I love doing gigs with kiddies, of any age. Have had 'em
from 5-6 yrs old up to teenagers. I haven't tried teaching drop spindle, though at the
last 4-H demo I did, several of them learned right off the bat on my wheel. And at an
AgFair today at an elementary school, kids just started twisting together the
"fuzz" (literally! "staple" length approx. 1/4"!!) given them by
the lamb shearer they saw just before coming to my demo as they sat and watched and
listened to my schpeel. I couldn't believe several of them had over a foot of yarn of this
stuff just sitting and twisting. I was impressed.
As far as "what works and what doesn't" -- I've
found with just about ANYTHING and kids, if I love what I'm doing -- love doing it and
love telling about it -- they'll pick up on that and "get into it", too. And
kids can "do" just about anything they set their minds to -- unlike most adults
who have picked up an "I can't" attitude somewhere along the way. So lots of
genuinely felt and expressed enthusiasm and a little instruction (i.e. show and tell) goes
a long way. Have fun! That's the bottom line. Kids will, too, given half a chance.
I have been doing demos for about 10 years for kids from 3
years old through high school and have devised a routine that I use. I combine spinning
and weaving in my demos. I start by reading The Goat in the Rug to the kids. It
runs through the whole process and is funny for the kids to keep their interest.
I then talk about fibers in the same order as the book. I
have fiber samples from a variety of sources...i.e. angora, alpaca. silk cocoons, etc. and
let them handle the samples as they guess what animals, plants or insects produce fiber.
After explaining carding, each child learns to spin a small piece on their leg. Then I
show drop spindles and then the wheel. I then go on to dyeing and weaving.
Any hands-on the kids do will greatly increase the time of
the demo. Some kids really want to be able to do what you are showing and won't let it
drop while you go on, so you can spend a fair amount of time showing individuals. When
this happens, you sometimes lose control so be careful. Since I move a lot there always
seems to be MANY people who want demos... even in the rural area I live in.
I have fun with the demos...(and I have had over a 100 kids
in the room for the demo) When I twist a piece of roving on my leg (with no tools) I play
like a magic trick..look no glue on my fingers and nothing up my sleeves. I show how
strong it becomes after spinning. Then I show them how to fold it in half so it twists
back on itself and won't unwind... then they have something to take home. I send around
dirty wool for the kids to touch and smell. Boys really love that especially if you
mention some of the things that can be in it...
I have a lightweight 4 harness floor loom that I also take
to class and let each kid have a turn weaving on at the end of class. During this time I
ask the teacher to provide something to keep the kids busy while I am with individual
kids. Under 3rd grade, I sit at the loom and handle the treadles while two kids,one on
each side, pass the shuttle and beat. Older kids can handle the treadles with a bit of
help. Because of this part of the demo, time can really vary depending on the number of
students. I like to have at least an hour and a half for a normal size group. Sometimes I
will let teachers bring extra kids in for everything but the hands on weaving. Then the
other kids go back to class and I have only thirty or less to have weave.
I would suggest you try out your demo with a small group of
kids at home before you head to school if you have never done it before. Remember that
they have many misunderstandings about it all and may ask some wild questions... There is
so much new going on the first time you see these kids, that if they get to touch things,
I don't think you need much hands on or if you do, groups are a great idea. Be sure to
have fun because if you don't, it isn't worth doing.
From: cpy at straw.com
I once went to do a spinning demo series for my son's class
when he was in about 5-6th grade. Two teachers thought it was so wonderful that when I
showed up they had their joined classes facing me with about 65 kids!
If you get to actual drop spindle spinning, put them in
teams of 2, 3 or 4. They can really help each other and one can keep the spindle turning
while one spins and a 3rd "critiques". The kids catch on so much faster than
adults that it really goes nicely. You can make spindles out of clay and chopsticks.
For a first visit they are usually pretty content to watch
it all; it's only if they get you back again that they'll want hands-on.
Take along a variety of fibers. They love to sniff the
sheep in the raw wool and make faces and go "Ughhhh!".
One thing I do with school groups that seems to make a hit
and sends kids home with a piece of yarn is give each one of them a small bit of roving,
about 3" for each child, then have them attenuate it and then spin it on their leg.
They are told to pinch one end and then roll the rest down their leg, pinch, move the
partly spun yarn back up their leg and roll down again. Did you ever sit and
"spin" grass in the summertime when you were young? If so, you will have an idea
of what I'm saying.
I then explain that they need to put the two ends together and let the rest
"unspin" against itself. Some kids get this better than others, but it is a
small thing that they can get a look at and see that spinning is a simple process.
I hope this makes sense. It's hard to explain in words, and
so easy to show. One of the best things we do is showing children how spinning works.
I have found that if asked to participate, the teachers are
as enthusiastic as the children and love to help out where they can. Be sure to ask before
you bring animals into the classroom. It always adds a dimension to your demonstration,
but some teachers don't want to have the animals as part of the demonstration.
I have a wonderful rapport worked out with the local
elementary school. One of the neighbors has a log cabin that is about a 1/2 mile walk down
through the woods and sits close to a creek bank. Very picturesque and isolated. The first
graders all get a trip to the log cabin in the fall. We dress in period costume; Ann does
the "settler's wife" and shows and tells about all the things that relate to
everyday living, and I do spinning and knitting and tell about the animals.
In the spring, I bring in whatever little baby animals I
have to show the first graders. I bring along plastic tarps and have a 10 or 12 foot piece
of 2x4 welded wire I bend in a circle to contain the animals. This helps to keep the baby
lambs/goats from being mauled, but allows the children to get close enough to touch. The
teachers can count on the demonstrations, and the kids look forward to it. It is
especially fun when some little kid tells me that his older sibling told him that the
"spinning lady" was really neat (or Cool, as it is these days).
My first ever demo for the 5th graders - little did I
realize what 2 hours with 78 ten-and eleven-year-olds would be like - whew! The first
thing I did was recruit 4 friends to come with me - two spinners and two non-spinners. I
pretty much took anything I thought might end up being useful, a luxury which worked
because of all the helpers for carrying stuff. The "props" I took along
- 2 spinning wheels, lazy kates, niddy noddies, basket of
handspun skeins, flick carder and hand cards
- my stuffed animals dressed in various knitted garments
- the book Unraveling Fibers (ages 8-12)
- about 3 dozen drop spindles made from the remnants of an
old tinker toys set plus some cup hooks
- baggies containing raw wool, silk cocoons, caps,and
fiber, angora, dog hair, llama, camel, mohair, etc.
- Fairy Tale Spinning poster with a picture of a great
wheel with a quill (from a Spin Off ad) for Sleeping Beauty, and a handful of straw
(begged from a vendor at MD) with some spun gold mylar flash interspersed for
- What Else Can We Spin poster adorned with cotton boll,
ginned cotton, colored cotton and cotton yarn, down through silk, alpaca, dog and cat
hair, buffalo, horse mane, whatever I had or could borrow, the raw substance and then spun
up and also swatched where possible.
- How to Add Color to Fiber poster showing packets of a few
natural dyes (madder, osage, cochineal) some wool dyed with sagebrush and mulberry, then
into yarn dyed with Kool Aid (and a packet included), copper (some pennies taped on), food
coloring, and finally some colorful synthetically dyed roving.
- two cardboard looms made as per instructions in the
current issue of Spin-Off in the article about making pouches out of odds and ends of
handspun, warped and a few rows started on each
- a packet for each child which included 2 brochures about
sheep and wool from the Sheep Industry, handouts defining terms and illustrating the parts
of a spinning wheel, a lock of fleece, a 6" length of roving, and a yard of colored
yarn for the loom.
The length of the list was only exceeded by the depth of my
terror! But it all worked out okay. Because we saw the kids in 3 groups they each had a
drop spindle to work with when that portion rolled around. Holly and Deb spun while I
talked and Peggy and Judy passed things around/out. We related it to the pioneers (they
are studying the Oregon Trail) and how hard people had to work to have clothes in those
days. We took out the fleece and roving, set the kids on the floor, and had them pre-draft
(or try to), catch a bit of roving and roll the spindles up their legs. Results varied.
:-) I showed how to make rolags, how to use the flick carder, how to test for plying.
Somewhere in there (it was different for each session) the posters were trotted out,
pictures from the book were shown, the weaving was introduced.
Then we went completely free form and the children tried
their hand at what interested them most. Many continued on their spindles while waiting a
turn at one of the wheels. The non-spinners helped with the weaving. I was usually helping
with the hand carders. At some point we pulled off a layer of dyed silk bell and saw how
far we could stretch it out around the room; when it broke the children could take their
pieces and spin that. The teacher had as much trouble as some of the kids, and was very
good-natured about it, and quite proud of her progress by the third session. She seemed
thrilled that it was really driven home to the kids how hard our ancestors had to work for
things we take so much for granted.
So that was pretty much it, rather disorganized but I think
a good time was had by all. Some of the kids really did nice jobs, both on the spindles
and on the wheels. For the wheels we had one child draft and one treadle which worked out
nicely. I left the posters, book, looms, a few spindles, and extra yarn and roving with
the teacher until the unit is completed. We were invited on the spot to return next year,
and several days later my son came home with a thank you note and a certificate awarding
me 200 acres of prime Oregon farmland, so it looks like my wagon made it through!
I had a lot of fun with some girl guides and silk caps,
showing how strong silk is. You can gather about 6 young kids around a reasonably thick
layer of silk cap and have them all pull in different directions It makes for a great fun
game to let off steam in the middle of the demo, and seems to be safe if you have a soft
area where they can stagger about with it and fall down. I then made a hole in the middle
of the cap, let them stretch it for a while longer then spun it.
Another idea is to make a drop spindle out of an apple and
a pencil. They really enjoy seeing things they use everyday turned into something to spin
with. I usually poke the hole in the apple before the demonstration. Most of the kids
remember things like that.
I sometimes volunteer at our "Old Fort Western".
I have a lot of 5 to 10 year olds. I sit them down to the wheel and give them a piece of
roving. I instruct them to stretch it a bit and show them how. Then I have them lay their
piece over the all ready spun piece. They treadle and soon have 5 or 6 inches of their own
yarn. I cut it and ply it against itself. I knot it and they have a bit of plied yarn,
dreadlock or whatever. All I do is keep the wheel going in the right direction. They are
so very proud.
P.S. When I say a lot of kids, one time last month I had 90
in one morning, and they ALL had their own piece of hand spun.
I did a little demonstration for preschoolers for storytime
at our little community library last spring using Charlie Needs a Cloak. I took in
a whole unwashed fleece, some washed locks, cards, drop spindles, jars of natural dyes,
skeins of dyed yarn, a weaving in progress on a frame loom, and some items I had knitted.
I didn't take my spinning wheel because I also had my 4-year-old and 2-year-old
grandchildren in tow and wanted to haul in everything in one trip.
First I explained the words shepherd, cloak, shear, and
crook (I couldn't help it - I'm a retired elementary school teacher). Then I told the kids
to watch for the little mouse on each page. I used the story later with eight kinder
classes and they all loved watching for that mouse. I also asked them to look at the
sheep's expressions as her fleece is transformed throughout the story. Then, as I read
each page I held up and passed around the corresponding examples. It helps to have parents
help pass stuff around and to have several examples for each page.
I also found that while older kids like to smell the
unwashed fleece and comment in increasingly loud voices how smelly it is, some of the
little ones don't want to get anywhere near it. That's ok. At the end I gave each child a
lock of some Lincoln I happened to have. It took about a half hour and the kids just loved
it. I followed up next storytime with Sheep in a Shop and another beautiful picture
book (the title escapes me) about a little girl who thinks she's found a lost lamb. Hope
this helps. Have fun!
Another book which is good for that is Pelle's New Suit.
It covers step by step the making of a new suit from raising the sheep to taking the wool
and then the yarn to various relatives to complete the process.
I usually read the story, demonstrate what the wheel is
doing - simple explanation to fit the age group, and then let them stand next to me
individually. They draw the fiber out (with help) while I treadle. Haven't had one yet
that didn't want to try this. Lots of fun.
I am a Kindergarten teacher. My children are not
pre-schoolers, but are 4, 5 and 6 years old. At my school, a Catholic School in Manhattan,
we combine the pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten class. My classes are always small,
usually only about 14-16 children. I have been teaching since 1966. The one great bonding
force from generation to generation of my classes has been fiber arts.
I begin early each year explaining where our clothes come
from, then tell where wool comes from and we talk about sheep. I show them how I spin wool
on a drop spindle and spin for several days during story time. Soon they have mastered the
visual-brain skills of spinning and I give them some fleece. They instinctively spin it by
twisting it between their fingers. I have lots of small drop spindles (30 years of
teaching gave me plenty of time to accumulate them) and soon the kids are spinning their
own yarn. Most all learn very quickly and the early learners help the slower ones.
I progress on to finger crochet then crochet with hooks and
by the end of the year have some weaving on an inkle loom and others knitting. Remember
they are only 4-6 years old.
The adults who were once my Kindergartners still talk about
this unique experience in their early years. Some have become fiber enthusiasts and some
of their parents and members of the faculty have also picked up on this.
I've done a few, and the kids tend to be absolutely
fascinated. Recommend a few points:
1) take a few handfuls of "demo" wool (junk) to
pass around so they can feel it.
2) if you can, take a few good-sized drop spindles they can
try. You'd be surprised. They can often do pretty good.
3) Don't let them paw anything you intend to spin and use.
Excessive kid pawing is really hard on the fiber....
For "sheep day" at my daughter's school, I had
2-1/2 hours to visit with all 3 first-grade classrooms. I carried along my Ashford wheel,
a basket of washed, natural color fleece, a raw cotton boll, a drum-carded batt for each
class' actual spinning, hand cards, a few various balls/skeins of finished yarns (Angora,
dyed and natural wools), a small handspun/knitted item, a handspun/woven item, and my
Ashford Charkha (to show a different spinning wheel version, and to point out the spindle
in relation to the "Sleeping Beauty" story).
The teachers all had a small section of the classroom with
carpet on the floor, where their class of almost 30 children would congregate around the
teacher's large rocking chair for the reading of the day. As the students were accustomed
to sitting and listening here, I was able to squeeze in the "teacher's spot"
with my wheel, basket, and tote bag to talk with them. I began by handing out a lock or
two of clean, washed wool (we had sheared out on the playground earlier that morning, and
encouraged each child to feel the grease wool for comparison). We talked about where a few
of the animal and vegetable fibers came from (it was fun to point out to tee-shirt-wearing
kids, that their shirt was once a plant...enter the raw cotton boll!).
While talking through the steps to prepare the wool for
spinning, have them each hand-tease their bit of wool. Now is a good time to demonstrate
the hand-carding tools. (The drum-carder stayed home , but I employed its batts for the
actual spinning.) Do a short wheel-spinning demo while explaining how the different parts
of the wheel function . The children can each mimic this where they sit, by hand-twisting
a bit of their own hand-teased fleece. Have them come up to the wheel, one at a time, for
a turn helping spin a length of yarn for the entire class. Use your drum-carded fibers
here. (The teacher can divide the yarn from your bobbin at the end of the demo amongst
them for take-home after you've gone on to next class.) Each can choose to do the
"hand part" (drafting) or "foot part" (treadling), while you actively
take the unchosen role in spinning on your wheel (most seemed to prefer treadling, so
you'll get lots of rapid-fire treadling while you draft and spin!).
After all have had a turn, unwind their class' yarn to
leave with them. Be sure to pass around some tactile or colorful yarns and finished items.
The charkha was great for showing where Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger (perhaps you
have a distaff with a "point" that may suffice as well). You can tailor this to
your particular areas of interest in spinning. Kool-Aid dyeing might be a consideration
(have any of you tired this as a "solar-dye" project, somehow away from
stoves?). Large, easy to see books (for a crowd) with pictures of fiber animals, looms,
dyed wools, etc. may augment your talk. And you can always have the teacher incorporate
several children's stories either in preparation to, or as a follow-up from your time
spent in the classroom. Titles include Charlie Needs a Cloak by Tomie de Paola; The
Goat in the Rug by Martin L. Blood; Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles; Pelle's
New Suit.....? (help me out here, spinners!); The Mitten by Jan Brett, and
traditional Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin stories.
Heard a method to maybe try with children if you want to
give them something to do. A small potato and a pencil will make a drop spindle and the
cost in minimal. I heard this from a woman who teaches this way in 4-H. She said the kids
really get a kick out of this.
When doing spinning demos at school I have used the book Charlie
Needs a Cloak by Tomie de Paola (available through Scholastic Books). It comes in
regular size and the Big Book format which I have. The story takes a shepherd boy through
the steps of spinning and weaving a cloak for himself and has a glossary of terms at the
end. It is well done, and the little sheep in the illustrations are cute.
I use to teach third grade, now am fifth grade. I taught my
third graders to spin wool on drop spindles every year. I never attempted to teach cotton
as I found it too difficult. I will teach my fifth graders this year. I will add cotton
due to our study of the Civil War.
I have given several demonstrations at my kids' school and
have had somewhat of a success rate as they all want to take stuff home with them! I have
found that if you pair two kids up it works quite well. I do not use a drop spindle, but
rather a 'hooked stick' as in a bent coat hanger. Lee Raven shows how to make a 'hooked
stick' in Hands on Spinning, page 12. All it really is is a 12" length of coat
hanger bent to resemble a cup hook on one end.
I have one child hold the wool supply (drafter) and the
other will be inserting the twist (twister). Have the 'twister' stay put, while the
'drafter' backs up while feeding the draft. This results in enough yarn to two ply it back
on itself to give the kids enough to take home and they usually remember you the next
year! I do demonstrate the drafting for them so they can see what to do. If the kids are
old enough, 8-10, they will get it really quick.
I like the idea of having them incorporate it into a
weaving project, but you would have to have them do more than a couple of yards. This
could be a day-long presentation. I know my spinning association is giving grants for
spinners that do this as part of the school curriculum. Wish I had the time! I think it's
great to do these demonstrations; it is the future that we are saving!
On the subject of demonstrating to lower elementary grades,
I start by asking how many people in the classroom are wearing something made of fibers
that have been spun, then knitted or woven into fabric. The ones wearing sweaters always
raise their hands and gets the session rolling as I point out chances are they're all
wearing spun and woven fibers.
I take a copy of Charlie Needs A Cloak by Tomie de
Paola for the teacher to read while I spin on the Traditional. I explain the rudimentary
steps of finger and thigh spinning, of winding onto a stick, then progress to the drop
spindle and get on with the wheel.
I hand out locks of washed white wool to play with, and
have a fiber notebook I set out, which is a 3-ring binder with cardstock pages. Each page
has a picture of the fiber source, a lock of raw fiber, washed, carded, spun, then a
sample of knitted, woven or crocheted fabric from the fiber. I printed large block letter
labels for each step.
Now that my daughter is middle school aged I haven't
visited the grade schools in a couple years, but you all are making me think of it again.
About the safety of allowing children to work with raw
In terms of tetanus, tetanus spores are found in dust and
dirt and farm yard mess in every part of the world. Allowing children to play with raw
fleece is no different from allowing them to help in the garden, as far as tetanus is
concerned. Most children are vaccinated, and all routine childhood vaccine schedules
It is more of a problem for adults. No one requires them to
be, or reminds them to get vaccinated. Tetanus vaccine should be boosted (renewed) every
ten years, and sooner if you have a serious laceration.
If parents have chosen not to vaccinate a child, then that
child is at risk of getting tetanus and maybe put at risk playing with raw fleece, or in
the garden, among other things. If anyone wants more info, feel free to contact me.
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