Not Just a `Grandma Activity:’ Students Embrace Emotional Benefits of Looming Lunches, Knitting and Crochet
A third-grade boy at Little Run Elementary School and a seventh-grader at Katherine Johnson Middle School who’ve never met each other have something unusual in common: they are turning to yarn to help calm their bodies and minds as the school year winds down. Staff at the two schools, both located in Fairfax, realized working with fabric can be a way to diversify their social-emotional learning efforts with students as they recover from more than two years of living through a global pandemic. “We wanted to give students an outlet to work things through emotionally,” Little Run reading specialist Susan Reilly, a knitter herself, said. “It is the repetitiveness that really helps, when you get into a pattern of doing something, you can let your thoughts go. Their hands are busy while they are free to socialize with friends.”
About a dozen third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders gather at lunch several times a week at Little Run ES to knit and loom together. The program was initially launched as an after-school effort paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief aid, or ESSER III funding – money given to states by the federal government to help address any pandemic-related issues that may be impacting students. Sammy Odebunmi, the Little Run ES third-grader, has roughly half a foot of a royal blue scarf to show for his first few weeks of knitting.
“It feels good to my brain,” Sammy says. “I don’t know why but I feel calmer. I do feel different when I leave here, because when I’m not here knitting, there are times I feel not all that calm.” Despite a four-year age gap, seventh-grader Max Nozilov at Katherine Johnson MS is experiencing a similar reaction to learning to crochet. “I just let my hands move while I think,” Max says of devoting the fourth-period of the school day to crochet. “When I come in this class, I’m already kind of tired but when I leave I feel relaxed, the stress has gone away in the middle of the school day basically and I can think straight again.”
Cathy Crawford’s middle school classroom of roughly twenty students learning to crochet is an oasis of silence in the middle of the bustling middle school, according to some of her students. “A few people in here will talk quietly to each other, while the rest of us are very quiet,” eighth-grader Vee Nikouei says. “I enjoy coming here, this is a peaceful class.” The Katherine Johnson MS crochet program meets every other day as part of a social-emotional learning time period intended to help students build relationships with staff and pursue enrichment activities. The program rotates every four to six weeks, giving students several opportunities to explore new interests. Crawford, the crochet instructor, says the middle school class was first offered four years ago. “We saw some students benefit from the creative outlet and calming repetitiveness of crochet even pre-pandemic,” Crawford says. “During one session three years ago, all the students collaborated to make squares that we combined to make a blanket to donate.”
Little Run Physical Education teacher Tina Brown says the looming and knitting program at her school also provides an opportunity for students to be seen in a different environment by their teachers. “Coming back to school, after a year of virtual learning, we were seeing kids cross the line with behavior for things they never would have done before,” Brown said. “This program is a good chance for students to take a break and be seen outside the traditional classroom environment, share their thoughts if they feel like it, and let us all breathe and get to know each other better.” The students have big goals for their projects: third-grader Evie Warren is using her loom to make a hat for her grandfather, while fourth-grader Daniel Pinto is hoping the hat on his loom can be donated to someone with cancer. At Katherine Johnson Middle School, the goals are similar. “I think most of us find it cool to be able to make things for ourselves and our parents, “ said seventh-grader Zhihan Sun, who is working on a scarf for her parents.
“Working with your hands, this kind of stuff, has definitely gotten more popular since the pandemic,” Zhihan said. “I think beforehand a lot of us would have thought crocheting, knitting was kind of a ‘Grandma-activity.’ Now we think, well why not? It’s calming and there’s a sense of happiness that comes when you see you made something yourself.”