Think back to the last time you made something with your own hands – whether it was a nice dinner or an oak cabinet – and consider the satisfaction you felt when you got to experience the fruits of your labours.
Children get the same joy from creating something that has function and purpose, but it’s only ONE of the reasons why we teach knitting at the Waldorf Academy, one of Toronto’s elementary grade one private schools.
We’ve assembled some of the other reasons below, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it inspires you to perhaps pick up the knitting needles yourself.
Handiwork Builds The Brain
There are two sides to the human brain, and both must be stimulated.
Knitting is one of the skills that can accomplish that, because it combines mathematics with artistry while engaging the hands purposefully.
The Waldorf education was built upon the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner, who favoured handiwork because it “introduces the world of mechanism and brings movement, while on the other [hand] it trains in the power of attention.”
The Benefits Of Knitting
Many people will agree that there’s a benefit to being handy, especially in the age of digital connections, online ordering and premade everything.
Well, there’s more to knitting than a handful of stitches and a resulting scarf – there are some seriously scientific and character-building reasons why kitting is perhaps even more valuable than learning an instrument.
1. Improves Hand-Eye Coordination
It’s true that chunky-wool afghans are all the rage right now, but we typically teach with regular-weight yarn, which means kids need to be dexterous and careful while crafting their toques.
Just like basketball, piano or shop class, knitting helps the brain weave connections between the neural pathways that connect what the eyes see and the hands feel.
Specifically, knitting helps with coordination, motor skills, sensory perception and tactile feedback.
2. Builds Habits And Improves Focus
If you’ve never struggled with a knitting pattern, you’ll never understand the laser attention needed to work through that information and make it a reality – so you’ll have to trust us when we tell you it’s really effective in developing focus.
As well, it’s near impossible to finish a knitting project in a day, so the process of coming back to a task – day after day – in order to achieve a goal is another side-effect of knitting.
The diligence required to stick to a pattern to produce the desired outcome is a great experience for children, especially when they can then use or wear that item – it links the labour with the reward.
3. Builds Math Skills
You’d be surprised how mathematically complicated knitting is, and how many different mathematic disciplines it draws on, beyond the basic counting of stitches.
Learning patterns is an important part of math, and when kids have to factor in not just rows, but columns and sequential colour changes, you have more than just first grade addition or high school algebra.
It also teaches geometry on a very high level, and although the mathematical application of ‘rubber sheet geometry’ may not actually be taught until they are far older, the abstract concept can find its foundations in knitting.
Interesting for the next generation is the link between knitting and adeptness at coding.
There is the same reliance on patterns; those knitting patterns are binary in nature (similar to code); one must also learn string matching and manipulation to do both.
4. Reduces Anxiety And Fatigue
Probably the reason that will draw the least surprise is that knitting helps reduce anxiety, but let us tell you just how dramatically this is true.
In a 2009 study of 38 women hospitalized with eating disorders, 74% reported it had a calming and therapeutic effect, helping to ease fears and reduce the intensity of their thoughts about food.
Another study from 2016 explores how knitting can help solve the problem of ‘compassion fatigue’ amongst oncology nurses – those caregivers who must assist and watch as their patients succumb to terminal illnesses.
In the face of dutifully serving with empathy and compassion, these nurses often suffer deeply and leave their days feeling numb; knitting helps to ease that fatigue and cope with any anxieties involved in facing another day at work.
These studies are geared toward adults, but knitting can have a relaxational effect on children as well.
Knitting is often done during otherwise idle time, when a child has nothing in particular they need to do.
Because of this, it has a similar effect to meditation or tai chi – the movement of a child’s hands in a rhythmic, predictable format they don’t need to think too much about helps free their mind to flow wherever it needs to, which can help them to let go of the day’s anxieties and fears.
5. Helps Improve Self-Esteem
In that same 2009 study from above, 53% of the same women also reported that knitting provided them with a sense of satisfaction, pride and accomplishment.
By teaching your children how to knit – by allowing them to apply their discipline, their focus, their coordination, and all their other skills in the creation of an item of value and practicality – they learn that hard work can be rewarded, and that builds their sense of accomplishment.
Being able to show that they made something so complicated all on their own gives them pride and elevates their self-esteem.
So when you get a wildly-coloured scarf with a dropped stitch as your next birthday gift, remember that the real gift is knowing that your child believes in their talents more than before they cast on the first loop.
Contact Waldorf Academy
So you see, our teaching practices are not as strange as you may have first thought – the Waldorf Academy will eagerly use all manner of teaching methods in order to ensure your child is prepared for the world.
If you have further questions, we encourage you to email us and set up an appointment, and we would be happy to give you further examples about the benefits we have seen by approaching education in this manner.
Waldorf students grow up into mindful, broad-minded adults who are resilient and cope well with change – and part of that is because of skills such as kitting.