Sewing and Weaving in the Classroom
"Repetition is the secret of perfection, and this is why the exercises are connected with the common activities of daily life."
—Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
As the new school year approaches, you undoubtedly are thinking of ways to rejuvenate some of your "tried and true" exercises, and create some new activities for those returning children who are still perfecting their basic physical movements.
If you have not included sewing and weaving in the Practical Life area, you may want to do so now. Stringing and lacing activities are an excellent preparation for these skills. Needlework exercises are appropriate for the older child who has become proficient at the preliminary exercises. The small muscles are developing - and the children are learning a practical skill.
Laying the Foundation with Strings and Laces
Stringing beads is a traditional activity for the young child. It provides practice in eye-hand coordination and small muscle control. It also creates an opportunity for the child to "cross the midline" by holding the lace with one hand, grasping the bead or spool with the other, and then moving the bead or spool to the end of the string. Children do this over and over until the lace is filled to their satisfaction. The older child can learn to tie the end knot around a bead.
Lacing is often learned on the dressing frame, though most children are familiar with lace-up shoes. Alternately, using stiff paper with pre-punched holes, or the Lacing Shapes, children outline the form by sewing with the laces. Remember, if using yarn or string, you can prepare the stiff end with a rather wide piece of tape to make it easier to handle.
These activities have repetition built in. The same movement is required over and over to accomplish the task. Not only do the movements refine muscular development, but they also help develop concentration, leading to normalization.
Introducing the Needle
Using a blunt-tipped plastic or metal needle with a large eye is the next step. Show children how to thread the needle and knot the end of the yarn or thread. With the Lacing Shapes or the Lacing Exercise, the child learns the up and down motion of making stitches. You can also create this activity using stiff paper with evenly spaced punched holes. The next step might be to mark the paper with evenly spaced dots for the child to follow. Ideas for progressive sewing activities include:
- First, the child might learn to sew the running stitch on burlap from which threads have been pulled to indicate the line to sew on.
- Then the child graduates to a needle with a sharp point. Learning to sew a large button onto a piece of cloth is made easier if the cloth is stretched in an embroidery hoop.
- Later, a child might learn to embroider cross-stitch on gingham.
- The classroom can be equipped with the materials needed to create individual projects such as making a small stuffed pillow or pincushion, sewing a book cover, or making a small quilt.
Creating the Sewing Exercises
We've all had the experience of a button or hook coming off one of the dressing frames. I recall a child's sense of order being disturbed when discovering that the large button frame was missing a button. This was the opportunity to first bring out the button box for the child to find a matching button, then to introduce the Button Sewing Exercise, and finally to watch him sew the button on the frame without the aid of the embroidery hoop. The process was lengthy - it took more than a week - but the sense of accomplishment for the child was obvious.
You can easily create sewing lessons for your classroom. Or you might want to consider all or some of our Sequential Sewing Exercises. Developed by an experienced Montessori teacher, they include everything needed, along with lesson descriptions. The final item is the classroom sewing and mending basket which can be used for repair or to create items.
Weaving, Knitting and More
The repetition of movements when weaving or knitting is soothing and calming for many children (and adults). On a Peg Loom a child can weave a coaster or small mat. Some classrooms have the space for a freestanding loom, which allows many children to have a part in the creation of a small rug or tabletop runner.
Learning to knit on the Knitting Tower fine-tunes the small muscles of the hand while transforming a single piece of yarn into a knitted tube. And the next step might be learning to knit. Some schools are fortunate enough to have special teachers or parents to assist individual children in learning these skills.
Once you introduce needlework activities to the Practical Life area, you will be amazed by the interest displayed as the children learn these useful skills. Along the way, the children improve their concentration and coordination, and will think of numerous projects that encourage them to become independent and successful.
— by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.