Building Close-Knit Communities:
Handcraft Makes a Comeback
Knitting is a great activity for students with ADHD. It makes a great recess activity, and it meshes with the multiple-intelligences philosophy. And it's catching on in schools around the country! Included: Teachers talk about why knitting works.
"I started teaching crochet to a little girl who was depressed," counselor Nancy DeClark told Education World. "She would not talk, so I gave her a crochet hook and some yarn and taught her the basic single crochet stitch. Eventually, I gained her trust and the relationship was formed."
Other students at North Gresham (Oregon) Grade School saw the young girl crocheting at school and wanted to learn too. DeClark began to teach knitting to the third- through fifth-graders in her office during recess periods, and now the students can choose either knitting or crochet or both. She gives students one-gallon size sealable bags containing hooks or needles with yarn. Many kids carry their bags of knitting and crochet supplies with them around the school -- boys too!
CRAFTING BUILDS CREATIVITY AND CONFIDENCE
"Because there are two recesses in the school day, I have many opportunities to teach the children," DeClark explained. "For students who show potential to use advanced skills, I have an after-school group called Loops and Stitches, which meets one afternoon a week. I teach those students how to make simple items such as scarves, mittens, purses, hats, and slippers, which require reading a knitting or crochet pattern."
DeClark also takes her more advanced knitting and crochet students on a field trip to a fine yarn shop. She feels that exposing the children to different yarns and finished garments provides inspiration not only for their handcraft creations, but for what they can become if they set their minds to it.
"The act of knitting or crochet has a positive influence on the children because they are using their hands to make something," observed DeClark. "They are being creative and productive. They have a finished product, which makes them feel confident in their abilities."
One of DeClark's most accomplished knitting students is a boy who is severely learning disabled and struggles academically. He is a successful knitter, and he feels proud of himself. He has even taught other students to knit.
"My knitting and crochet activity builds school community," DeClark reported. "I like to think that we at North Gresham are teaching the total child; that we aren't limited to academics. My knitting and crochet group helps in that endeavor."
Most surprising about the knitting program is how popular it has become. The children are eager to learn about the craft. When her voluntary program started four years ago, DeClark could not have conceived that it would be so well liked and enjoyed. In that time she estimates that she has taught more than 150 students to knit or crochet. She said, "I think knitting is appealing to kids because they realize it is fun, and they are proud of what they make."
A COMMUNITY IN STITCHES
At Seth Boyden Demonstration School in Maplewood, New Jersey, handcraft has become more than a pastime -- it's a movement! At this K-5 magnet school based on Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, staff members use all kinds of ways to reach students and tap their interests and skills -- including knitting.
"Knitting fits perfectly into the philosophy of the school," offered Judith Symonds, founder of Seth Boyden's program, which is called Knitting Together a Community. "Everyone is so far from handcrafts these days, but our students discover the joys of making things themselves."
Symonds says her school's initiative is unique because it is "democratic" -- the kids teach one another. The program began with the formal training of 85 students and 20 adults. Instruction for students takes place as an optional activity and during recess, and beginners use white yarn to easily distinguish them from the more advanced crafters. Now, the school has more than 250 students knitting during baseball games, while waiting for soccer practice to begin, and at other times when they have moments to spare.
"Knitting works well because it is portable and cheap," Symonds explained. She suggests that it also brings together many parts of the multiple intelligences approach -- mathematical-logical intelligence, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and naturalist.
"When we started out, we discovered that kids who did not succeed in other areas started to do well, and that gave them confidence," said Symonds. "Sharing their knowledge of knitting made them feel successful and improved their attitude toward school and schoolwork."
In the hope of promoting handcrafts in other schools, Symonds and her colleagues are sharing their experiences through "Knitting at Night" classes for teachers and adults. The knitting program at Seth Boyden has received national media attention, and that has brought donations and letters and scraps of yarn to the school, fostering a connection between the generations. Symonds' students are currently planting a garden to use next year to dye their own yarn!