“Thinking is Cosmic Knitting:” How Making Mittens Helps Kids Learn

My son Leo knits a mitten. He's wearing the hat he crocheted in 3rd grade and one of his hand-made scarves. Image: Alexandra Siy

“Thinking is cosmic knitting.”

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, knew what he was talking about. Consider Leo, my youngest son, a little boy who couldn’t sit still. The kindergarten teacher said he needed tutoring and remedial work. (He couldn’t read!) The next year Leo went to a Waldorf first grade. He loved handwork–we still have  yards and yards of his finger crocheted snakes, ropes, and rugs. In third grade Leo crocheted a cotton cap of many colors, in fourth grade he knitted  long wooly scarves,  and this year in grade five he is knitting a pair of mittens on four double pointed needles (camo colors, of course). Leo did learn how to read–when he was nine. (He is 11 now and is an excellent and voracious reader.)

Leo's mitten in progress.

“A bright yellow thread cries out to be made into a golden chain,” said Steiner. “The child responds and the activity of the limbs works with the feelings and stimulates the processes of the head. It should become a harmonious, rhythmical activity. The child must begin to be conscious. He counts his stitches; he must know when one is missing. There is a right way to hold the needles, a right time to put the thread over the needle. Such things slowly bring the child out of his unconscious world.”

Young children love to finger crochet. Around age seven a child can learn to knit. Making your own wooden needles is exciting and rewarding. My boys (Leo’s older brother is also a knitter and made me a fabulous bag and iPod holder) love visits to the yarn store–the colors, the textures, the subtle sweet, smell of wool, offer a wonderful sensual experience. Here’s a few tips on how to get started:

Finger Crocheting: Use thick wool yarn to start, and any yarn or string once mastered. Make a slip knot. Keeping the loop of the slip knot in one hand, use two fingers to pull another loop through. Hold onto the tail and don’t let the loop get too large. Tug the tail and continue to make loops. Change colors by simply knotting two yarns together. Stitch together the lengths into spirals for rugs, pot holders, and mats. Here’s a verse to help remember how:

Use your little pinchers/Go into the cave/Grab the little snake/My but you are brave!/Pull it back through/So two of you can play/Close up the hole/So he can’t get away!

Making Knitting Needles: Get 1/4 inch wooden doweling at the hardware or craft store (or any size that is comparable to knitting needle sizes0. Thicker needles are better for beginners. Cut two lengths, 12-inches long. Sand with coarse sandpaper to make tip. Finish with fine paper. Polish with lanolin cream.  Glue a bead on the flat end, or make a bead-shaped end piece with beeswax modeling clay. Go to Crafty Yarn Council for step by step instructions, and check out Squidoo for several  videos.

Here’s a verse to help little fingers keep track of the steps:

In through the front door/Running round the back/looking through the window/Off comes jack!

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The GeekMom blog is captained by Jenny Bristol and Corrina Lawson, and supported by a brilliant team of writers. Since launching in 2010, we’ve created a robust community of writers, readers, and media geeks, dedicated to the vision of creating a smart, savvy, social online experience for geek parents everywhere.