Embrace a child’s natural love of making things by introducing the art of knitting.
Susan B. Anderson’s Kids’ Knitting Workshop (Artisan Books, 2015), by Susan B. Anderson, is the perfect resource for teaching children how to knit. With engaging instructions and step-by-step illustrations, kids can easily move from basic knitting skills through 17 progressively challenging projects.
In the more than thirty years that I have been a knitter and a knitting instructor, I have taught hundreds of people in person how to knit, and thousands of people through books and videos, including more kids than I can remember. I’ve taught my own four children to knit, as well as their friends, entire classrooms of kids, Girl Scout and Brownie troops, and countless kids’ knitting classes in a local yarn shop. I’ve taught kids to knit individually in private lessons, in small groups of two to four, and in large groups of more than twenty (which is not the best!). As you can imagine, I have learned so much along the way about knitting and what works best for teaching it. Some kids learn best from reading directions in books; others from seeing illustrations or videos; and still others from in-person demonstrations. It really depends on the learner. Using a variety of resources usually works best. What I do know for certain is that everyone can learn to knit!
1. Age ten is the ideal time to learn to knit. Around this age (give or take a year or two), children have developed fine-enough motor skills to learn to knit without getting too frustrated. Also, kids this age often have the perseverance and determination to succeed at a skill like knitting. Of course, there are always exceptions — some kids as young as four years old are able to knit, while others won’t learn successfully until they are much older.
2. Having a knitter at home or easy access to a knitter who can help makes a big difference. When a child learns alone, she is more likely to give up. Having someone at home who is a knitter or someone learning to knit at the same time as the child is ideal. This knitter could be a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, or teacher. If there isn’t another knitter around, the Internet is the next best way to get immediate help. YouTube, Ravelry, and many other knitting websites have lots of helpful information.
3. Knitting in the round is the easiest and most effective way for children (and adults) to learn how to knit. This is because the new knitter can focus on the simple act of knitting a stitch without any other added challenges. Knitting in the round is repetitive and a good way to practice. All of the projects in this book are knit mainly in the round.
4. Cast on the first few projects for the child (if possible). This way, he can focus just on learning the knit stitch to start. Casting on can be learned after he becomes more comfortable manipulating the yarn and needles.
5. Start with a small-size project. A small-size project is achievable in a short amount of time (instant gratification!) and uses very few materials. Starting with a big project like a blanket is not always a good idea, because kids can become overwhelmed or lose interest when they don’t see progress in a relatively short amount of time.
6. The smaller the hands, the smaller the materials need to be. If a child’s yarn and needles are not the correct size, she won’t be comfortable and will get easily frustrated. A medium-weight to bulky-weight yarn and mid-size needles are the perfect place to start. Also, the yarn should be smooth, not super fuzzy or fringed. Highly textured yarns can be fun, but they are more difficult to use and are not ideal for learning.
7. Don’t let frustration get you or the child down. If you feel yourself or the child getting frustrated, set the knitting down for a while and come back to it later when you both are fresh and ready to try again. Remember, all mistakes in knitting are fixable! You can pull out the stitches and reuse the same yarn over and over. Many mistakes can be fixed and cleaned up along the way. And I often leave a little mistake in my knitting and think of it as a charming mark of a handcrafted item. There is no room for perfection in the world of homemade things, and that’s the best part!
One of my favorite teaching experiences was when I had my daughter’s fourth-grade Girl Scout troop of about twelve girls over to our house to learn to knit. I blogged about this experience years ago, and I still get e-mails with questions about how I taught this group how to knit. Let me share this information with you here in case you’d like to use this model for a group of kids interested in learning to knit.
Before the girls arrived, I purchased all the materials they needed so that I could be sure they had the right things to get started. My local yarn shop gave me a discount on materials when they found out I was teaching a Girl Scout troop. (I didn’t ask for this, but it was a nice gesture.) I cast on a Little Hat for each of the girls to learn on ahead of time. I also had lots of cute Little Hats already knit up, so they could see what they were making right before their eyes.
When they arrived, I divided the troop into two smaller groups of five or six to keep the numbers more manageable and so I could give the girls individual attention. Their oohs and aahs and squeals of excitement when they saw the hats they would be knitting were really motivating and fun. The hats I cast on for the girls were in a variety of colors — the brighter and more variegated the yarn was, the more the girls liked it!
In turns, I had each small group gather around me and look over my shoulder while I sat at my kitchen table. I showed them very slowly how to do the knit stitch. They couldn’t wait to get going; they were champing at the bit!
As the girls sat around the kitchen table that first day, I walked around the table and helped each one individually as she knit her first stitch. After the first stitch was completed, I would say to each girl, “You just knit your first stitch!” with excitement. The joyful expressions, laughter, and enthusiasm were tangible. The girls were thrilled. Everyone succeeded that first day, and they left my house bursting with happiness about their newfound knitting skills.
The Girl Scout troop Learn-to-Knit Project was a great success. The girls came back to our house for several follow-up meetings. As the girls became more comfortable, they moved from the kitchen table to the couches and comfy chairs in the living room. At one point, I spread out a blanket on the living-room floor, and the girls all sat together in a circle. They chatted more and more as the weeks went on and their concentration lightened. It was endearing to listen to them talk about school, recess, food, movies, or whatever came into their minds.
It was a good feeling to know I was able to help spark a potential lifelong hobby and craft for some of these young knitters. I know some of the girls will stop knitting, but I hope someday they will pick it up again and remember these gatherings where they learned to knit. Knitting is like riding a bicycle: you always remember how to knit even when you haven’t done it for years.
At the end of the Learn-to-Knit Project, we donated ten hats or so to a local charity that assists children and babies whose families are being helped by emergency workers for one reason or another. It is nice to think that these girls helped make another child feel better under uncertain circumstances. My own daughter has continued to knit hats and piece together knitted and crocheted blanket squares for this same charity. I hope the other girls in the troop continued as well.
Most kids naturally love making things, so knitting often resonates with them in a big way. And it’s certainly a plus that knitted items are practical, usable, and wearable. Knitting has so much to offer children, for so many reasons. Knitting can truly become a way of life, or it can be nothing more than a comforting hobby that is picked up now and again. Kids hold the future of knitting in their needles, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.
Excerpted from Susan B. Anderson’s Kids’ Knitting Workshop by Susan B. Anderson (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lauren Volo. Illustrations by Alison Kolesar.