About a month ago the seven-year-old learnt to knit. It is an activity that is encouraged at his new school, and something the children learn before writing or their times tables. Even before I had the chance to read about the reasoning for this teaching method, I found myself buying yarn and a set of bamboo needles. Initially it was because I wanted to help him and couldn't quite remember how to knit as I hadn't done it since I was his age. Then as he became more adept, I became transfixed watching his new-found dexterity with the needles. It seemed like a fun activity to do together.
After teaching myself from a few online tutorials, I soon became addicted too. Moving through the stitches and rows can create a meditative state. It is a repetitive action that is incredibly calming. And while many experienced knitters can talk and not even look at their stitches while they work, focusing on the task at hand creates the single-minded calmness that I have only experienced before from yoga, swimming laps and meditating.
The school's literature states that the amount of attentiveness required to knit helps to train young children's concentration spans which will help with their problem-solving skills in later years. It is also an activity that focuses on fine motor skills, which can assist in learning to read and write, especially the repetition of moving from left to right.
Counting the number of stitches and rows and devising patterns with various colours for the piece that they are working on can help children to develop mathematical skills in a stimulating yet enjoyable way.
Then there are the conversations that we have had as a result of this new activity. Why wool is better than acrylic. The pluses and minuses of using different types of ply and materials - from twine to cotton. And the cost of wool - as he was going through so much so quickly - and why some products from countries such as China are cheaper - but explaining how the companies who produce such goods get those costs down.
While he learnt French knitting at his previous school, and got a loom weaving kit the previous year, which he went through spurts of using, the act of having knitting as an ongoing class activity has spurred his interest in all sorts of knitting, knotting and weaving again. He sometimes intersperses his knitted pieces with French or finger knitting. This way he has created bunting, which now hangs from his sister's bed, and a bag that he uses to carry his school hat inside. Also, in the past month he has created various bracelets for his sisters and a stock whip, which he enjoyed learning to crack.
His current focus is on using a bale of sisal twine, which has lead to many interesting twists and turns in our talks. We have spoken about how you might create string bags, coasters and light shades using this material. The work of Indigenous artist Regina Wilson also came up. She has created home furnishings for Australian furniture and design company Koskela in the past. He was impressed with her dilly bag design and some of her other weavings.
"We cannot underestimate the self-esteem and joy that arise in the child as the result of having made something practical and beautiful - something which has arisen as the result of a skill that has been learned. In an age when children are too often passive consumers, who, as Oscar Wilde once said, 'know the price of everything and the value of nothing', learning to knit can be a powerful way of bringing meaning into a child's life." - Eugene Schwartz, "Knitting and Intellectual Development" in Waldorf Education: A Family Guide (ed Pamela Johnson Fenner and Karen L Rivers), Michaelmas Press, 1995.
And if you're interested in a few other facts about knitting, here are a list of six unexpected benefits.
images the indigo crew