Not originally intended as an approach to improve self regulation, West Vancouver educator Meghan Stewart taught her class how to knit as a collaborative craft project to foster social responsibility. The first year, the class chose to make and donate scarves to a disadvantaged neighbourhood. The following year they knit and sewed sock monkeys for the children’s hospital. Over this period, Meghan discovered the profound effect that knitting (and sewing) had on the attention, behaviour and focus of her students.
“One year, I had a whole group of very anxious students, so we would knit every afternoon after coming in from lunch. One of my students wouldn’t stop knitting and then suddenly he could engage in class conversations - both listening and sharing.”
While there has yet to be published studies on the effect of knitting on self-regulation in the classroom, research has made the connection between knitting and managing mental health issues like anxiety in adults. In addition, a survey of over 3,500 knitters around the world reported a significant relationship between knitting and relaxation, stress relief and creativity. Furthermore, knitting in a group setting impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact and communication with others.
Meghan offers practical advice to teach students to knit and take advantage of the resulting benefits in a classroom setting:
Start in small groups. Teach a few students who can then pair up with others.
Invite parents and grandparents to come into the class and help out with knitting support in the beginning. Local knitting guilds or senior’s groups may also be a resource to provide assistance.
Use videos as back-ups for students who might need additional visual support. Meghan’s experience has been that some how-to videos can be confusing so it hasn’t worked as a universal approach.
Use wide needles.
Choose yarn wisely. Students should begin with a “not-too fancy,” medium thickness yarn.
Pick a regular time in the day to knit. Meghan found that right after lunch worked well. “It was the quietest most beautiful time!”
When the students become more skilled, encourage them to bring out their knitting when they were listening (eg. to an audio tape) or participating in class discussions.
Give knitting a try to improve self-regulation skills, utilize knitting projects for social responsibility initiatives and even consider how the process of knitting can be integrated across the curriculum with it’s potential connections to technical writing, reading, history, math, science and environmental studies.
Knitting can help manage anxiety in those with eating disorders. In one such study, subjects were asked to report on the effects of knitting on their psychological states.
74% of subjects said it lessened the intensity of their fears and helped clear their mind of eating disorder preoccupation.
74% reported it had a calming and therapeutic effect.
53% said it provided satisfaction, pride and a sense of accomplishment.
The British Journal of Occupational Therapy published an analysis of an online survey conducted through an internet knitting site. Responses were received from 3,545 knitters worldwide suggesting a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy. More frequent knitters also reported higher cognitive functioning. Knitting in a group impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact and communication with others.