Kids are amazing, fearless learners, and they make great students -- as long as they want to learn.
That’s the first thing to know. I can always tell when I’m teaching a child that didn’t ask to learn to knit on their own, or who doesn’t love the idea. My most successful knitting students are the ones who have been asking and asking and asking to learn. They will be the most receptive to instruction, and the most patient when trying something new or making mistakes.
So, if you’ve got a child who genuinely wants to learn, read on!
First off, can they tie their shoes? Yes? Then they probably have the hand-eye coordination and motor skills needed to work the needles and yarn at the same time. Hooray!
Generally, I recommend starting kids at age 5-6, but that doesn’t stop me from letting my two-and-a-half-year-old hold my needles and click them around. Another way to start toddlers off even sooner is by having them help you wrap the yarn for a stitch as you’re knitting.
When it comes to needle size and yarn weight, I recommend worsted weight yarn, and I prefer multicolor because you can refer to the stitches on the needles by identifying their specific color as you’re working. As for needles, my preference is size US 8 (5.5mm) 10” straight metal ones. (Susan Bates are a great brand and inexpensive enough that if the knitting is a flight of fancy, you’re not out big bucks.)
Here’s why I like metal needles for children: I’ve had a few knitters that had rather sweaty hands and/or tight tension, and the stitches wouldn’t budge on wooden needles.
Super Tip: Let the kid choose their own yarn! They’ll be all the more eager to work with it. If you don’t want to invest too much in materials at first, let your knitter shop in your stash.
Keep the first project SMALL.
I’m talking a bracelet, bookmark, tooth fairy pouch, Barbie blanket, etc. If your budding knitter can finish a project in a short amount of time, they will feel immediately successful and, ideally, will be excited to start something new… like a scarf, fingerless gloves, or cowl or gift for a friend or teacher.
Brady made a tooth fairy pouch and lost his first tooth the next day! Dylan's amazing bracelet can be used as a bookmark, too. Talented kid knitters made bracelets and a skirt for an American Girl Doll, and fingerless gloves were all the rage at my class for kids in Midland Park!
When it comes to casting on, don’t worry about teaching them that step yet. Cast on for them, and since your project is small, let’s not work on anything with a cast on number that exceeds 24 stitches. Go ahead and let them watch you knit that first row as well, talking through the steps as you work.
Super Tip: Explain that knitting is basically taking stitches from the needle in the left hand, creating a new stitch inside each one, and then moving those new stitches to the right hand needle.
Feel free to use this fun rhyme my mentor taught me that I’ve used for both children and adults at knitting lessons:
In the hole
Around the back
Out of the hole
Off jumps Jack
To break down each step:
In the hole (put the needle into the stitch – like a rocket ship blasting off)
Around the back (wrap the yarn around the back of the needle - like you’re wrapping your arm around your friend’s shoulders to bring them close)
Out of the hole (hold onto the yarn you just wrapped and bring the needle down to come out of the stitch, holding onto the new stitch)
Off jumps Jack (take the old stitch off the needle)
Once You’ve Begun
Some kids grab the needles and get it immediately. If your kid is struggling to begin, you can hold the needles for them, and have the child choose to do only one of the 4 steps outlined above at a time, and go down the list to try and master each one. For example, you put the needle in the stitch, and the child wraps the yarn around.
Make sure that their hand placement is correct. Kids typically start off trying to hold the needle like a pencil with the hand underneath it. Their hands should hold the needles like they’re holding the handlebars of a bicycle. Gentle reminders might be necessary. Their hands should always be holding the second stitch on each needle to keep the stitches from sliding off.
If the stitches are consistently too close to the tips of the needles (making them hard to knit or putting them in danger of sliding off) or too far down to move, take nail polish or tape and mark a line on the needles where the stitches should stop/rest. This is a great visual cue to help your student remember that the stitches should sit below the slope of the tip of the needle.
Left-Handed Kids Are Future Knitters, Too!
Is your kid a leftie? Yes? AWESOME! Knitting is ambidextrous. Lefties can do it!
People often come to me anxious that they won’t be able to learn because of their “handedness.” They whisper “I’m a… leftie.” And then step back and wait for me to shriek in horror.
The key is showing them how to knit the same way you knit and keeping your observations light—it’s no biggie! Naturally, every knitter (leftie or otherwise) adjusts for their own comfort as they learn. I notice that left-handed knitters might use their left hand for some of the heavy lifting that I usually rely on my right hand for. If it gets the job done, they’re still knitting!
If you know how to knit both Continental and English style, you likely will want to teach using English style knitting because it’s easier to learn both stitches in one sitting, but if you notice your kiddo is gravitating towards holding the yarn in their left hand, you may want to shift to Continental and save purl for another day.
Make sure you go in with a clear head and patience.
Most importantly, make sure you’re having fun! If it’s not fun and one of you is getting frustrated, find a friend or Local Yarn Shop instructor to teach them instead. This is absolutely not a failure on your part. Nor is it a reflection of your teaching abilities or the child’s learning abilities. I know plenty of talented and amazing knitters who, for many different reasons, will not teach their kids or grandkids the basics and send them to me instead. That’s totally fine. The goal here is to get your kid knitting because they are excited to learn.
There are so many benefits for children learning to knit: a sense of pride and accomplishment, keeping busy and being productive, having a chance to be creative, and of course, there are the studies that show what an amazing impact it has on anxiety and mental health in adults, and the same goes for kids, too.
Knitting is relaxing and meditative for all age groups, so here’s to introducing it to the next generation of knitters!