Knitting Calms Students’ Emotions, Exercises Their Brains

Three boys sat in a school hallway, concentrating on the task literally at hand: knitting.

“Once you get it down, you can focus on it,” said Owen Taylor, a fifth-grader at Central Elementary School. “It just kind of calms you down, if you’ve been doing a bunch of reading.”

“Ever since we’ve started knitting, I got a higher score on my math test,” volunteered Evan Breuker, noting he scored 100 the day before.

Tips for Teaching Your Child to Knit

  • Start when the child is ready and expresses interest, which may be as young as 5 or 6
  • Start out simple with finger-knitting, before moving on to the greater challenge of needles
  • Wool is the easiest fiber to begin with, although acrylic yarn works well too
  • A simple garter-stitch scarf can be a great first project before trying other techniques
  • Be patient, and remind your child that feeling awkward and making mistakes is normal

Source: Teaching Children to Knit

Yes, it seems knitting yields benefits both academic and emotional. Yoga, too. Both have been incorporated into the school days of Central fifth-graders this year as ways to reduce anxiety, improve focus and develop self-esteem.

A yoga instructor came once each marking period to help students breathe and stretch. Grandmothers, neighbors and other volunteers arrived on Wednesdays to help them make hats and dish cloths one purl stitch at a time.

While the mind-and-body relaxation of yoga has more obvious benefits, teachers have seen both boys and girls take to knitting with surprising determination.

“Some kids catch on really easily, others are learning about grit,” said Lisa Monroe, who along with Jodi VanDam acquired a program grant from the Kenowa Hills Education Foundation. “It’s exciting when you see somebody’s given up for a moment, then they try again and they get it.”

Exactly, said Baylee Connor-Imhoff as she worked through a ball of purple yarn.

Color Julia Kennedy purple and focused

“It gets kind of frustrating when I have to start over,” Baylee admitted.

“It feels good once I start getting the hang of it again, and it gets a lot more fun.”

Therapy for the Soul, Exercise for the Mind

Both knitting and yoga emerged from teachers’ concerns about their students’ well-being.

“Last year, we started seeing kids coming to school who were very anxious, very angry,” VanDam said. “We wanted to give them tools to handle their frustrations, and to be able to move forward.”

Trent Chambers, helped here by Jaime Williams, says knitting “relieves the stress of the earlier parts of the day”

Maria Kozminski knows about that. She learned to knit after the 2007 murder of her son, Grand Rapids Police Officer Robert Kozminski.

“I started knitting after Bobby was killed. That saved my sanity,” she said as she taught her grandson Ethan Haisma how to cable-stitch. “I’m enjoying teaching a skill that helped me from a bad place. It’s very therapeutic.”

Mary Ann Kubiak helped her grandson Jack make a dish cloth, passing along skills she learned from her mother and grandmother.

Diane Gessner, who used to knit her husband’s socks, looked on as granddaughter Kamryn sat on a desk contentedly twirling the needles.

Knitting helps students like Treasa Bell find calm concentration

Back in the hallway, Joy Gibbs worked with a circle of quietly concentrating students. “They’re wonderful, and I see progress,” Gibbs said. “They’ve all done well.”

“You have to be loose in your knitting,” observed Kylee Kimble, who also knits at home. “You will mess up, but you have to try again.”

Kamryn Gessner peacefully passes the time

“We mostly knit because it’s fun,” offered Jayden Williams. “But it also exercises your brain.”

CONNECT

Knitting: Good for Your Brain

Central Elementary School

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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