(Reposting this, which I wrote years ago on a now-defunct blog. Still one of my favorite posts, and one of my favorite memories. I needed to read it again and hope you enjoy it too.)


Having just returned from helping teach a classroom full of fifth graders to knit, I have discovered a few things.

1. Fifth grade teachers are brave, brave souls. (Actually, all grade school teachers are. Choosing to spend the entire day week school year with a whole room full of our children? All at once? Over and over? My hat is off. It’s beyond words.)

2. Fifth grade students are…well. They’re just…they’re loud. There’s not really any other way to speak of it. They’re just loud. You can be sitting right next to a fifth grade student, and they’ll shout out to you just in case you’ve suddenly sprung far across the room from them when they weren’t looking. They want to be sure you’ll hear them.

3. Fifth grade students can learn to knit really quickly. Surprisingly quickly. Not all at once, mind you. What happens if you offer to teach fifth grade students to knit is this. First, each and every fifth grade student will crowd right up to you, so that each and every one of them can be right next to you and right in front of you and see what you’re doing. Imagine bees swarming up to a spill of honey. Now imagine you’re the honey. It’s pretty  much like that. Once they’re all buzzing around you, now you can notice that each and every one of them wants to explain to you that they don’t know how to knit, or that they want to know how to knit, or that their grandma once taught them how to knit but they forgot, except that for one of them it wasn’t her grandma, it was her cousin, but she forgot, and she wants to know how to knit. Did you know that they want to know how to knit? Did you hear the one on your left? He wants to know how to knit, too. Maybe you didn’t hear him the first time. Now notice that most of them are pushing their yarn and needles out toward you so that you can show them how to knit. The ones who aren’t doing that, are explaining to you that they don’t have yarn and needles and do you have any extras that they could borrow? And could you please hurry up and show them how to knit?

Don’t bother teaching them how to make a slipknot. They won’t notice, and they won’t remember. That can come later. For now, just make one for them when they’re not looking, and slip it on their needle. Cast on. (“What are we making?”) Just cast on. Pick an easy one, a quick one. The backward loop will do fine. These kids want to get started NOW, and they’re not worried about finesse. Get some loops on their needles.

“How many stitches do I need?” “What are we making?” “What do I do now?” “I don’t get it.” “What are we making?” Just get some loops on there. Doesn’t matter how many. We’re making a bookmark. We’re making a scarf. We’re making a headband. They probably can’t hear what you’re telling them anyway, they’re too excited about knitting.

Now comes the part where each and every fifth grade student immediately wants to be knitting, except they forgot to watch when you were showing them what to do, and they didn’t listen when you were showing the exact same thing to the person next to them, or the person on their other side, so you pretty much have to plan on going around to each person one by one and showing them what to do. A couple of times. Part way through this process, you might realize that their teacher is showing them how to knit English-style (yarn in the right hand) and you’ve been showing them Continental-style (yarn in the left hand). Switch camps. Their teacher is right. (Do you have doubts? Which one of you will be in that classroom every single day reminding those kids how to knit, not to mention teaching them the natural resources of the state of Georgia? Get over it. Their teacher is right.)

Had enough chaos yet? Hang in there just a tiny bit more. You’re almost to the good part.

Sometimes it helps to stop for the day at this point, let the kids go home and sleep on it/convince their parents to buy them thicker, smooth yarn this time (like we recommended to begin with)/get their own needles so they can return yours.

Come back, though. On the second day, you’ll still be swarmed by about half of the group (and a few more who decided to join in after seeing their classmates working on their knitting during reading time yesterday)…but maybe one or two of them will bring their knitting over to show you, and to your shock it actually looks like…knitting. A whole inch of knitting. Lavish praise on these kids. They’ve worked hard for it. They might have stayed up late working for it.

Pretty soon, you’ll notice that the kids are…wait, can it be? They’re helping each other. They’re showing each other where to wrap the yarn. They’re putting stray stitches back on each others’ needles. They’ll give a round of thunderous applause for the boy who finishes his first complete row.

This…This is the good part. They’re knitting. They’re knitting, and talking. (OK, so they’re talking loudly.) They’re excited about knitting. When they get an inch on their OWN needles, they do a little strut and preen and have to show everyone else that They Are Making A Belt. Or a scarf. Or whatever they want to make. Watch for the cool moments – when one of them finishes their first row, and says “But what do I do now?” tell them to switch hands…and wait for this: “But then what do…OOOOooooohh, I do it again!” Look around the room. Kids are knitting. Girls are knitting. Boys are knitting. Nobody, so far, has even thought to question whether boys knit – look, they’re just doing it, no big deal. One boy has proudly brought in three feet of scarf that he’s making for his mom. It is full of holes and dropped stitches and it is beautiful. Their teacher has to go around and tell them yes, they DO have to also eat lunch. “Lunch is good.” “Yeah, but knitting is better.” “Will you come every week to knit with us?” “Can we knit during reading time?” “Look, here’s how I knit: I go whoop, and then I go whoop, and then I go whoop, and then I go whoop. Look, I made a stitch!!”

Yes, I will come every week to knit with you. Yes, I’m making a sock. (Yes, it’s a lot of needles…but I only use two at a time.) Yes, that’s how you go whoop. Yes, you’re doing a great job. Yes, you still have to eat lunch.

Having just returned from helping to teach a classroom full of fifth graders to knit, I have discovered…Fifth graders are pretty cool to knit with.

The best part, though? Noticing that my own daughter isn’t at my table. She has her own group around her, and she’s teaching them from her own desk. I’m pretty darn proud of her…and I think she’s a tiny bit proud of her mama, too. I catch her eye from across the room, and we grin at each other.

I go whoop as I head home.