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Teaching what you don’t know

When I was asked to be the “fiber arts teacher” for my volunteer placement with the summer learning program this summer, I was a little apprehensive – I mean, I know a LOT about knitting, but that’s just one “fiber art”, and I knew I’d need to come up with activities that were doable by children younger than my own. So I did a bunch of googling and that’s how I landed on Kool Aid dyeing yarn, finger-knitting, and straw-weaving. Had I actually done any of these before? NOPE!

Straw-weaving in progress.
Practicing with some leftover Noro Kureyon yesterday

But I’m a teacher, and one of the things you get good at is teaching things you didn’t know until 15 minutes before you’re in front of the class, and at figuring out how to set up an activity for the best chances of success while you’re still teaching yourself how to do it. And you also get good at learning from what doesn’t work – like, last week, when we did finger-knitting, I thought it would be fun to let them wind their kool-aid dyed yarn into a ball to use. I had the foresight to make little “bobbins” out of cardboard for them to wind their yarn around (because I correctly guessed that winding an actual ball would be hard for their unpracticed fingers to manage), and even thought to have them work in pairs so that one kid was holding the skein open and the other was winding…but I did not anticipate just how quickly everything would become a giant tangle even with that preparation, and we ended up spending the vast majority of our time untangling yarn rather than finger knitting.

Preparing a bunch of straw-weaving "looms" for the kiddos tomorrow!
Prepared with a big stack of “looms”!

So this time, I tried to be even more prepared. I spent a good chunk of time yesterday making a set of straw-weaving “looms” out of biodegradable straws, threading some cotton yarn through each one and taping them to a page of cardstock so that each kid had their own “surface” to work on with a few extras just in case. A lesson I learned mid-way through my time with the kids today was to not just tape the straws to the cardstock, but to fold the extra yarn above the knot at the top to the back and tape it to the back. (Guess how I learned that? Good thing I thought to bring extras!)

I’d picked up various colors of “ribbon”-type yarns when I collected supplies at Sew Green with the director of the summer learning program, back when I got my volunteer placement, so I wound these into little balls so that multiple kids could use the same color if they wanted, and I also threw in a few little leftover balls of Noro Kureyon from my stash for anyone who wanted to use some fuzzy wool instead. And, remembering the fiasco last week with so many tangles, I realized while eating lunch today that I should probably come up with some way to keep the little balls from rolling all over the place while the kids were working, and luckily, the solution was right in front of me on the shelves in our dining room: our set of jumbo silicone muffin cups made excellent, unbreakable “yarn bowls” for the kids to use while they worked!

I showed everyone how to set up their own “straw weaving loom” by making one more of my straw/tape/cardboard contraptions at the start of our session (after taking turns reading the lovely book “Rainbow Weaver” with the Spanish-bilingual lead teacher; I did the English parts and she did the Spanish parts!). Then, just like in a cooking show, I “magically” had 15 of the exact same looms ready to hand out! After each kid chose their yarn ball and put it in their silicone muffin cup “bowl”, I demonstrated how to get started, and then how to weave. Some of the kids took to it right away, and other had a harder time wrapping their heads (and hands) around how it worked, so I did a lot of helping, but by the end of our time, most of the kids had a lovely little bracelet, and they were SO excited to learn that they could do this on their own as long as they have three straws and some yarn that will fit through the straws. Several of them said they were going to make bracelets for their moms, too! I left behind the extra looms that were left and the remaining little balls of ribbon yarn so that they can keep weaving tomorrow if they want to.

My sample of straw-weaving
Showing off my straw-woven bracelet!

Tomorrow is the last day of the summer learning program, and they’re having a final celebration that all of the volunteers are invited to, so I’ll get to see the kids one last time before saying goodbye. It’s been so fun to learn new kid-friendly fiber arts activities this summer, and to share them with this group of kids (and with my own kid, who has been a “guinea pig” for all of them but the straw-weaving; I’ll still teach it to her, but didn’t have time to do so before teaching the kids today!). I have the kind of brain that really delights in learning new things, and that’s one of my favorite things about being a teacher: I’m always learning new things!

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