Spinning yarn, knitting, crocheting, embroidering, weaving and sewing by hand or with a sewing machine are all fibre arts (or fiber arts as the Americans spell it) that children can do from a young age. After reading this you’ll know why and when you should introduce your children to fibre arts. You’ll also have a good idea of how to make them fall in love with the world of fibre.
Why Should You Teach Fibre Arts to Children?
Fibre arts are great options for homeschooling that feels nothing like ‘school’. I’m all about turning everything we do into teachable moments, no matter if we’re making butter, turning old candles into new or doing fibre arts. Knitting promotes peace of mind according to various studies1. That’s far from all the benefits you can glean from knitting and the other fibre arts though.
Here are just some of the reasons for teaching fibre arts to children.
Improves fine motor skills, especially hand-eye coordination.
Encourages sensory integration.
Teaches both simple and complex mathematics.
Creates resiliency of habit.
Helps creativity bloom in the child.
The Waldorf Approach
I think there’s a lot of good to be learned from the Waldorf approach to fibre arts in education. While I have some fundamental differences from the views expressed by Rudolf Steiner, I’ve been raised with principles that were modified from Steiner.
For Steiner, the way through education is play – beauty – work.
Pretending is the first step to learning as a child and often for adults as well.
Beauty is a key factor in the pleasure I get from things. Give me a beautiful tool and I’ll enjoy doing the work much more than with an equally functional ugly tool.
Work is was comes after play and beauty. At this point, it has clicked. We know what we have to do and we are able to do it. Fibre arts are a great step towards work. Combing, from my point of view, both play and beauty.
At What Age Should You Begin Teaching a Child Fibre Arts?
I can’t remember learning how to knit. I’ve just always known how. Well, not really, but I learned it long before my first memory of knitting. One day, my mum came to pick me up from my grandparents and there I was on the floor knitting with needles almost as big as me.
Some people think you should begin teaching a child fibre arts based on their hand-eye coordination. Others refer to the child’s attention span. While there is value in both of these approaches, I think there’s only one golden rule for when to teach your child a fibre art and that is:
When they are interested!
If a child shows interest in a craft you are doing include them at the level they are ready for. My son has been playing with yarn since he was a few months old. Closely supervised, you don’t have to get your panties all in a bunch. Around age one, he asked for his own yarn and needles and got them. Again, he was only allowed to use them when closely supervised. He also has is own sewing project, that he tends to get out when I’m working on projects from the mending basket.
If you let them be involved from the moment they show interest, you have the best chance of having them fall in love with the fibre arts. Otherwise, you risk missing the window of opportunity. I don’t believe we should force our children to learn fibre arts. They might pick up the skills but most will pick up hatred of the crafts as well. Let their interest guide them.
What Materials Should You Use?
Can I share another pet peeve with you? Well, I’m going to. Please don’t give your child BIG materials. I’m not sure if this is a thing outside knitting and crochet. It’s definitely a thing in knitting and crochet. BIG yarn, BIG needles. They are difficult even for me to manage as an adult. It’s not easier for a child.
The logic behind it is okay. Give them something big which they can hold on to. Sadly, so often it’s taken way too far. I’ve worked at a yarn store and it was sad. Instead of something they can hold on to, children receive needles so large they can hardly close their hands around them.
I don’t think you need to give a child a 2.0mm needle but you can! My son is currently ‘play’ knitting with a 3.0mm needle. It looks like mine and he is perfectly capable of using them. He makes loops and places them on the needles and ‘knits’ them. For now, it’s fun and games but he is practising his hand-eye coordination and I see it clicking in his head.
If your children are slightly older when you want to introduce them to knitting, you can start them out finger knitting or with a knitting dolly. If they want to knit on needles, you can start them off with simple dishcloths. (If you join our mailing list, you’ll get 25% off all patterns in the Busy Hands Quiet Hearts store as well as access to the growing library of free resources.)
For other crafts, I suggest going smaller rather than bigger as well. Get them a loom they can weave scarfs or teddy bear blankets on. If they get really productive they can sew them together for lab blankets or for their bed. You can also buy smaller sized spinning wheels for children.
Choose the best
When choosing fibre for your children, choose the best you can afford. That’s another way to help them fall in love with the fibre arts. My son’s first yarn was a cashmere blend so soft the angles could have spun it. It was a leftover from a project I had once made. Just like when it comes to toys, I believe in fewer items of better quality. I’ve yet to buy my son any yarn but he is working with the best of the best.
Give Them Real projects
This is a pet peeve of mine! Have you ever been wondering in school, what in the world am I learning this for? Or at a job when you are doing a task you really don’t think is purposeful? I sure have and it stinks. It stunk as a child and it stinks as an adult.
That’s why I insist you give a child a real project. Don’t have them do a random square, have them make a teddy bear blanket. Even better, let them make useful things for around the home or for gifts right away. Children love that, okay scratch that, we all love that!
Of course, you don’t start them off with a queen size quilt, but have them make the centre of the one you’re making or another teddy bear blanket. You can’t have too many (teddy bear) blankets. Or use a pot holder loom (affiliate link) to make potholders out of old t-shirts or yarn.
If you have the opportunity, it’s also great fun not to mention educational to take your children through an entire process. From sheep to the finished cloth or if you live in the right climate you can grow cotton from seed, spin it and take it all the way to finished cloth. You can include dying the fibre as part of the project or dive into natural dying as a separate project.
Teaching with Rhymes
Some people like to teach aspects of crafts with rhymes. It never really worked on me but I know it has worked wonders for others. Knitting is my speciality, so I’ll only share rhymes for learning how to knit the knit stitch.
There are two that I know off:
Knitting Rhyme #1
In through the front door,
Run around the back,
Down through the window
And off jumps Jack!
Knitting Rhyme #2
Through the fence,
Catch the sheep,
Bring him back,
And over he leaps!
If you know of any rhymes for other crafts or more knitting rhymes, please leave them in the comments!
- Riley J, Corkhill B, Morris C. The benefits of knitting for personal and social wellbeing in adulthood: findings from an international survey. Br J Occupational Ther. 2013;76(2):50-57 and other studies cited in this NY Times article: The Health Benefits of Knitting.