Should Knitting Be a Priority?

Thursday night was parents’ evening at my son’s school. He attends the local public school. The Swiss system, as I’ve mentioned before, has some stark differences from the American school system. For one, he’s in grade 2 and still only has half day school 3 days a week. For another, I met his knitting teacher.

Yes, the Swiss schools have a teacher who is dedicated to teaching handwork–knitting, crocheting, sewing and other things to develop fine motor skills. He has approximately one class period per week of this. A couple of years ago, our church did a service project knitting hats for newborns. When I said I didn’t know how to knit, everyone looked at me like I had two heads. “You didn’t learn in school?” I was like, “You did?”

Also, they don’t learn their letters until first grade. In second grade, they learn the alphabet in order. The teacher explained that this was important so they could look things up, like in a phone book. Everybody laughed. She agreed she needed to update the reason for learning alphabetical order.

I find all this fascinating. Ít’s so, so, so different from what I see my friends in the US going through with their children. The heavy pressure on learning to read. Being expected to know the letters and numbers before starting kindergarten. It’s very different here.

Here’s another difference. My son has the same teachers this year as last year. He may have them for third grade as well, I’m not sure. They don’t do the one year only teacher thing. They think it’s valuable to have the same teacher follow the children for at least two years. I heard one teacher say she wishes it was four, because how else is she going to get to know the students? Fascinating, eh?

I was chatting with another mom at the parent’s evening and I mentioned that I often see her daughters as I walk my son to school. If you’re American, you think that sounds normal. If you’re Swiss (which she is), this is not normal. Why am I walking a perfectly capable 2nd grader to school? Well, because my son is the slowest creature on the planet when he isn’t motivated to get some place, so I walk him to school to make sure he gets there on time. He comes home alone.

She was visibly relieved when I shared why I was walking him to school. She was afraid I was being over-protective.

Isn’t that the complete opposite of what would happen in America? In America, I would be thought strange for NOT walking my kid to school instead of the other way around. (Of course, people would probably think I’m strange for walking instead of driving. No one drives their kid to school here!)

One other random little fact–we don’t sign permission slips for field trips. The teachers are simply responsible for the kids during the school day, regardless of where they go. They tell us about field trips, of course, but we don’t sign anything giving permission. No school buses–they take public transportation or walk.

It’s a dfferent world.

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26 thoughts on “Should Knitting Be a Priority?

  1. So if the Swiss teachers are responsible for the kids on field trips just like during regular school days then I assume they don’t do the aggressive-aggressive thing of saying the class can’t go on the field trip unless we achieve the minimum 1 parent chaperone per 3-4 student ratio and holding this over everyone’s heads until this golden ratio is achieved?

      1. *gasp* you mean they let their teachers teach and they trust them to keep them safe? What a concept

  2. It sounds lovely. Safe and non-violent. Civilized. My kids always walked to school, though, as I homeschooled them initially, they were 9 or 10 before they started. Lots of parents walk with younger children, but by third or fourth grade, they’re usually walking on their own, or with an older child. However, lots of children are also driven to school, creating an almighty snarl of traffic and fumes, which always annoyed me. The catchment area of the school was not so large that kids couldn’t walk.The American love affair with their cars is not so strong in Canada, but we do have a case of it ourselves.

    My grandmother taught me to knit when I was 8 or so, but my skills have greatly lapsed since. I’ve been revisiting it, and enjoying myself, even though my only products thus far are some slightly wonky dishcloths.

  3. I don’t think that’s passive-aggressive, Roger. That’s just fact. In many districts (over-cautious North American ones!), the teachers are not allowed to set foot outside the school with their students without that ratio. It’s as much an annoyance to the teacher as it is to the parent.

    1. So far, I really like it! When they divide the kids up in grade 6, ask me again if I really like it.

  4. Sounds wonderful. If a miracle happens and I actually have a family (arrgh), I’d love to be in Europe and not here. 🙂

    I just learned to knit and I’m struggling trying to make a washcloth. I have difficulty with fine motor control, so for me it takes a lot of practice. I can’t wait until I can knit really fast like I see other people doing!

    1. If you find knitting to be unreasonably difficult, some people find it easier to crochet. I enjoy doing both (and sewing). They are all skills that I am pleased to see are making a comeback.

      1. Crochet is way easier than knitting.

        I think teaching handiwork to kids is awesome! With all the ADD, ADHD, and other behavioral issues American kids seem to be plagued with (do other countries have as many hyper kids as we do??) something as relaxing as knitting would be a wonderful strategy to offer children for those times when they feel the wiggles or the angries coming on.

  5. As a die-hard knitter, I think knitting, crochet, etc…absolutely should be a priority! Seriously though, I wonder if the knitting classes are in place of, or in addition to, the standard art class that American students are used to?

    1. I honestly don’t know! My older daughter goes to an international school, so it’s got a pretty Americanish curriculum.

      They do a lot of crafts and such but he’s still in 2nd grade.

  6. Suzanne,
    I really enjoy the posts about your family’s life in Switzerland. I worked for a while in Emmen (near Lake Lucern) and the lifestyle and attitudes were fascinating. I am assuming that you are communicating in English with the other parents and the teachers as all the Swiss I met were at least multi-lingual and very good English speakers, even the servers at the Pizza joint in the mall. Most rational people, in general, that I have ever encountered. Good luck and I hope you continue to enjoy and blog about the lifestyle differences.

    1. Oh, the Swiss are AMAZING with languages. We joke that when a Swiss person says he speaks “a little” English that means he’s fluent.

      But, I do all my school communications in German. I know my son’s teacher speaks English because she taught school the US for a year (in a French Immersion program, but I’m sure she was required to speak English for the job) and she told me she’s taking an advanced English course, where they use some of my articles from Inc as discussion points. Eek!

  7. Suzanne,

    I went to school in the Belgian school system, and yes the European system is complete 180 from the American. For one, they expect you to do well. In 3rd grade we learned Algebra, Geometry and other items that once I was in the American system I had to do Algebra in the 10th grade and I was amazed no one every had learned these things. Your test grades were read aloud and you would go collect your test when you name was read. Ie, you wanted to get your name read first or second and that person who failed, their name and score was read. Really encouraged you to do better. It’s a much better system

    1. I don’t know if that’s so European as it is a function of the age. When I was in school, we graded each other’s tests and read out the scores. A math teacher in JR high sat people in order of their test scores.

      They don’t do any formal tests in grade 2, though, so I have to wait to see how that’s handled here. My understanding is that testing and grades begin in grade 3.

  8. You (and the other readers) might like the book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way.

    And about homeschooling: ++++++++++++++

  9. Legal world is so less litigious in Europe – I love that. Especially living here in California. My mother grew up very poor on a farm in Western Ontario with five brothers and one sister. Grandmere taught them ALL to knit. What else are you going to do inside all winter in two rooms with seven kids????? They definitely stayed warm…. Seems like Scandanavia has a wonderful knitting tradition – very community/history oriented. Is Switzerland like that?

  10. We are so overprotective of our kids in North America. The boogie man might get them (or a neighbour might call social services) if they walk to school alone, or play in the local playground unsupervised. We are in a quiet neighbourhood and I encourage my kids to roam around and get to know it. We get to know our neighbours. People watch out for each other. I think it is the people that do not even bother to know their next door neighbours first names that are afraid to let their kids play freely outside.

    As far as the knitting goes, I think it is a brilliant idea! The kids learn that they can make something practical and useful, it is amazing for their fine motor skills, and if they are learning to follow a knitting pattern at the same time, imagine how this will translate to other things later in life (computer programming, math, etc.). I have seen some pretty complicated knitting instructions, and anyone who can understand them and create a beautiful sweater out of it, will excel with other things, in my opinion!

    1. Nope, just a normal public school. However, Rudolf Steiner and general Anthroposophy stuff is very popular around her. One town over is the center of the Anthroposophic movement. There are a bunch of houses built without right angles because those are somehow bad.

      Homeopathy is also a very big deal here, which drives me nuts!

      There are several Rudolf Steiner schools, but they are private and I’m not in love with philosophy enough to pay.

  11. Yes! Knitting (or crochet, or doodling, or simple whittling, or anything else that busies your hands but doesn’t take much thought) should be a priority.

    Take a look at Heather Ordover’s blog for more info: (she also has a great recorded-literature podcast but this ain’t that). I know that what she says accords with my own experiences. I am absolutely a person who needs to busy her hands in meetings: I take notes, I doodle, and if it’s a conference call meeting, I knit. None of these things slows down my participation in the meeting.

  12. I agree with you. It sounds idyllic. What screams to me, beyond the obvious difference in culture leading to such a different approach to dealing with our littlest people, is the lack of poverty as an obstacle to be overcome.

  13. Should knitting be a priority? The answer is always yes! It’s a great avenue for him to become a Maker. Plus, like you said, it’s a great way for him to work on his fine motor skills. I love that boys are being taught, because it’s not just a “women’s” craft.

  14. Sadly I cannot knit, but im a big sewer and maker/adjuster of clothes etc and I learn that from Brownies here in the UK and it’s something I prominently enjoyed when I was younger and am so glad I learnt it. Got a top come un-stitched, sew it back up again. Dress too big, take it in by hand or on the sewing machine etc. It’s highly rewarding and having a saddler father I’ve been able to transition that a bit sewing and fixing friends and I’s equestrian tack and equipment.
    I learnt it early on and think we’d have a much less ‘throw it away rather than fix it’ culture

  15. I help in HR for a company (along with many other roles- small business) that is focused solely on teaching needle-arts (knitting, crochet, hand/machine sewing, etc.). For better or worse we built a whole business around teaching these skills to children in the US (mostly around the Mid-Atlantic region) because these skills are no longer taught at home and in schools. However, I will say there is a HUGE appreciation for it. We work with over 4,000 kids year and hire about 100+ instructors to teach these classes. Needless to say HR has become a large component to the business. I think we should be recruiting staff from Switzerland 😉 Thanks for the fun pertinent post!

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