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Now, that’s a Yarn! Literacy Learning through Crocheting

by Kathleen Hunter
March 12, 2014

There is something about yarn that is fun and enticing to children. Perhaps it’s the softness of the fibers and the vibrant, fun colors. Or, maybe it’s the way each skein is made up of two or three threads wound ’round and ’round each other and then meticulously wrapped into a bundle, making a soft pillow.

Now, that’s a Yarn! Literacy Learning  through CrochetingI remember fondly the days when my great aunt visited me when I was a child. She always had a fancy cloth bag full of yarn, crochet hooks, and items in various stages of completion. I would sit close to her and watch her fingers on one hand wrapped with yarn and a crochet hook gently held in the other. Her hands would fly back and forth and up and under the soft, beautiful yarn. One day she surprised me with a ball of turquoise yarn and a crochet hook of my own. Then she patiently taught me the basics of crocheting.

Over the years I made small items. A pot holder. A coaster. Squares to piece together to make a vest. But for some reason, I eventually stopped crocheting—why, I don’t know.

Not so long ago, I had many opportunities to sit with my ailing mother while at her many doctor appointments. Crocheting was the perfect activity for those long, stressful days. It allowed me to visit with my mom and keep myself from getting too filled with angst and worry while waiting for doctors’ reports. Although it had been nearly forty years since I had last crocheted anything, I was able to pick up where I left off as a kid. Chain one, single crochet, double crochet, turns, and much more—just like riding the proverbial bike.

My great aunt and my mom have since passed. But with hook and yarn I am able to sit in my personal solitude, feeling each of them by my side. One with her sweet voice patiently teaching me the craft. The other leaning into me, watching the yarn in my fingers morph into a new shape.

I find crocheting to be very calming, and it allows me to multi-task—listening, talking and crocheting all at the same time. As I crocheted on my own projects I got the idea to teach my students how to crochet, too. I hoped it would be the perfect balm for my classroom of socioeconomically challenged third graders. They could benefit and enjoy more focus and calm in their days.

However, in the back of my mind I also wondered how the craft would be received by my students. Would they think it was boring? Would the boys want to learn, too? How could yarn and a crochet hook ever compete with the many technologies available to them? In the end, I told myself that the worst that could happen was a lesson learned in what didn’t work.

Getting Started

I contacted my local fabric store and explained my plan to teach my 29 students how to crochet. Their district manager was more than happy to help us out. She donated a box full of new packages of yarn. The hooks I purchased at a huge discount. Never one for letting a teachable moment slip by, I asked my students to write thank you letters to the store’s district manager. The benefits of learning how to crochet quickly became more apparent through their words. For example, they weren’t tempted to play with items in their desk or with other students during lessons because they were focused on their crocheting. Their concentration was better while listening to books read out loud. They learned how to follow detailed, written instructions and how to teach what they learned to their friends and family. And, crocheting improved their finger dexterity which helped their handwriting and keyboarding skills (this is the benefit I liked best; “dexterity” was our bonus word of the week).

For me, crocheting offered the perfect behavior management tool. Even the most mischievous child was engaged in the task and not devising the next distraction or ensuing mayhem.

First Steps

I selected four students for my first group based on their ability to catch on quickly. They didn’t know it at the time, but they would help the next group of students get started. Once they chose their yarn from the box they were instructed to roll the yarn into a ball. Then, I gave each student a crochet hook and a plastic zip-top bag with their name on it to hold their crochet items.

Now, that’s a Yarn! Literacy Learning through CrochetingTheir first lesson was to learn how to loop the yarn on their hook. Once they mastered that step they were ready to learn how to make the chain stitch. Each student made a long chain, watching for even tension between the stitches. Next, they were ready to learn how to create a single crochet. From there, the sky would be their limit! The chains they made turned into necklaces, bracelets, book marks, and straps for purses they would later make.

Within the week every student was crocheting. It caught on like wild fire. They never wanted to stop! Students were taking their crocheting bags to recess, lunch, and on the bus ride home to share with their families. The next day they couldn’t wait to proudly show me their carefully created items. Boys and girls alike were teaching themselves well past the basics that I had taught them. They were making coasters, blankets for baby siblings, scarves for the cold winter days, and holiday gifts for family and friends.

Reading and Crocheting

My students were now ready for the piece de resistance: reading/crocheting circles. Each day after lunch recess my students had the opportunity to choose a quiet activity, one of those being a reading/crocheting circle. The requirements were that each group would not have more than five students, each student would have their crochet project, the group would agree on one book to be read aloud, and each student would have at least one turn at reading. While the one student read to the group, the others quietly crocheted.

To ensure that everyone was also paying attention to the reading while crocheting, I would ask them questions after each session. Or, they would each write a brief summary of the events that took place in their story. Each student was accountable for their comprehension of the story. Combining reading with crocheting was very beneficial to the students who found it more difficult to sit still long enough to listen to a chapter being read aloud. The crocheting kept their fingers busy and their minds focused on the story AND on the crocheting task.

Crocheting soon spilled into other areas. During assemblies and any other time when they had some idle time I allowed my students to crochet. As long as they were able to participate in class discussions and complete assignments, then I knew they were able to do both. In addition, classroom management was a breeze. Students were no longer looking for distractions to fill their fidgety nature.

Now, that’s a Yarn! Literacy Learning through CrochetingWhen I retired from teaching in the classroom to become a private tutor, my principal gathered together students from my previous years of teaching to speak at an assembly. There was one student in particular with whom I always felt I never was able to make a connection. As it turned out I was very wrong in my belief. He spoke in front of an auditorium of peers and teachers and shared what I had taught him in third grade. In addition to the usual reading, writing, and math, he commented on how I taught him how to crochet. Two years later he still remembered how and had even taught his mother. A nugget of gold in my heart and a lasting memory in his.

It’s now been five years since I picked up my crochet hook as an adult and I haven’t stopped. It continues to gives me time to sit quietly, contemplate my life, and brainstorm for my upcoming lessons and writing assignments. Through the soft, colorful skeins, crocheting is a timeless connector between family, friends, and as I discovered, between literacy and children. I hope you have as much success as I did with my students in making lasting memories with yarn.

Additional Resources

I found Patons’ “Next Steps Five—Crochet Guidebook” to be a great source for very beginner projects. I picked this book up at my local fabric store.

Another one I came across by chance is “The Crochet Answer Book” by Edie Eckman. And one more I use is “200 Crochet Tips, Techniques & Trade Secrets” by Jan Eaton.

Kathleen Hunter on Reading Today OnlineKathleen A. Hunter, MS is a literacy tutor and aspiring children's book author. You can visit her online atwww.KathleenHunterWrites.com.
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