so it can recieve more information about this new thing you are suddenly doing. This is why you can’t rush things,
and it’s why if you try to dive head first into something new as an adult, you can still get overwhelmed and drop it like a hot potato.

See mom? Wasn’t that worth all that student aid money?

It is probably easier to teach kids to crochet than knit, because only one tool (a hook) is used, and the results are much faster than knitting. One of the added benefits to crochet is that projects take shape much more faster, which makes it easy for new learners to see what they are making as they make it. Sometimes with knitting, you just have to breathe deeply and hope that what you are doing will make sense in the end. Because crochet also works one stitch as a time in in it’s entirety, there is no distaster if the stitch falls off the hook. It is easier to crochet shapes than it is to knit them, another added plus. Basic shapes are the basis for clothing design, and your child will benefit greatly from a solid foundation in design principles, whether they are going on to learn to knit, sew, or build a skyscraper. Once your child learns to reduce everything they wish to create into the most basic shapes, there isn’t anything that they can’t build. Some of the most prolific knit and crochet designers in the fashion world right now are engineers, architects, and physicists, and they all agree that their yarncrafting both informs and reinforces principles that they use in their
professional careers.

Many yarn companies are hip to the fact that youngsters are interested in crafts, right now, too. Several yarn companies have partnered up with designers to create yarns in bright colours with washable fibres, or yarns made from interesting fibres that might appeal to today’s environmentally aware little ones. One such company is the Southwest Trading Company, who have partnered up with Vickie Howell, designer and television personality.

Another option worth exploring are the small yarn companies whose products are rooted in our ancestry. Exposing your children to a craft that reinforces tradition and uses products that come from either their immediate locality or ancestral homeland is another way of showing them that theirs is a belief system that is lived. For example, I love to buy fibre from Briggs&Little because they are a company based out of The Maritimes. When I can afford the splurge, I also like to buy Icelandic yarn and Shetland lace yarn. Considering that I now live on the Canadian Prairie, I have also begun using yarn made from corn as well as blends containing bison. Purchasing from companies such as Istex of Iceland as opposed to the SprawlMart conglomerates assures that crafts retain their ethnic tradition because often it is these smaller companies and the efforts of their designers to reinvent traditional lines for modern tastes that buoy the interest in the craft.

Some places of interest:

Vickie Howell <>
Ravelry <>
Istex <>
Briggs&Little <> <>
Ram Wools <>

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