Parenting: Reading, Writing and... Knitting?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Last week I peeked into a cool camp going on here in the Delaware Valley. It was at a place called the Handwork Studio in Narberth.

About 20 kids, including one boy, were busy knitting, both with needles and fingers. Owner Laura Kelly told me the kids will also try out machine and hand sewing as well as crocheting. They also have fun with some interesting techniques, like the one where glue is spread into fuzzy strands of fabric across a backing, creating a gauzy, whimsical pattern. All of these elements showed up in last week's project, which happened to be a sailboat built around an old thread spool.

Some people might think of this as frivolous, silly little make-busy projects. Not so, says Kelly. "There are a lot of benefits to handwork that parents don't understand," she says. "There's a lot of hand-eye coordination that goes on. [There are] math skills that are necessary when knitting. And there are social elements... It's great for a shy kid who may have a hard time jumping in. They can sit here and knit and engage in conversation when they're ready."

Little kids get help with their fine motor skills when they do hand work, while bigger kids get to refine those skills and branch out into more intricate design.

Parents may be surprised by exactly how much math shows up in handwork. "Because when you're telling a child I want you to cast on 15 stitches, I'd like you to knit 10 rows. And then I'd like you to decrease until you have five left. And so all of this is processing and math," says Kelly. "Also when you're doing machine sewing. You might say measure your fabric 15 ¾ inches long and I want you to sew on a quarter inch seam. So we do incorporate math."

Also, you might be surprised to discover this is not just an endeavor for the girls. The Handwork Studio guesses it'll see about a 1000 campers by the end of the summer---and about a quarter of them will be boys. Education director Melissa Haims says of all things, boys tend to love time on the sewing machine, both in learning how the pieces work and for the things they can make. And with an eye to the boys, the projects are not gender specific and frilly, but come with a healthy complement of robots, octopuses and boats.

"So we really are cognizant and make sure nothing is too girly. Precisely why this week they are doing pirate finger puppets," says Haims, holding up a couple of the knitted pirates on her digits. "How cute it that?

Very cute, indeed.

The Handwork Studio has a variety of camps and most are partial or full day, based on a weekly schedule. Find out more details on their site,

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