What is a good age to teach a child to sew? This is a question that parents and teachers repeatedly ask me and I can answer it with a simple story. Actually, it’s a true story. And it happened to me.
I used to hold weekly after-school workshops at home. When Yiscah, my youngest daughter was three, she loved to sneak to the door and peer in to see what the “big girls” were doing. After one sewing workshop, she asked me if she could sew too. I gently explained that she was still a little too young to start sewing. Well, mothers learn quickly that their kids are all different and I soon learnt something new about Yiscah. The “you’re still a little too young” explanation just didn’t take root. She wasn’t discouraged. Not even a bit. Every time I had a workshop, she’d be at the door and all week-long she’d noodge me to let her join in.
At last, I caved in. “Ok”, I said, “I’ll let you sew something with me and we’ll see how you go.” To my unending surprise, perhaps shock is a better word, this little three year old girl went just fine. It was a revelation: no problems with needles, no problems with learning to running stitch, no problems with nada. That’s how Yiscah started to sew and that’s how I came to realise that if a child really wants to do something, it’s best to simply help them find a way to do it. Yiscah started sewing at three years old. She’s almost thirty one now and still enjoys it.
To return to the opening question, what is a good age to teach a child to sew?
My experience, not only with Yiscah but with countless young students post-revelation, has been that the very best age to each your kids to sew is when they’re ready to sew and want to sew. The wanting to do it is pretty important. It can be as young as three, I know that now, but in my workshops, I accept students from 5 years old and up. So, if your child is asking to sew and you’re not really sure if they can, or if you just want to sew something with your child, my advice is: give it a go, let them try and see what happens.
Here’s another short story: a few years ago, I was running a workshop at a craft fair. A four year old boy had come with his older sister and was watching her sew. After a while, he whispered something to his mother. She whispered back,”you’ll have to ask Trixi”. He turned to me and said shyly, “can I sew?” Of course I said “yes!” I won’t even try to describe how thrilled he was. He sewed a wonderful softie and proudly showed me that he already knew how to thread his own needle. Kids always surprise you. Give them an opportunity and give them the skills that they need, and they will almost always rise to the occasion.
Having said that, there are a few things I can add.
Sometimes my young students come with with really good fine motor skills and they get into sewing very quickly. Other kids come with less developed fine motor skills and will start a project with large wonky stitches but typically, by the end of a class, their stitches are already getting smaller and neater. Then there are times, however, when it takes a particular student quite a few lessons to get the hang of a running stitch. I don’t think that it matters how quickly our kids pick up this skill. Quickly or slowly, they will pick it up. What really does matter, however, when teaching a child to sew is that he or she enjoys their sewing, that sewing is a rewarding experience for them and that they can’t wait to sew their next project.
Here’s an article I wrote about why I think hand sewing is good for your kids.
Put really simply this means: sewing has to be fun. You can call this Trixi’s Law. It’s the one absolute that never changes. And somehow it feeds into everything else. It allows sewing to nurture a child’s desire to show you that they can behave responsibly and it encourages the independence and self-confidence that a child needs in order to trust their ability to make their own creative decisions. For kids, fun seems to mean, a non-threatening non-judgemental environment in which they feel free to take responsibility as well as to take creative risks and explore.
And in relation to the importance of sewing being fun, it’s good to remember that sometimes parents are not the best teachers for their own kids. As parents we want our kids to succeed and this can cause us to interfere with their work when it would be better for them if we held ourselves back and gave them more room to sew by themselves.
If you are teaching your child to sew, then, the best advice I can give is: be patient, stand back as much as you can, let them make the decisions and above all, let them make mistakes.
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