Hellos all around! First, let me introduce myself. I’m Kathy Mancall, and I own a rock ‘n roll yarn store in San Francisco called Princess Animal. The fine folks at Craftsy have invited me to do a guest blog about my favorite craft, knitting.
Something I’ve been doing a lot of at the store lately—much to my surprise—is teaching kids to knit. In fact, it’s become the biggest group of folks I’ve been teaching lately. I think kids naturally are attracted to the bright yarns, the fun needles, and that they can make something with their own little hands. And their parents are attracted to the fact that they’re interested in something productive, quiet, and relatively un-messy. But it also teaches focus, creativity, and provides calm in this crazy candy-colored pulsating world we live in. And then maybe one day your little student will grow up to become a fabulously wealthy and famous knitwear designer like Coco Chanel or Sonia Rykiel.
Teaching kids was a pretty terrifying prospect for me. Sure, I know kids. Some of my best friends are kids. But I myself don’t have kids. Often I look at their wee heads and think “What are they building in there?” or worse “Are they smarter than me? My God, they are! They’re smarter than me!” So, yeah, pretty intimidating.
I’ve taught kids as young as 5, though I’d say the ideal age is probably 7 or 8.
Here’s my set-up:
- Yarn: I have the kids choose a superwash worsted weight or sport yarn in a bright or light color they like, non-variegated so they can see their stitches. It seems no matter how much of a feminist you are or want your kid to be, the girls will go straight to pink or purple. Which is actually great, because it’s bright, and makes them happy. I haven’t had the pleasure of teaching a little boy yet, so I don’t know what they’d go for. I hope they’re also part of the purple brigade.
- Needles: I have kids use bamboo needles sized 6-8. As an experienced knitter, I find working with larger needles really awkward, and if I had small kid-size mitts, they’d be even more awkward. Some manufacturers like Addi make kid-specific needles, which are shorter and help them easily tell right from left. Plus, they have little hearts as toppers, and that’s cute.
- A Quiet Bubble of Space: I teach in a quiet room that offers few distractions.
- Drinks ‘n snax: One must keep close at hand a nice big glass of lemonade, or perhaps some hot chocolate. This serves as both a celebration but more importantly, as a zen-like rest from shoving lots of new skills and information in a short period of time.
One thing to know is that kids learn at dramatically different levels, no matter what age they are. Some will soak it up like sponges, and will soon surpass you. This is amazing to watch. Kind of like a David Attenborough-hosted nature show about how quickly species adapt to new conditions.
Others will take a bit more time to get hooked. Sometimes there’s an ADD thing going on, or they’re just not ready yet. A good test of this is how well they take to doing a slip-knot. There are two things to do here. First, you can cast on for them and just teach them the knit stitch, leaving the hard part for later. Or, if the kid is getting visibly frustrated, it may be a good thing to suggest that maybe they’d prefer to learn crochet or even wait for a bit (usually 6 months to a year) before taking up the needles again. They just might not be ready. And let them know that’s totally okay.
Currently, I have one student who is falling into the first super-absorbent camp. After two lessons, she’s practically ready to start an aran/lace sweater. She’s 9. She’s also got some ADD issues, but knitting helps calm her and focus her thoughts—and the lemonade helps too.
I have another student who’s falling into the other camp. She’s 7. She’s having trouble with the slip knot and after two lessons, almost has the knit stitch down, but not quite. I actually want to suggest that she wait for a year, except for the fact that her mother was in the Israeli army and I fear will kick my ass if I don’t teach this kid right quick. And so we perservere.
To Cast On or Not Cast On?
Depending on how well the kid takes to the slip knot, you can immediately teach them the long tail cast on. I tell them this is the hardest thing they’re going to learn that day, maybe in knitting as a whole. Do the hand motion of a gun (Yup, I know, guns + kids = not cool, but perhaps it can be a ray gun or a gun that spews marshmallows and flowers. I’m open to suggestions here). After a bit of demonstration, most kids pick this up amazingly quickly, and really like it. In fact, they like it so they could keep doing that forever and be happy with that alone. I’d like to employ those children to cast on large projects for me. Celebrate with lemonade!
For kids that aren’t picking this up easily, cast on for them, and go straight to the knit stitch. Leave teaching the cast on for the second lesson. Wash that frustration away with lemonade!
The Knit Stitch Deconstructed
When teaching the knit stitch, sloooooowww down. It may come naturally to you, but not to someone that’s new. This little rhyme, cribbed from the Waldorf School, helps a LOT:
In through the front door,
Around the back,
Out through the window,
And off jumps jack.
You’ll find yourself incredibly excited as your new student starts to learn. Don’t hold it in! Share your enthusiasm and show how proud you are at every step.
Often you’ll be able to teach purling in this first lesson too. The purl rhymes don’t seem to be that great, often revolving around wrangling lifestock:
Under the fence,
Catch the sheep,
Back we come,
Off we leap!
Luckily, by the time your little friend is onto the purl stitch, it’s easily understood that you’re doing the exact reverse of the knit stitch.
From there, you can teach ribbing, and possibly casting off (I use the word “leapfrogging” a lot for that, and it makes sense).
For homework, make sure you cast on a number of stitches for a garter-stitch washcloth, or if your young charge is feeling confident, a ribbed scarf.
Overall, be patient. Be encouraging. Take lots of breaks. Let your student guide you about when they’re ready to take the next step. And celebrate. A small knit stitch is a big victory!
You done good, kid.
Looking for a beginner's knitting class at Craftsy to brush up on the basics before teaching others? Try Knit Lab: Projects, Patterns & Techniques, taught by our very own Stefanie Japel!