I have decided that teaching children to knit is, in fact, a very dangerous thing to do with kids. This realization comes many years after having taught my own children to knit, and about 7 months after having taught a group of 30 girl guides the fine art of finger knitting, so you might say I’ve got a little bit of experience with the matter.
Knitting is brilliant. Where else can you take a simple piece of string and turn it into a sock, or a sweater, or one of those pairs of mittens unique to Newfoundland that have not only a thumb but a trigger finger too?
And when you teach a kid to knit, they learn all sorts of great things about how difficult it is to learn a new skill, but how satisfying it is when you finally learn it. And how your brain might know what to do, but your hands might not be willing to get with the program until you’ve done wrong it a few thousand times in a row. And how if you want to make something worthwhile and not just another dish cloth, it’s going to take a while and you’re going to have to be persistent.
Knitting is also a form of meditation and brings with it all the mental health benefits of spending a similar amount of time chanting “om” while sitting in a complicated posture that really is just cross-legged with a twist, yet is practically impossible to achieve if you have knee problems or hip problems or dear-god-I-can’t-get-up-off-the-floor-after-sitting-like-this-for-an-hour problems.
In fact, knitting is so good for kids’ brains that teachers everywhere are starting to embrace it as a good thing to teach kids, alongside reading and math and how to stand up to bullies without getting sent to the office yourself because you punched someone.
You can, in fact, teach very young children to knit. I think my two were 5 and 7 when they first learned how to knit. They started out by making very skinny scarves for their teddy bears knit lengthwise, then skinny scarves knit width-wise, and then B went through a phase of knitting washcloths for Playmobil people. Many, many washcloths. And if you’ve ever seen how small the Playmobil people are, you’ll know exactly how tiny those washcloths were — about 5 stitches wide by 5 rows of garter stitch in worsted-weight yarn, if I remember correctly. They knit up really fast, which I think was the main attraction, especially after she tried her hand at making a scarf for herself and gave up about 30 cm in.
K was much more orderly about the whole process. He knit a skinny red scarf for his teddy bear. Then he knit a skinny red scarf for his teddy polar bear. And one for his teddy lizard. Then he knit a skinny blue scarf for his teddy crow. And then he announced that he was done with knitting, having mastered it so thoroughly as he had.
And that was perfectly okay, because to my way of thinking, he had already figured out all the important bits of knitting; namely, not throwing it across the room in frustration when you realized that the 10 stitches you had cast on to make a skinny teddy-sized scarf had somehow mysteriously multiplied in the night and become 42.
So when I joined the Girl Guides of Canada this year as a Guider to a group of 30 girls, one of the things I had in the back of my head was that I should teach them to knit.
Because I’m clearly out of my mind to think that I could teach 30 girls aged 9 to 12 to knit in the hour and a half we have allocated to us each Thursday.
And then I did it, and amazingly, it all worked out okay.
I decided to simplify things a little and take the knitting needles out of the equation and teach them to finger knit. We had an entire bag of yarn of various fibres and colours stashed in with the craft supplies and I was confident that over the course of sleepover event, they could figure out how to finger knit.
And they did.
Oh good heavens, how they did! They quite happily made themselves a bracelet or two before we moved on to the next activity. By the end of the sleepover, some of the girls sported bracelets from wrist to armpit on each arm, along with a knitted belt or two and a half a dozen headbands (all worn simultaneously, of course) and the yarn stash had gone from 7 oversized balls of yarn and a few dozen odd leftover bits to hardly anything at all.
When they learned the Christmas party was to be held at our house, they instantly sniffed out the fact that, since all the craft supplies were being stored in my basement, there must surely be yarn.
There was yarn, of course, since I had only brought twice what I thought we would use to the sleepover (I’m a firm believer in backup plans and extra quantities), and so there was knitting.
Periodically as the Guiding year wore on, a girl would show up for a meeting with a new finger-knit bracelet and would proudly show it off.
But the most amazing thing was that originally at that sleepover, I had only taught a very few girls to finger knit. Five or six in all, as the others had chosen to try their hand at other things. But as those five or six had their first successes and started showing off their completed bracelets, others suddenly wanted to learn how.
I told them to ask their friends, and before you could blink, the finger-knitters were teaching the non-finger-knitters how to knit with their fingers.
It’s quite easy, you see, once you get the hang of it. And once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s hugely empowering to teach it to someone new.
At the Christmas party, girls who had not been at the sleepover were being taught by girls who had, who had were enjoying their leadership role immensely. And before the party was over, I don’t think there was a girl in the unit who hadn’t learned to finger knit.
Here at home, I kept finding bracelets and headbands scattered around like raindrops as B dove into finger knitting with a passion. Well into February, I would find little scraps of this yarn or that and I would smile every time I saw them. But eventually, passion faded and I stopped finding little bracelets here and there, and I chalked it up to a project mastered and left behind, as many such projects are.
Until last week.
Last week, I found this lying on the family room floor:
When I unwound it, I discovered it was finger knitting made of a lovely, thick braided yarn that wanders gradually from orange to rust to almost brown. Curious, I straightened it out to measure it.
It was over 5 metres long. It measured 17 feet, to be precise, and is almost 2 inches in diameter thanks to the thick and luscious yarn she used (which I had earmarked for a thick and cozy scarf, but somehow found its way out of my yarn stash and into hers).
So I asked B what, precisely, she intended to do with 17 feet of finger knitting.
B: “Seventeen? Seventeen?!!”
B: “That’s SO COOL!”
Me: So what are you going to do with it?
B: Shrug. “Nothing.”
I think I blinked a few times at that. Nothing? She had no plans at all? I couldn’t help but ask her why she had made it, and she gave me the most amazing answer of all:
“Because I wanted to see if I could,” she said. And then she immediately asked if I had any other thick and bulky yarn in my stash that she could have.
So this weekend, we’re taking the Guides camping in tents, and I’m planning on teaching them to weave a small patch of fabric between the branches of a forked stick. I bought yarn in glorious multicoloured skeins for the project, 6 large skeins of it, though weaving doesn’t take all that much yarn, and we’re making small little projects, but I do like having extra just in case.
I rather do suspect I’ve bought too much yarn, if such a thing is possible.
Or at least I did.
One of my co-Guiders came over the other night and saw the yarn, and after admiring the colours and agreeing they would be perfect for weaving, she said:
“And finger knitting, because you know the girls are going to want to finger knit.”
And just that fast, I knew I was in trouble. Big, BIG trouble.
In part because I don’t think I’m bringing nearly enough yarn at all. But mostly because now I’m thinking it would be cool if I brought the unit’s supply of knitting needles and taught the girls garter stitch, proving for once and for all that I have lost my marbles.
And that, my friends, is why teaching kids to knit is a dangerous thing indeed. For once you’ve seen them succeed at knitting, you begin to realize how amazing they are, how well they rise to the challenge, and how generous they are in sharing their knowledge and wisdom and experience with others. In short, you begin to think that with this new generation of kids, anything and everything is possible.