Thursday, July 31, 2014

Guest Blogger, Deborah Burger ~ Part 1:Sharing the Love of Crochet ~ Thoughts on Teaching Crochet to Kids

July 31 , 2014 


As a crochet teacher with 34 years of experience in venues as diverse as park district classes and national crochet/needlework conferences, I feel qualified to say that Deborah Burger brings a vast knowledge of the important and general skills for teaching anything! Her degrees are in English and Theatre, but she spent 10 years teaching in private schools and 22 years homeschooling her own children. Deborah explains, “It's more the experience in teaching, than a formal degree, that has grown the teacher in me. I also think that the wide reading on education that I've done informs my writing. The very best of what's known about how humans actually learn new skills, informs the lessons I write and the projects I design to reinforce the lessons.”

Deb is the author of Crochet 101, a book of crochet instruction for adults, and How to Make 100
Crochet Appliques, an intermediate to experienced level pattern collection. Her newest book,
The Creative Kids' Photo Guide to Crochet, will be released in the spring of 2015. Like the previous
two, it will be available at larger craftstores, in bookstores, and online at amazon.com and bn.com. You can find her in Ravelry and on her website

If you have an urgent need to teach a child to crochet and just can’t wait until Deb’s book arrives
in 2015, check this book that I co-authored with Jackie Young in 2003!


Deborah teaching Rhett; Photo courtesy PeterMontaniti

Crochet is primarily a folk art, passed from mother to daughter, grandparent to grandchild, friend to friend,
sister to sister. Few joys are more fulfilling than that of sharing the love for your craft with another --
watching the "interested outsider" become the confident crocheter. Each time we teach another person how to crochet, we gain a colleague with whom we can enjoy stitching and crafty conversation; and we empower them to express their own creative vision in a tangible and satisfying way.

A popular campaign for spreading crochet love, run by the Craft Yarn Council (CYC), is
called "Each One, Teach Two." The program emphasizes that one does not need to be an expert, nor a
"qualified" or certified teacher, in order to help another person learn the basics. However, we all know that
there is, for many people, a difference between being good at doing something, and being good at
communicating that skill to another.

There ARE some important things to keep in mind when teaching a child or an adult to crochet; and when
kept in mind, these principles will be vastly helpful in avoiding frustration for teacher and student, fostering
the fun and minimizing the struggles. Some of the following principles apply universally to teaching ANYONE anything; but some are specific to the way children or the way adults learn. So, let's examine the two sets of students separately.

Teaching Children



Olivia; photo courtesy Peter Montanti

The following 7 ideas have been developed over many years while I taught well over one hundred children,
ages 6-16, to crochet. The vast majority of them have continued to enjoy crochet long after their scout,
school, camp, or family "lessons."

Don't Start Too Soon
Most children who are interested in handcrafts will have the physical coordination necessary for crochet,
between the ages of 7 and 9. Some children can learn as young as 4 or 5, but usually if they have already
exhibited some talent in eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills such as being able to cut out "on the
lines" with scissors and print or write letters with some accuracy and control. Some children may develop
this kind of skill as late as 10 or 11; so attempting to teach crochet before the nervous and muscular systems are ready is an exercise in frustration. It's better to wait, and give an interested child some simpler handcraftssuch as leather lacing, finger weaving, and braiding to help develop the necessary coordination and to satisfy the itch to be making something with yarn.

Keep it Simple
Once a child who has shown both readiness and interest, it's best to teach one skill at a time, giving plenty of opportunity to practice that one before adding another. Learning to chain is a huge accomplishment for most children, and most of them will want to make lots of chains and use them in a variety of ways, before really
desiring to learn how to stitch into the chain. Enjoying and exploring all the possible ways that chains can be used (bracelets, anklets, lanyards, hair ties, belts, ribbons for presents, leashes for stuffed toys, jump ropes,
etc.), can be very satisfying.

When the CHILD, not the adult teacher, seems on the verge of becoming bored with chains, it's time to add another skill. Keep it Simple by using words with which the child is familiar. Answer the questions that are
asked, but don't offer more and more unnessary information. Usually children want a simple answer, and will ask another question when they feel the need for more information. When you are demonstrating, show one single motion at a time, in s-l-o-w motion. Show it that way several times, and then say the steps aloud as
the child attempts to copy your slow motions. Once the child is comfortable with the correct motions, show
him/her the normal speed for making that stitch which shows the flow and rhythm of crochet.

Many frustrations develop because demonstrations are done at the normal speed, and the child has
too many different things to watch at once (where is your left thumb, what's your right wrist doing, how is
that yarn moving, what's keeping tension on the yarn????) The series of motions that are second nature to the experienced crocheter must EACH be understood, in sequence, by the child who is learning.

Keep it Short
Teaching sessions need to be short, and should NEVER extend past the time the child becomes restless or
looses focus. After all, this is neither a chore nor schoolwork to be accomplished, and needs to stay fun.
Watch for signs of mental or physical fatigue, and end a session before the child feels it to have become
burdensome. For a young child (6-8) 15-30 minutes is plenty, and should be followed with activities that use the large muscles and focus the eyes at a greater distance. Short sessions on a frequent basis are much more effective than occasional marathons. This principle also applies to the size of the first project. While a long neck scarf does give ample room for practice of turning chains and counting the stitches in a row, it also postpones any sense of accomplishment too long for most children. The goal should be to find or create projects that can be completed in 1 to 4 hours of work, spread over a few days or a week. The younger the child, the faster the need for a sense of having completed something.

Use Appropriate Materials
The younger the child, the larger the hook and yarn should be. A 5 to 7 year old child will find it
easiest to manipulate super bulky (#6) yarn and a hook sized between 8 and 11 mm (L-P). Kids
between 8 and 10 will be more comfortable starting with a K or L hook (6.5- 7mm) and bulky (#5)
yarn. Older children, like adults, have the physical coordination to manipulate a J or K (6-6.5mm)
hook with worsted (#4) yarn. The yarn should be smooth in texture-- not too fuzzy, not loopy and certainly
not slick or shiny. Bright colors are engaging to children, and absent allergies, wool is more forgiving to the
hands than acrylic. The yarn, of any fiber, should feel soft, and should be spun tightly enough that it does not split too readily. Child sized scissors with blunt tips, and a very large yarn needle will also help the child to
reach independence as soon as possible.

Don't Over-Correct
While many adults suffer from paralyzing perfectionism, most children do not. They tend to allow themselves permission to be beginners, have no expectation of perfection, and are proud of their accomplishments even
if the accomplishment is not perfect. The very fastest and surest way to make a child hate learning anything,
is to be too picky in correction. Stitches made by immature hands WILL be uneven; there will be skipped
stitches and stitches worked twice or three times. None of these are a real problem, unless the child notices
and asks how to make it better.

While it is important to develop correct habits in starting with a slip knot, the direction of wrapping
the yarn over the hook, and inserting the hook under the wole top of each stitch.... the rest is non-
essential and will come along later, after the basics are well understood and comfortable. I find great success the first projects usisng single crochet worked in rows are felted. The process of felting the item has a
marvellous way of closing up holes where stitches were skipped, evening out too-loose and too-tight stitchesand taking care of hanging threads. (Remember that yarn must contain at least 50% wool in order to felt).

Make Projects Relevant
Do you know any children who love to wash dishes? Those are the only children who ought to make a dish
cloth! Beginning projects ought to be items for which the child has a fun and ready use for in life. After
chained bracelets, simple hats, simple stuffed critters (felt can be glued on for features-- a simple square with yarn legs and arms, and felt features makes a great early project), small bags for treasures, wristlets, and doll or pet blankets (any dishcloth pattern can be used to make a doll blanket) are items that children can use or give to their siblings and/or friends. Doilies, dishcloths, blanket squares..... not so much.

Encourage Creativity
Patterns are lovely tools that help us to make things we want. But many adults are obsessed with "doing it right", and find it difficult to take any sort of artistic risk, to make any changes in a pattern's directions. Part of the exploration of a child's learning process is the constant asking "what if I do it THIS other way?" That questioning and the experimentation that follow it are essential to full understanding. Even if the result is abject failure to replicate the pattern's photo, if the child likes the result, then it's a GREAT PROJECT! A hat that's too big can be turned upside down, have chains attached for handles and become a carry-all bag. The next hat can be made with more attention to gauge and measuring-- and the experience is invaluable! A pattern for a flower with 5 petals can just as easily become a flower with 6 or 7 petals. Children learn best, remember best, and have the most fun learning, when they are encouraged to add their own special touches to whatever they are doing.

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