Friday, April 4, 2014

Practical Lacing Activities for Boys

My almost 5-year-old has been asking me to teach him to sew lately. It started when his little sister got a "build-a-bear" project for her birthday in which the kid was supposed to sew up several seams on the animal. Both kids got quite a kick out of helping to make something actually functional, but for James it really made an impression.
I've tried a couple of ideas I found online with plastic canvas and safety needles, but our materials haven't been ideal, and neither of us has been quite patient enough. More to the point, I suspect, there was no actual product produced.  Sewing a line for the sake of a line simply isn't that exciting.
This afternoon he grabbed a shallow cardboard box that had been kicking around and asked for tape in order to make the flaps stand up. This proved frustrating: he just isn't coordinated enough to get everything in the right place before the tape goes on. He asked for another solution, and to make a long story short, I ended up putting holes in each edge of the flap and helping him "sew" them together.  Voila, an activity that made sewing not just fun, but practical!

Here's what we used
1. Good-sized, fairly heavy cardboard box with flaps
2. yarn
3. half a pipe cleaner (A yarn needle or even a twist tie would also work.)
4. Single hole punch

First, I punched an equal number of holes on each of the adjacent flaps, perhaps an inch and a half apart.

Prior experience has taught me that both kids have no end of trouble just keeping the yarn / thread in the needle. The seemingly simple strategy of pinching both ends of the yarn between thumb and forefinger before pulling is more than they can master, and there it would go. Every. Single. Stitch. Unsurprisingly, very few stitches actually get made: all our patience is exhausted up front!
Therefore, I looked for a new strategy.

I made a "needle" by bending a pipe cleaner in half, placing the length of yarn through an "eye," and then twisting it together. The idea is for the yarn to be held fairly tightly so it will take more than a light tug to get it off.

(By the way, my 3-year-old has also successfully used this technique to string fruit-loop necklaces. Much easier than tape around the end of the yarn! A twist-tie also does the trick, and may be more appropriate to smaller beads or cereal)

Finally, I threaded the needle through the first hole and tied a knot, then helped him pull the needle in and out of the holes, sewing up the seam.
Our improvised needle worked very well, only coming unthreaded once.
More importantly, with an actual end product in mind, James' attention held nicely through two full seams.

Parent Tips: 
As usual, I was internally conflicted about how strongly I ought to suggest / insist on doing things "correctly" vs. letting him figure it out for himself.  Not that I'm a perfectionist or anything, but there is apparently nothing particularly innate about repeatedly going in one side and out the other. 
I started out trying to get him to do a modified ladder stitch: needle goes in from the outside on the left flap, comes up in between the two flaps, and then back in the outside of the right flap. (See title photo.) 
This turned out to be Way Too Complicated. 

On our second seam, I had him do a far simpler "hemming" stitch: needle goes in on the outside of the left flap, and then travels through the hole on the inside of the left flap. 
For an older child, I would suggest numbering the holes. He's not solid on his numerals yet, so I made it even easier: I drew a green circle around the holes on the outside of the left flap, and a red circle around the holes on the inside of the right flap.  Needle starts at the green and ends at the red, just like when we're doing tracing practice

This made a lot more sense to him, and then I had the sense to (almost) ignore the crossed stitches near the end of the seam.  :)

If he's interested in finishing the third and fourth seams sometime in the future, I will probably draw and red and green circles as before - but only if he asks for help. Otherwise I'll just start him at the top and let him go. Unlike handwriting, I am not terribly concerned about bad habits to be unlearned later. The exercise of figuring out where the needle needs to enter and exit will itself be a large part of the value.

So, there's our practical sewing for boys.
What sort of practical sewing (or other learning) activities have worked for your kids?

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