I am frequently asked at what age children can be taught to knit. The answer is never as simple as people hope.
It is natural, I suppose, for a knitter to want to share his or her passion with another generation. A parent or grandparent may be looking for a shared activity with a child and any activity that doesn’t involve screen time gets bonus points these days. Knitting has a pretty low cost of entry – all you need are a pair of needles and some yarn. These are all compelling points.
I urge caution.
When I am asked at what age a child can be taught to knit, my standard answer is “well you know your child/grandchild/nephew better than I do”. This is extremely important. A nine year old who cannot sit still is unlikely to be suddenly serene because needles are forced into her hands. A quiet or pensive child of seven might be absolutely ready. Knitting will not make a child into something they are not.
If pushed, my answer is this: Certainly not before they can print quickly and legibly. This isn’t arbitrary – the two skills require about the same level of fine motor skills, and a child who has endured the frustrations of learning to print will be more able to take on the frustrations of learning to knit.
We forget these frustrations, those of us who have been knitting for ten years or twenty years or longer. Forget how hard it is at first, how it was impossible to tension the yarn correctly or figure out how to hold everything at once. The dropped stitches, the extra stitches and how everything looked pretty much like something a cat had chewed. Knitting is fun. Learning to knit is sometimes immensely frustrating, especially for a child.
I hear you out there. Overcoming frustration builds character! I’ve been knitting since I was three and a half! And while these things are undoubtedly true, take a moment to consider if this craft that you love, that you hope your youngster will love is the place for a lesson in character or indeed something you want to force at all.
For me, the most important indicator for a child being ready to learn is curiosity. If the child is asking to learn, try to teach them. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work, doesn’t stick or the curiosity lasts about fifteen minutes.
You can of course foster that curiosity. If the child is in your household and sees you enjoying your knitting and making lovely things they are more likely to see knitting as interesting and positive. Pointing out knitting out in the world or in media doesn’t hurt and there are some great children’s books with knitting content.
A few of my favourites for sowing the knitting seed are Annie and the Swiss Cheese scarf (which, bonus, includes patterns) by Alana Dakos, Shall I Knit You a Hat (Christmas themed, so a nice gift idea) by Kate and Sarah Klise and Knitting Nell by Julie Roth.
My new favourite, though, is a children’s tv program from the UK – Sarah and Duck. This program (which as a nice bonus is vastly better than the banal, thinly veiled advertising that comprise most children’s programming) has a recurrent character called Scarf Lady who knits all the time, spins wool, is never without her talking project bag and even drives a van decorated with swinging yarn balls.
If all these conditions are in place and you are determined to teach a child to knit, set yourself up for success. A few tips:
Get them their own stuff. A shorter pair of needles, preferably bamboo or plastic and a new ball of yarn. It’s tempting, I know, to just give them some of your old stuff, but they will have pride in something brand new and all theirs. And don’t give them something you wouldn’t use yourself. Squeaky, cheap acrylic is not going to appeal to anyone. Have them choose a smooth yarn in a not-too-dark colour.
Especially with young children, cast on for them. It’s a difficult skill and can be more easily mastered later.
Teach knit AND purl the first day. I am absolutely certain that we do a disservice by holding off purl for weeks or months and am sure this is why so many knitters dislike purling.
Explain that there are a few rules – needles are for knitting only, not play. Never touch someone else’s knitting, never leave your knitting on a chair, sofa or anywhere someone might sit. Hands are to be washed before we pick up our knitting.
Please, for the love of alpaca, not The Scarf. I know it’s the traditional first project but scarves are boring, don’t really teach much, and take forever. Wash cloths are fine.
So best case scenario is that the child takes to it like a duck to water and has a productive, relaxing hobby for years to come – just don’t get attached to that outcome. They may try it, dislike it (I know, I know, difficult for us to believe) and never do it again. They may come back to it months or even years later. Just remember, it’s supposed to be fun. If it isn’t fun you’re doing both the child and yourself a disservice.