Every year around this time, we have the great pleasure of witnessing one of the sweetest exchanges of education a Waldorf school has: the week where the eighth graders teach their first grade buddies to knit. We talked to Grades Handwork teacher Ms. Mariama about this legacy of knitting, and knitting together.
Why do first graders learn to knit?
We teach first graders to knit because it benefits the development of their thinking. They’re coming out of this encompassing world of childhood, and they begin to be able to follow a continuous thread, weave it back and forth. This balance of left and right is supposed to help develop their thinking. There’s also more and more research coming out about use of fingers – developing dexterity, and putting pressure on the pads of your fingers – that help to develop neural pathways in the brain. So we also do a lot of finger games.
And where do the eighth graders come in?
Part of the benefit of the buddy system is that it calls upon the eighth graders at a moment when they are going through their own re-development; all their neural pathways are being re-routed, and they are awakening to a moment in which they have new access to an individual experience, a whole interior cathedral of feeling. So in some ways, they’re in a very parallel position to the first graders, but if they’re asked, they can really rise up and show their capacities and their higher selves. You can observe them beside the first graders and they even physically rise – they stand up straighter, they tend to be more gentle in their language, they’re much more patient in their communication, and they really have this open feeling of adoration and care that sometimes they are still working on creating for themselves and for their peers.
What do the older students learn from this return to knitting?
In eighth grade, when we talk about this project of teaching the first graders, they ask things like, “What if I wrap the yarn with my left hand instead of my right hand?” “What if my particular style of knitting is different than the one that you are planning to teach?” And I told them that there is a legacy of eighth grade buddies who wrap with their left hand, and now the first grade buddies do, and when they are eighth graders, they will pass that on… The eighth graders were very delighted at the idea of this kind of “family” legacy that’s built into the teaching. For those who learned in first grade, they also have the understanding that they’re helping to teach their buddies a skill that they might pick up again in later years. There’s a very deep and enduring possibility of contribution there.
In the experience of teaching this brand new skill to first graders, that most of the newer eighth graders can pick up quite quickly, the older students can actually see how they’ve developed from first grade. They get this opportunity to see and observe these younger children and remember those moments in their own life and say, “oh, once I was where they are, and they will be where I am someday.”