Lisa’s List: Tips for Teaching Kids to Knit
I was a dirt-smudged, wild, and imaginative 8-year-old when my mom taught me to knit. I was rather quiet, then—things have changed!—and I had an intense focus when it came to Projects. I liked to draw. I liked to build forts in the woods. I read the DICTIONARY like it was a normal book. And once mom put needles in my curious hands, I liked to knit.
I don’t remember learning to knit. It feels like I’ve always been knitting, now. But she must have spent so much time with me, patiently guiding, helping, and letting me mess up. By 13, I was making sweaters for myself. That period between 8 and 13 is a hormonal blur to me, but in there, my mom helped me become a lifelong knitter (and a pretty good one, at that).
The first time I taught a kid to knit, I was surprised by how much patience flowed through me. How gentle and generous and HAPPY I felt showing that little girl how to make stitches. And when she threw it down with complete disregard after about 10 minutes, mushing it into the couch cushions as she clamored onto the next activity, I didn’t feel concerned. If she wanted to come back to it, she would.
Knitting has benefits for children—it teaches fine motor skills, helps with counting and basic math, teaches focus and coping with frustration. It also lets kids feel a sense of accomplishment and lets them express themselves creatively. And for some, knitting becomes a lifelong pursuit! And maybe segues into a career of editing knitting magazines and writing knitting blogs! Look mom, whodathunk??
Teaching kids to knit is mostly about persistence and support. I reached out to several women who regularly teach groups of children to knit, and I’ve compiled a list of their top tips, insights, and sweet stories. Whether you’re looking to teach one special child in your life, or to regularly volunteer with schools or organizations, these tips will help you prepare for teaching kids to knit.
Top Tips for Teaching Kids to Knit
1. The age of the child matters.
According to my panel of experts, 8 is really the youngest a child should be to take up knitting for the first time. You can teach 6 and 7-year olds, and certainly kids vary in their abilities at these ages, but 8 is pretty solid for a number of reasons: They’ve mastered reading by this age, so they can follow instructions on their own. They have better hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. And, sometimes, they have more patience and focus! For younger youngins, children’s author Joanna Johnson recommends finger knitting.
Designer Elizabeth Elliott really enjoys teaching kids in the 10-12 year-old range. She says, “They’re old enough to have some patience with themselves and with the learning process, and young enough that they’re more flexible about what might be cool. You can see their excitement grow as they figure out what’s behind all the motions they’re learning, and as they start thinking about the possibilities of knitting. It’s an amazing thing to watch.”
2. Teaching kids in a group is actually beneficial!
Teaching anyone to knit in a one-on-one setting is always a good idea, but you might be surprised to hear that teachers do recommend teaching kids in groups. Up to six kids is a good size, according to Jackie Ottino Graf of Forage Color www.foragecolor.com . Why a group? Well, Jackie explains: “Once a few kids have the hang of it, they can teach their friends. After a while, I had kind of an expert crew who could get anyone started with cast-ons.” Joanna Johnson agrees, adding “My favorite part is when I get to start assigning kids to be my ‘deputy.’ Usually one or two kids pick it up right away, and then I deputize them to teach the ones who are struggling a little, allowing me to focus on the ones who are still visibly frustrated. It works well!” The older the kids, the larger the group can be, another teacher points out—up to eight kids if they’re around age 12, says Nancy Shroyer of Nancy’s Knit Knacks (and my mom!). There is also camaraderie, group excitement, and the aspect of showing off to each other that makes learning in a group fun for kids. Not to mention, they’re still in school—they’re used to learning with others.
3. Needle size and type matters.
Of the teachers I queried, it’s pretty universally accepted that U.S. size 8 (or close to that) short, straight, bamboo or wooden needles are best. Elizabeth Elliott points out that metal are better for kids who tend to knit really tightly, which is often the case for beginner adults, I’ve noticed. Worsted, bulky weight yarn that is smooth but has some stickiness, like a wool/acrylic blend, is best. One teacher likes to use singles yarns, since splitting the plies can be a problem for newbies.
Circulars and long straights can work, of course, but they can be awkward for small hands and new knitters alike.
4. Knitting knows no gender.
Give all genders opportunity to learn the craft without projecting any stereotypes onto them. Joni Coniglio, senior project editor for Interweave Knits, taught elementary-school kids to knit for years, and found that the boys were just as eager as the girls. When a visiting newspaper reporter asked one of the boy knitters, “Wouldn’t you rather be doing something else?” He replied, “No way! I’d rather do this than play Nintendo!” And THAT quote made it into the paper.
5. Teach the parent, and the kid will have knitting help at home.
I know I’m the knitter I am today because I had my mom nearby whenever I needed help. If you’re teaching someone else’s child to knit, try to get the parent to sit it on a couple lessons, so they can help in those times between sessions. Elizabeth Elliott says, “In our program, the kids who’ve done the best have had encouragement from their parents, and ideally someone at home or nearby who can help them when they run into difficulty.”
6. It’s all about positive reinforcement.
All of the teachers I talked to recommended patience, praise, encouragement, and cultivating a relaxed attitude about learning to knit. It’s not about getting it right or making something useful at this stage; it’s about finding comfort with the tools and the movements. And when a child shows particular interest and aptitude, do what you can to help them further their craft. My mom relays a good example: “I was a judge at the NC State Fair for about 8 years. One of my jobs was judging the children. I made sure we gave prizes to every entry and wrote an encouraging note. A few times there were exceptional entries and when we attached the ribbons, I would attach my business card with a note to contact me if they ever needed any knitting/crochet help. Over the years there were a few girls who did contact me. They are now young adults and we still stay in touch and they are still knitting. Sometimes all kids need is encouragement.”
7. Make it fun and use mnemonic tools!
Jackie Ottino Graf recommends a good knitting rhyme:
“In through the front door,
Go around back.
Peek through the window,
Off jumps Jack.”
8. There’s no such thing as a lost cause.
From these teachers, I heard a few stories of kids who seemed like lost (knitting) causes, but ended up practicing at home and coming back to a later lesson with more skill and more patience. And even for kids who don’t take to it, or only have an opportunity to be taught once, there’s a chance that you planted a seed for them. Nancy Shroyer, prolific teacher of adult knitters, reports: “Often the easiest people to teach as adults are the ones that learned as a kid, but hadn’t kept it up until something sparked their interest again.”
9. A child can teach you something, too.
One of my favorite stories from these teacher interviews comes from Jackie Ottino Graf: “I had one girl who came and wanted to knit. I had shown her the basics, but I had a soft rule that you had to come a few days before you could take home needles and yarn—only really because of dwindling resources. So she disappointedly left her knitting at school and came in the next day with 6 inches of knitting, on pencils. I felt so proud and happy and like a jerk all at the same time.”
It’s an honor to share the joy of knitting with another person, and sharing it with kids is a special kind of honor.
Thank you so much to the folks who helped me with this list! All of these teachers have been involved with teaching kids to knit in some way through elementary schools and/or homeschooling programs, as well as some yarn shops. If you are interested in volunteering in this way and you have kids in school, an easy way to jump in is to ask your children’s teachers. Elizabeth Elliott teaches through a formal after-school program at her public library, while Jackie Ottino Graf makes herself available every day at recess at her daughter’s school, where her knitting lessons have become a fixture for the kids, especially during the harsh Maine winters when they don’t want to play outside!
You can also check with your local Boys and Girls Club to see if they’d consider knitting lessons as part of their programming, and if you are active in a church community, you might find opportunities for organized lessons there, as well.
Have you ever taught a child to knit? Do you have more tips or touching stories? Please share them with us in the comments.
Forever grateful to my teacher,
Help a Kid Out!