Two dozen pairs of knitting needles clicked as colorful balls of yarn slowly transformed into scarves, headbands and hats in the hands of Kingsford Elementary School students.
The afternoon ritual began in January with fifth-grade teacher Dennine Powe’s desire to share with students at the Mitchellville school a traditional hobby, one that bolsters their hand-eye coordination, patience and critical-thinking skills.
“I really wanted to expose kids to a time-honored tradition,” said Powe, who learned to knit from her guidance counselor in elementary school. “It teaches them it’s okay to make mistakes, and they can apply that to their lives. It also teaches a lot of patience and endurance.”
About 22 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students took Powe up on her offer and began staying after school on Thursdays to learn how to knit and purl, and some of their parents have picked up the hobby, too.
“Rather than watching TV or playing video games, [knitting] is something we can do together,” Kimberly Walker, a Mitchellville resident, said of her fifth-grade daughter, Charity. “It brings us together. It gives us a common interest. It gives us an opportunity to engage and connect.”
Walker, whose mother taught her to knit during elementary school, said she and Charity, 10, are racing to finish their pieces — a multicolored blanket and scarf, respectively.
At the beginning of the after-school class, Powe demonstrated how to make both a knit stitch and its inverse, a purl stitch. Then, to the relaxing strains of jazz music, students worked independently on projects, asking for help from Powe or music teacher Phedra McNair when a stitch came loose or they wanted to add a new color of yarn.
And they kept in mind the rhyme Powe taught them to remember how to use the needles to make a basic stitch: “In through the front door/Once around the back/Peep through the window/Off jumps Jack.”
Knitting teaches children to recognize patterns, encourages the use of both creative and analytical skills, improves their dexterity and gives them time to develop camaraderie with classmates, Powe said.
The nearly 300 groups of student knitters affiliated with the Zanesville, Ohio-based Helping Hands Foundation report improved math, reading and organizational skills among students, said Penny Sitler, the foundation’s executive director.
“It helps [students] focus on whatever they’re doing,” Sitler said. “It calms me, and it probably does the same for them.”
The Helping Hands Foundation, which lists 13 groups in Maryland, including one at Melwood Elementary in Upper Marlboro, provides supplies for needle arts projects to adults who are teaching groups of children to knit and crochet.
The Kingsford Elementary class, which began in January and will end in May or June, is free, but students bring their own supplies.
Imani Taylor, a fifth-grade student from Mitchellville, said she signed up for the knitting class because she wanted to learn something new — and she wanted to be like her aunt.
“My aunt makes a lot of things like dresses and clothes, and she inspired me,” said 11-year-old Imani, who was purling a bright blue scarf.
Sammoya Wright, 11, a fifth-grade student from Upper Marlboro, already has made two headbands and said she wants to practice enough to be able to knit sweaters and shirts she can sell.
Lenica Williams said her daughter, Sabrina, 10, who is in fourth grade, now understands enough about knitting to be able to examine store-bought sweaters and explain how they were made. The two are working on scarves before Williams tackles making a pair of booties.
“It’s fun and relaxing. Both of us can sit there and watch TV and knit,” said Williams, who lives in Bowie. “I’m just as into it as Sabrina.”
Come April, Powe said she wants to give each student a pattern to make one square for a blanket. She plans to piece them together for a blanket that will be donated to a homeless shelter or a children’s hospital. And the knitting club certainly will continue into next year.
“My goal for them is to pick up a craft you can do and then see a tangible result,” Powe said. “They spend so much time on the computer. I really wanted to introduce them to something traditional.”