Day 12: Yarn Play for the Child with Special Needs

31 days medal 400 by 400 redOne year, when I was still in the classroom, I ran a knitting club during lunch. I was surprised to find that many of the students who signed up were boys.  More than that – a lot of them were children with learning disabilities or with social/ emotional conditions.  Not all of them learned to knit that year, but what they did learn was a great lesson to me as well.  The seemingly simple act of spinning yarn into a ball calmed them down almost immediately. I witnessed a room full of children focused, sitting for an extended period of time, and extremely serene.

For whatever reason, handwork is an art that the children aren’t getting enough of in the classrooms.  Luckily, at home, we can decide what we’d like our children to practice.  Whether in the homeschool setting or in the afterschool hours, handwork, such as knitting, needs to be introduced to children.  The therapeutic benefits are just too grand to ignore.  However, how can we offer activities such as knitting to a child with fine motor delays?  That’s what this post aims to tackle.

Knitting screenshot

Just look at all the knitting activities found on Pinterest!

Why knitting may be a challenge for children with special needs

  • Children with fine motor delays may find the technique demanding to coordinate.
  • Children with tactile sensory aversions may find the yarn a difficult texture to manipulate.

Yarn Play for the Child with Special Needs - GabriellaVolpe.com

Suggestions for adaptations/ modifications for yarn play

  • Free exploration.  Allow your child to play with strings of yarn in a sensory bin, or simply allow him to play with balls of yarn.  If your child struggles with the texture, begin with satin ribbons, then, soft raffia, then rope-like spools.  Work your way up to the yarn.
Yarn play tips for the child with special needs

Play with various colors and thicknesses of yarn. Each of the skeins above has a different texture. I suggest beginning with the thickest yarn you can find as it’s easiest to manipulate.

  • Wind into a ball.  Model how to do this for a few days while your child observes.  Then, set-up a small ball for your child, and have him wind the unraveled yarn into a ball. You may need to do this hand-over-hand for a while. Sit behind him while you guide him – encouraging the pincer grasp.
  • Create a verbal routine.   When winding yarn, you can create a verbal routine like: “Round, and round, and round we go” or sing a short song like “Ring around the Rosie”.  Whichever you choose, keep it consistent with this activity.
  • Wind around objects.  Practice the same skill by winding around familiar objects like blocks and toys.  Just ensure that they’re thick and somewhat long.
yarn play for the child with special needs

We wound around my son’s wooden blocks.

Wind around branches too.  For safety reasons, be sure to find thick but short branches.

Wind around branches too. For safety reasons, be sure to find thick but short branches.

  • Wind around a loom.  This time, rather than rolling in circular motion, have your child practice winding sideways around a DIY loom.  Also, criss-cross around sticks in a circle.  (See images below for explanation).  What you want to do is vary the direction the hands go in, even if you’re doing this entirely hand-over-hand like we do.  This is, in fact, a pre-finger knitting/ pre-crocheting practice!
Loom for knitting practice - one prong

This is a DIY pre-finger knitting loom. I found the idea for a variation of this on Pinterest. Hot glue a large popsicle stick to a toilet paper tube. Wind elastics to hold in place. Practice winding yarn with one stick. Have your child hold the tube with one hand while winding around and around the stick with the other. He’s not actually making anything. The exercise is to practice winding around one vertical stick.

two-pronged loom - knitting and yarn play for the child with special needs

Progress to a two-pronged loom. This time, wind around one stick, then the other. Alternate repeatedly. Again, your child isn’t actually making anything. The exercise is to practice winding yarn around two sticks.

Knitting loom DIY - yarn play for the child with special needs

Increase the amount of sticks on your loom until you create a loom with 4 prongs. Again, wind around one, wind around the next, and continue in a circular fashion. Unless you think your child might be ready for finger knitting using this loom, just practice the winding for some time. That’s some tricky work!

Yarn play loom

More practice with winding yarn around sticks. This time, I cut slits into a paper towel tube and inserted the large popsicle sticks right through. The fine motor practice here is winding the yarn from left to right.

  • If your child is ready, teach him to finger knit.  There are tons of tutorials pinned on Pinterest.  Always model first, then hand-over-hand, then let him fly!
knitting book for kids

This is my favorite book for teaching children to knit (although, it’s great for beginning parents to learn from here as well!)

 Find book here (affiliate link to Amazon shop)

Do you knit?  Have you introduced this type of handwork to your child?  What tips can you share?

If you need additional tips on how to break down the fine motor practice for your child, I’d love to help you find them.

Learn how I can guide you

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Day 12: Yarn Play for the Child with Special Needs

2 Responses

  1. I don’t knit and have stayed away from anything like this because I know what a struggle it will be for my son (quad CP). I like the idea of winding around a branch with my guidance. I think I’ll put that on my list of fall crafts. Thanks for sharing! I am very much enjoying this series and so glad to have found you on the 31 Days list.

    Catherine October 13, 2013 at 7:28 am #
    • Oh, boy, do I ever hear you, Catherine. I have picked up knitting in the last four years myself, and each time I work on a project I think about how amazing it would be if my son learned this craft. However, I thought it would be impossible to even pretend to have my son knit. It still might be, but I want him to get as close to the skills this craft offers. I knew he’d be able to touch yarn, so I did that. Then, I thought about what else he could do with it besides pull it apart in a pile.

      Even though he’s not doing it on his own, the winding action is helping to build brain connections that weren’t there before. You should see the excitement in his eyes when I pull out the yarn. He sits up and waits for me to place my hands over his. He just knows what’s coming next, and I can feel the movement in his hands – trying to go in the direction of “round and round”. Who knows how far I can take this over time.

      I’m happy you clicked on that button, Catherine! Thanks for letting me know how you found me.

      Gabriella Volpe October 13, 2013 at 10:52 am #