“Liability reasons,” says Troy Beall, owner of Annapolis Woodworks in Davidsonville. He offers such classes as how to work on a lathe (for constructing objects such as bowls, platters and baseball bats) and how to make a skateboard.
“It’s a real shame,” he muses. “Certain kids do real well the way schools are set up now, but others need the hands-on learning experience.”
His classes for 7-to-12-year-olds bring in kids from as far away as Columbia and attract as many girls as boys.
“My 9-year-old son is out in the wood shop every chance he gets,” Beall explains. “My 12-year-old daughter builds dollhouses for Girl Scouts.”
The dolls in those houses need clothes, and the middle-grade set is the best age for knitting classes, says Catherine Sutherland, who teaches children how to knit and purl stitches in four lessons at A Tangled Skein in Hyattsville.
However, children can start as early as 9.
“They have the fine finger dexterity down,” Sutherland says.
Although most of her students are girls, she’s had boys inquire. She grabs their attention by saying she has heard that special operations soldiers have been known to knit camouflage out of local plant fiber and bamboo. This writer was not able to confirm that answer, but the story, as they say, is a good yarn.
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On a hot Sunday afternoon, six girls are clustered at a table for a three-hour Sew Fun II class inside a back room at G Street Fabrics’ Rockville store. Instructor Charlotte Goodman Hansen patiently explains how to sew a seam for a plastic-bag saver.
The girls are learning the ins and outs of using needles and pins, measuring and cutting fabric, and applying trim.
“What are the basics of starting a sewing machine?” Hansen asks them.
They respond in unison: “There’s a top thread and a bottom thread. Both threads are under the pressure foot, and the pressure foot is down.”
Hansen says a handful of boys take sewing classes. The girls at G Street say that they want to learn but that sewing lessons are not available at school. Lori Chatman, a D.C. mom, has brought her 11-year-old daughter, Savannah, to learn the craft.
“My mother says I have no arts and craft skills,” Chatman says. Motioning toward Savannah, she adds, “So, if she’s going to learn to sew, I’ll have to bring her here.”
Other skills are more complex for kids to figure out. Although teenagers need to understand credit cards, cellphone plans and debit cards, only 13 states mandate a personal finance course as a graduation requirement for high school, according to the Council for Economic Education. Virginia approved a measure in 2009 that goes into effect this year; the District and Maryland do not have such a requirement.