Learning something new can be profoundly intimidating, especially for a five-year-old. There’s not really a lot that can be done about that fact, but there are ways to help people through learning. And when teaching something to your own kids, figuring out just how to do that is vitally important. The best way to do that, is to actually make sure you know just what it is you are trying to teach.
With Bee I am not trying to teach her how to make something; I am trying to teach her to like sewing. I think sewing has a lot to offer her at the moment: help with her hand-eye coordination, help in learning to concentrate, comfort with color and patterns, but most of all, self-confidence. I want her to feel pride in doing something, in working at something, whether it turns out perfectly or not. I also want her to learn that little wobbles are no big deal; it is the doing and trying that matter right now.
Armed with that knowledge, I feel like I can teach her, guide her, at let her find what she wants to learn. I also feel like I can develop projects that will be just right for her. So here are a few tips I have figured out:
1: Have something at hand to work on at any time.
Before Xmas Bee and I started a felt garland, working on it a bit here and a bit there. It is our spare minute project; we can add another loop or two when the urge to sew hits but there isn’t much time.
2: Foster success.
If you have a project that needs some degree of precision add in a little cushion so you can trim it down. Bee and I are working on a project for Generation Q and I have her sewing large-ish blocks that will be trimmed down to size so she doesn’t have to have perfect seam allowances (though I am showing her how to get them and encouraging her to try). Bee pieced her first four-patch, which is going to get trimmed down (off-center) to create a more complicated block that would require precision beyond her current level. This way she beams with pride because she has in fact succeeded, beautifully.
3: Don’t push.
I actually mean this literally and figuratively. I find the most important reminder is to not push the fabric through the machine; not only does it lead to better seams it relaxes her body and gives her something to focus on (soft fingers). It also means that I let her stop when she wants to, and sometimes stop her when I see she is losing focus. It not only keeps her from getting frustrated, but also helps insure she doesn’t sew through her wee finger or something.
4: Involve your kids in your projects.
Bee isn’t ready for everything, but I try to let her help as much as I can. I involve her in picking fabrics for projects, and let her pass me pins from her wee pincushion. That way making new Xmas stockings for the family became our project instead of my project.
You have no idea just how proud Bee is to have made the family stockings with me, especially making Babbit his very first Xmas stocking…
5: Have the right tools.
I am so happy with the Janome Jem 760 for Bee, especially the fact that it has a speed control. It turns out that Bee is a full-throttle sewist (unlike her Papa who is ginger with the pedal). Even though she can barely touch the floor with her toes, she manages to flat out stomp on the pedal, so being able to restrict the speed makes all the difference. Actually, I am progressively speeding the machine up for her, helping her develop confidence as she goes.
Also, talk to your kids about the tools, warn them about the dangerous parts, and help them to get to know them all. It was so incredibly charming the other night when we had a sitter to hear that what Bee wanted to do more than anything was to tell the sitter all about sewing, and explain the different parts of her machine, what they are called and what they do. I suppose in the end that is what I mean by helping her be proud; it is now something she wants to teach others. She is proud that she is learning to sew, not just that she made something. The process counts for her, and that is a lesson I hope she holds onto for the rest of her life…