Beginning Knitting - setting yourself (and your students) up for success.
If you really don't have much Handwork going on in you classroom, knitting is a good place to start. In this post I gave for reasons why it is a good starting point, so now I would like to discuss ways to introduce and manage knitting in your environment. I'll also give you a first knitting lesson for you to present to your students.
If you just want to get stuck into the lesson, scroll down a bit, but we Montessori teachers do love our preparation and theory, they are the foundations that make sure a new area succeeds in the long term.
Learning alongside your students
The steps I have given in the lesson are designed to help you teach knitting, not to learn to knit yourself. There are many good knitting resources already available both in print and on YouTube, though the best way to learn is to spend a couple of hours with a pot of tea and friend who knows how to knit.
I highly recommend the book: 'A First Book of Knitting For Children' by Bonnie Gosse and Jill Allerton - I think every Montessori class should have a copy (and I have no affiliation with the author/publisher). It gives simple step by step instructions on how to knit and several projects children can do with just the basic ‘knit’ stitch.
There is a good chance you will have children in your class who can already knit, or who are naturally good at this sort of thing – by all means learn alongside these children.
You will need to become reasonably proficient before introducing it to children whom you feel may struggle with knitting as, for some, it can be too much of a challenge to try to learn a skill that baffles even their teacher. You need to be confident enough to help less confident children troubleshoot things like extra/dropped stitches, stitches falling off the needle etc.
If these children are keen to learn and you have not yet gained enough confidence to guide them, ask around in your community for help. Knitting is a great community builder. You will probably be able to find a parent who is happy to come and assist children or, better yet, a grandparent who has the time to just come and sit in the classroom with their own knitting, ready to assist children as they need it. This also gives children the opportunity to practise their grace and courtesy around having guests in their environment.
Yarn Gauge and Needle Size
Selecting needle size and gauge is something of a quandary for teachers as often odd balls of yarn are donated with no identifying labels. The first thing to remember is – it doesn’t really matter!
When children reach the stage of following patterns, needle size and yarn gauge will become important but to begin with a few sizes either way is not going to make much difference. Keep in mind these three things:
Thicker is better. Little (and large) fingers will find it easier to grip wider needles and thicker yarn so, without going for the jumbo, oversized needles, err on the side of thicker.
A good rule of thumb for matching yarn to needles it to wrap the yarn around one needle twice and hold the other needle over the wraps. If the second needle just covers the yarn on the first – you have the perfect match.
Thick needles with thin yarn will give a loose, holey fabric; thin needles with thick yarn will give a dense, thick fabric, a balance can be found somewhere in between – everything else is art.
In a future post I will explain how to make sense of all the numbers and codes we use to categorise yarn and how to identify all those odd balls donated to your class.
For beginning knitters, I have a basket on the handwork shelf with several small balls of ‘practise yarn’ and a few sets of knitting needles.
When a child wants to practise knitting, they can ask you, or another child to cast on some stitches for them – about 8 – 12. They can then practise a little and then pull out their stitches and re-roll the ball for someone else to try.
This saves both wastage and frustration for the child as they can focus purely on the mechanism of knitting each stitch rather than worrying about how their work turns out and whether it fits the pattern.
I approach each stitch with reverence, just as you would with handwriting: do one or two stitches, admire the way they have turned out, trace the path of the yarn around the needle, choose your favourite stitch and try to do more just like that one.
As you will be pulling the stitches out, there is no need to worry about those that do not look quite right.
I have found the “Knitting Rhyme” (see lesson below) used by Steiner Schools to be very helpful in teaching children to knit. Even older children seem to delight in it and it helps them remember the steps from one session to the next. There are several other rhymes for other parts of knitting which you may choose to use but I like to encourage children to make up their own.
You will need to find a way to organise knitting to suit your class culture. If you are introducing it for the first time you may well have a craze of initial enthusiasm – my suggestion is to let this frenzy run its course, it will gradually fade out and knitting will become a regular, less intrusive part of your community life.
Once knitting is normalised in the classroom you may need to have some protocols for its management, below are some suggestions:
Keep sets of needles and yarn on the handwork shelf specifically for knitting practise. Once children start their own project, they need to have their own needles. They can either make these or bring them from home.
Children should only have one knitting (or perhaps handwork in general) project on the go at a time.
The best way I have found to store handwork projects is to have ‘Project Bags’. These are simple drawstring bags which children can sew themselves. They can either keep them on their pegs/in cubbies or in a central basket. Project bags help prevent lost needles and make it easier to monitor a ‘one project at a time’ rule.
Class supplies of yarn are for community projects – such as charity knitting - if children want to knit for themselves, they are welcome to do so, but need to supply their own yarn.
It is possible to reverse hands and knit in the opposite direction if you are left handed but this is not advisable. As all patterns, online tutorials and other knitters brains, are set up for right-handed knitting, and as both hands are involved to a similar extent anyway, I recommend that you go with the normal way around when teaching children to knit – regardless of their (or your) dominant hand.
Okay, you have been very patient, on to the actual lesson:
Knitting can be simple, complex or anything in between depending on the skill and ambition of the knitter, but all knitting is simply a combination of the two basic stitches – ‘knit’ and ‘purl’. It is normal to begin with 'Knit' and this will serve the child very well for a good while.
This is how I introduce knit stitch to my students:
Text in Italics = what I say
Standard text = what I do
Today we are going to learn to knit with your needles (if you have already made them) Does anyone already know what knitting is? Yes? – can you describe it to me?
It is a way of taking a single piece of yarn and looping it through itself many times until it becomes not just a single strand anymore, but a whole piece of fabric. It’s going to be pretty exciting to be able to turn this yarn into fabric isn’t it?
Take out your model knitting to show the children.
I have already begun some knitting on my needles, I’m going to do some more to show you but first I’m going to teach you a rhyme that will help you remember what to do. It goes like this:
In through the front door,
Once around the back,
Out through the window,
Off jumps Jack.
Invite the children to say the rhyme with you a couple of times.
Now let’s try saying it again as I knit:
Place right needle through first stitch, make sure children can see that it is going into the loop, not between them.
In through the front door…….
Take the working yarn around behind the right needle and through to the front.
Once around the back……
Use the right needle to pull the loop through:
Out through the window…….
Lift the stitch off the left needle:
Off jumps Jack!
Do you think the rhyme will help you remember what to do?
I’ll do it again and you say the rhyme for me…..
Knit a few more stitches for the children to watch
Discuss what you will do when you run out of stitches (turn the knitting around and go back the other way.)
Knit to the end of the row to demonstrate this.
Invite children to try their own knitting. Cast on ten stitches for each child and assist them to begin knitting. Emphasise that it will take practice to get their stitches even and not to worry what today’s work looks like as they are going to pull it out and try it many times to prepare for a project.
At some stage, tell the children that using knit stitch for every stitch of every row is called Garter Stitch. There are more stitches we can learn another time, but there are plenty of things we can make with garter stitch.
Easy, right? Please try it with your students and let me know how you go in the comments box.
In a future post I'll show you some of the projects children can do with just this one stitch and no pattern.
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