In 2006, Pfeiffer Elementary School teacher Marie McDonald started a new after-school program. On the day she announced the club, she kept her fingers crossed that even 12 students would sign up. She got 50.
“It was amazing,” she said. In fact, the response was so overwhelming that, on the first day, students were stuffing permission slips under her door, pinning them beneath her car’s windshield wipers and overflowing her mailbox – all to make sure they could get a spot in the club.
“They were so excited about the idea,” McDonald said. But all this excitement wasn’t over a new sports program or even a music class. It was over knitting.
Since that first year, the program has been a hit with the third, fourth and fifth graders – even the boys, who last year made up more than half of the club at one point. With the help of McDonald and a few parent and grandparent volunteers, the students have learned to knit all sorts of projects, including scarves, dish cloths and even felted purses.
With the help of a 2008 Millennium Fund grant, students have had the opportunity to make more advanced projects like mittens and manually dyed scarves. Using the $900 grant, McDonald was able to purchase children’s knitting books, special kinds of yarn and all sizes of knitting needles.
“These children are very low-income. They can’t afford needles or yarn,” McDonald said. “Knitting is an expensive hobby.”
The effect of knitting on the students is well worth the cost, she said. In addition to improving students’ concentration and spatial-reasoning skills, knitting also has a calming effect on children. In particular, McDonald noticed a dramatic change in one young student she called “Sarah.”
McDonald said that, like many of her students, Sarah has a stressful home life. Learning to knit has given her peace.
“She finds comfort and solitude in knitting,” McDonald said. In fact, Sarah enjoyed knitting so much that she threw herself into her projects; within a few weeks, she had taught herself advanced stitches and was knitting faster than McDonald.
“I suspect we will be reading her patterns someday in knitting magazines or books,” McDonald said. “She’s just amazing.”
McDonald credits the Millennium Fund and the “power of knitting” for the change she’s seen in the lives of students like Sarah.
“If it wasn’t for (the Millennium Fund grant), Sarah wouldn’t be able to afford the supplies that are needed and would never know how wonderful it is to make something with her own hands,” she said. “You have no idea how many lives you have touched.”