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Teaching Kids to Crochet and Knit: Why Waldorf Schools Incorporate Crafting into their Curriculum

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Teaching Kids to Crochet and Knit: Why Waldorf Schools Incorporate Crafting into their Curriculum

Blogger and author Kathryn Vercillo is an expert in the area of using crafting to heal, having researched the topic extensively for her book Crochet Saved My Life. In this post she shares how the Waldorf schools incorporate knitting and crochet into their curriculum, benefiting children in a variety of ways. Read Kathryn’s previous blog posts on the Lion Brand Notebook here.

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I have to confess that I was a little intimidated when I first walked into the 3rd Grade Handwork Class at Sebastopol Charter School in California. The children seemed so magical and creative as they prepared to work on their crochet projects. Before they began, they sang a song, led by teacher Kristen McLaughlin, about the cotton plant that grows to become the yarn they work with.

Today, in fact, the kids were working with wool. Kristen, who’s been teaching at the school since 1997, used to have the kids work with double-worsted cotton yarn but has recently switched to wool. The kids don’t seem to mind as their hands wield the hooks to create the shapes that will become water bottle cozies, hats and granny squares. With half of the school year behind them, these kids are well-versed in the basics of crochet.

By third grade, the students have a couple of years of handwork under their belts — a critical component of the Waldorf curriculum. They begin with knitting in first and second grades, starting with finger knitting, and then knitting with two needles. In third grade, the handwork is crochet. In fourth grade they return to knitting, learning to knit on four needles. In later grades, they add cross-stitch and sewing to their handwork skills set.

The beautiful thing about teaching handwork, as part of the Waldorf program, is that it’s integrated into the curriculum. Unlike many other public schools, where “arts and crafts” are treated as a separate component (largely disconnected from the rest of the curriculum), Waldorf schools tie crafting in with everything else the kids are learning. For example, Kristen’s eighth graders are learning about the Industrial Revolution at the same time as they’re learning how to use a sewing machine.

When children are younger, learning to knit helps them master a fine motor skill known as “crossing the midline”. This is an important developmental skill that connects the right and left brains and it’s required for overall coordination and everyday tasks such as writing, putting on socks or hitting a ball with a bat. Knitting, a craft done with both hands, helps children develop this ability. By third grade the children switch to crochet, a craft that complements what they’re learning in math and reading. In Kristen’s class, the children read from printed crochet patterns, which she has re-written to include the full, long-form instructions instead of abbreviations (for example, “single crochet” instead of “sc”).

Something else happens to children in the third grade that lends itself well to the craft of crochet. Around the age of nine, children begin to experience themselves as separate from the world in a new way, a stage often referred to as “The Nine Year Change”. A child at this age may question authority, withdraw from sharing his or her own inner world, or may react with a more intense interest in the world around him. Crochet helps at this age because it gives the child a safe, structured craft with rules and guidelines, but it also gives the child a lot of choice for self-expression of their new emerging identity.

I saw these choices being made in the third grade classroom that I visited. One child was adapting his water bottle cozy design to fit his smaller-than-average stout water bottle, another was carefully selecting yarn colors from the basket at the front of the room, and yet another was asking how to add ear flaps to a hat in progress.

There are additional benefits to practicing crochet and knitting that are not age-specific. For example, a child who may not be succeeding in other areas of the curriculum may experience a boost to their self-esteem through mastering knitting. Crafting can also be a positive distraction for a child who’s going through tough times; it’s something that they can do both in and outside of the classroom to stay positive through rough patches. An observant teacher may even understand what’s going on with the child through their handwork.

Kristen, who studied child psychology at Sarah Lawrence, shared the following: “I have had several children through the years who are having to deal with difficult life situations like divorce that come to me and tell me they are so grateful for handwork. Both male and female children have felt it was an escape from what they were dealing with at home. It gave them something else to focus on instead of the pain they were going through. I can often tell by the way a child is knitting or crocheting if they are going through a difficult time. A child who normally has an average gauge might suddenly start knitting or crocheting more tightly. This is a clue to me to spend a little extra time talking with that child and try to figure out what might be happening in their life to cause them stress. This sometimes means I can alert a parent, have a talk with the child myself depending on the issue or just know that they are dealing with something and pay extra attention to them. Over time I usually will see their knitting revert back to its usual gauge once the issue is resolved or they are feeling more comfortable in a new situation.”

Have you seen a child benefit from Waldorf’s handwork curriculum? We’d love for you to share your story in the comments below!

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  • Mic

    We home educate and as a family have had to deal with some traumatic events over the last 8 months. Crochet and craft has been a balm for myself and really helped my 9yo daughter too, and my younger daughters. We don’t use the Waldorf curriculum, but some of the ideology I think and we do a lot of other handicrafts, knitting, sewing, etc as part of our home school. For instance Crochet is great maths, and tied in with the times tables! I feel so blessed that we can incorporate our handicrafts into our every day curriculum.

    Thank you, I found the article interesting and learnt some things I hadn’t heard before. 🙂

  • Kirsten

    Both of my children are Waldorf educated. I would add to the article above that learning a craft also helps the children problem solve and learn how to be on their own without need for constant entertainment. As a result of them feeling capable in crafting, my children have taken on making their own (sometimes very elaborate) Halloween costumes from an early age, they have sewn (usually by hand) clothes for themselves, made pictures out of felt scraps and have gotten into designing and making jewellry, not to mention their capabilities with measuring and calculating what they need to make things fit!

    • cengiz

      cen i get more information about waldor school im a teacher
      cengiztekerci@cengiztekerci.com

    • Inma

      It is Very true Kristen that these activities are great ways for “Natural Entertainment”- Great wait to spend your time when you need to wait. Great ways to keep the children away from too much TV or Video Games (if they like it of course)!…

  • Lita

    Our children attended And graduated from Waldorf Schools and now our Grandchildren have graduated and/or are attending. The learning of handicrafts was and is just a part of the amazing learning experience. nothing to me is more fun than crocheting little projects with my Grandsons these days!

  • Brian

    My 10-year old son just began at the Rudolf Steiner School in NYC. He had never expressed interest in knitting and handwork. He had some difficulty picking up on some of the finer motor skills for the first 2-3 months, but now he absolutely loves this class and his teachers. As a parent, I have seen him become more connected to so many aspects of learning, such as handwriting, painting, eurythmy and sports. I very much see the correlation of this learning, and he is even more graceful and agile now when he plays sports. I highly recommend having children engage in these activities. They are so interconnected and the sooner parents recognize this, the happier they will be with the development of their children.

  • Christine Sleight

    My Waldorf-educated daughter decided, on her own in fifth grade, to crochet a cover for her recorder. She was thrilled with the results. Her classmates asked her to make more for their recorders. She has left the craft, and come back to it, multiple times since then. Her fine motor skills increased dramatically when she began handwork.

  • Carolyn Evans

    My ten-year old son LOVES handwork – it is his favorite class. Both of my boys are Waldorf kids, but my youngest is the one who has really gravitated toward this craft. He always has a crochet hook in his hands, and is often crocheting while having a conversation with someone and looking at them straight in the eye. He started this little crocheting enterprise to help support his passion!
    https://www.facebook.com/OogleMonsters

  • Biagi Gloria Maria

    SIAMO IN ITALIA, PERCHè NON SI SCRIVE IN ITALIANO??? O ALMENO NON SI TRADUCE? NON è DETTO CHE TUTTI PARLINO O CAPISCANO L’INGLESE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Cari Norris

    I teach handwork in Louisville, Kentucky at a Waldorf-inspired public elementary school. This is the first year for our program and the kids in my inner-city school have responded so positively to handwork! They simply love working with yarn and with their hands. So far, the children have learned to roll balls of yarn, fingerknit and fingerweave. Second and third graders are now weaving on hand looms. And fourth and fifth graders have sanded their own knitting needles and are learning to knit. Our kids, many of whom come from backgrounds of poverty, love handwork! I am convinced that it is indeed a balm for their souls as well as for their fine motor and brain development.

  • Me

    Am I the only one who would like to know what this knitting song is?!

    • Shell Kennedy

      ~ Hi, there are many knitting /Handwork verses for different types of work. If you search with “pinterest Waldorf knitting /Handwork”, you may find some mixed in with the projects shown. Also, themysticalkindgom.blogspot.com has several rhymes/stories. (no, its not my blog.) Search for “Waldorf knitting verses, rhymes or songs” and you should find many. Finger knitting has different types than learning to knit rhymes. Verses are a lovely way to teach, bringing story to the Handwork. ~

      • Inma

        Thank you for the links!!!

    • Inma

      I would love to learn the song myself too since I am planning on teaching children Crochet in a school setting!!!!

  • Andromeda42

    My 11yo son has just finished his first year in a Waldorf inspired charter here in CA. He quickly surpassed his 5th grade peers in knitting even though he just learned how and they have been doing it since 1st! He loves it. In fact, I sent him back to clean his room just now and caught him knitting instead. Lol! His handwriting (which is pretty bad) has drastically improved thanks to the development of fine motor skills this year. My younger son, while not yet knitting, regularly raids my fabric stash to sew little projects for his “little one” (a small fabric doll unique for him that came from kindergarten). I cannot stress enough how amazing handwork (and waldorf in general) has been for my kids. My 11yo has been in 3 public mainstream schools and I’ve home schooled him but nothing has helped him succeed as much as his current school.

  • Inma

    Excellent article!! I also have a background in Psychology and I have experienced the physical and emotional benefits of Crochet firsthand in my own Life! I am a 100% believer that Crochet, Knitting and other Arts and Crafts activities have a positive effect in the lives of the person who does these kind of activities. I will love to see more schools implementing these activities as an extra skill for children to use as a way to release stress of daily school/ family life or as an Art expression if they would like to pursue it in their future lives. I am a resident of Miami, FL and I am committed to teach others the “Healing Benefits” of Crochet. Currently, I am offering classes and searching for ways and places open to provide the public the opportunity to try Crochet as a Technique for Stress Reduction and Relaxation. I am open to suggestions from community institutions or individuals. My email ctdadesign@gmail.com. My website: https://inmastudio.wixsite.com/crochettherapy
    Many Blessings!!

  • Inma

    Thank you hennymac for your comment!! It helps me in the sense that I do not much about Waldorf schools, but definitely I am starting my search right now, specially that I am looking for schools and places here in Miami to offer Crochet as a Technique for Relaxation and stress reduction. I think Miami has very limited schools that are currently offering these types of curriculum? But who knows, we could start from some point….

  • Nice, straightforward insights on the value of handwork in the Waldorf curriculum. Thank you. I have been a handwork teacher for 7 years at a private Waldorf school in CA. My first year was taking a class of 3rd graders and teaching them to crochet. The following year I taught grades 1-5, but in our school (and many) we teach cross-stitch in 4th and 4-needle knitting in 5th. What I love is the pleasure the students get out of handwork – the feeling of the fibers, the ability to create a fabric from yarn, the accomplishment of reading patterns, choosing their own colors and designs, and even the social aspects. Unlike many other subject classes, the students can enjoy the company of their friends as their hands work magic. Doll-making with 7th graders is also exciting, and whether they crochet a cap or hair, or knit a tiny scarf, the skills from the former years often culminate in their handmade dolls and clothing.