In my last post I discussed handwork in kindergarten. Like with most subjects, there’s a big shift as you enter the grades. The seven-year-old still mostly learns through imitation, but it’s time for teaching skills and regular practice.
One of the major milestones in first grade is learning to knit! We start with knitting because it’s good preparation for reading. With knitting, your brain practices some of the same functions it requires for reading such as tracking with the eyes, crossing the midline, and grasping the parts within the whole.
Knitting is challenging, as many adults who are learning themselves can attest. But with patient teaching a seven-year-old can learn to knit. What an amazing accomplishment for the first year of school! At this age and on through adulthood, handwork becomes practice in building the will.
And of course, just as in kindergarten, first graders should still have days with plenty of time and space for creative play, fingerplays in circle, and many opportunities to use their hands.
How to teach handwork in first grade
The first step is to teach yourself how to knit!
Think about when handwork will come in your daily or weekly rhythm this year. For most first graders, a short daily practice will work best.
Begin the first grade year with pre-knitting skills. These include fingerknitting, finger crochet, tying knots and braids, and winding a ball of wool. Many families like to make their own knitting needles.
Plan on spending most of this year’s handwork time on knitting practice. Other good projects for first graders include wet felting, simple hand sewing, woodworking, nature and festival crafts, making gifts at holiday time, and origami.
Begin by teaching the knit stitch. I recommend casting on for your child while he gets comfortable with the knit stitch. You can also do those tricky first stitches at the beginning of each row.
To teach a new knitter, sit together and show each step. Your child might want to sit on your lap and let you guide his hands. Use verses to help your child learn the motions of knitting.
Once your child is knitting away in garter (knit) stitch, teach her how to cast on and off. With just these three simple skills (knit, cast on, and cast off), she can make many wonderful things. Good first grade projects include potholders, recorder cases, and simple animals.
Nurture an appreciation for all the wonderful things we can do with our hands!
Resources for first grade handwork
Any of the Waldorf festival books
Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children by Carol Petrash. This is one of my favorites, with ideas for nature crafts through the seasons. It’s still good to return to these in the early grades.
A First Book of Knitting for Children by Bonnie Gosse and Jill Allerton. This is the Waldorf classic for learning how to knit, with clear instructions, verses, and lots of projects for grades 1-2 and up.
Any beginning origami book. We enjoyed this one.
My First Sewing Book by Susan Akass. This is full of sweet beginner projects for hand sewing.