Through the Back Loop

Adventures in knitting, fiber arts, and family.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Teaching Moment - Where I End Up Becoming the Student

It's always a good idea to learn just how much it is that you don't know. Both feet are kept firmly on the ground when you realize that not only are you NOT as great as you thought you were, but also that the skills that have taken a lifetime for you to develop can be figured out in a split second by a more creative soul. This has been my experience at camp.

My friend is a co-director of a girl's camp, and asked me if I would come and teach knitting because she has seen several girls working on projects over the years and thought that they may enjoy learning more. I was up for the challenge, and began searching for patterns that would excite new teenage knitters, and challenge those who had more skills. I also developed a pattern to create a piece of camp clothing that is used each week during what is called the "council fire". All campers come to the council fire on Sunday nights and use camp hats and sashes during the ceremony. I developed a camp sash pattern that they could make and take home with them, thinking that this would be a great beginner project - and possibly an exciting project for them. Well, I have learned that guessing what is cool for teenagers is almost impossible - and better left to, well - the teenagers - because their tastes change with each cup of coffee I drink.

There are over 100 campers, between the ages of 8 and 16, not to mention the many counselors and counselors in training who also want to learn to knit. I set off to my new summer camp knitting lodge.

AC Building

After a few days of knitting in public, girls started approaching me and asking if I would teach them to knit. I took a deep breath, let them pick their own yarn from what some generous people had sent as donations, and set off on my new task. It went pretty well. Those who had already learned how to knit from a family member, but had never "started" a project were taught the cable cast on method (my personal favorite) while true newbies were given a project that was already started so that they could learn the knit stitch. Before casting on, I would ask them what they wanted to make, and show them the sash that the director and I thought would be very popular. Most girls looked at the sash and thought about it for a minute, then told me that they wanted to make - a scarf. OK. I wasn't discouraged. At least they still wanted to knit - scarves were a great beginner project, even though I knew they many would give up on the project before it would ever be finished - especially since many will leave camp in a week - but they would learn the essentials of knitting and be able to take that home with them. So I set off.... teaching two or three at a time until I had taught about 10 girls. They were off in their cabins, needles clicking away during rest hour, and tempting others to learn. After a week, I had 30 knitting, and now after two weeks, the whole camp seems to be at it.

I can't keep up! I hear my name being called out all over camp, "Kristyn, I have a problem," or, "Kristyn, this doesn't look right," or, "Kristyn, can you fix this?"

I have run out of knitting needles, even with three trips to the local department store, and some campers have resorted to using filed wooden dowels to work on. The stitches stick, but can be used by people who already know the process.

My own summer knitting has changed. There are no socks on needles, no baby sweaters or intricate lace being worked. I'm spending my time on garter stitch squares that can be ripped out and reworked and used to teach the knit stitch, purl stitch, increasing, decreasing, and casting off. I have worked this same square over and over for two weeks, and my fast knitting has slowed. My hands are holding the needles like I did when I was a beginner myself. And I am amazed at the transformation. It seemed to come along on its own - my hands at first holding the needles like I always do, but then changing to a more awkward grasp after several girls told me that what I was doing looked "confusing."

The summer session has almost reached the halfway point, and many campers will be going home while a new group comes in. Some campers will stay for the full summer. What I have learned about teaching; THAT will last much longer.


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