Knitting brainpower stitch by stitchreprinted from the net....
Melanie Pickens picks up a coaster-sized circle of deep purple yarn, inspecting it to see if it will lie flat against a table.
"This is too lumpy," 9-year-old Melanie told her teacher, Roberta Konefal-Shaer, of the crocheted disc that will someday become a hat. "What do you think I should do now? Do you think I should do a double stitch?"
At the Waldorf School, boys and girls from kindergarten through fifth grade scrutinize their knitting, crocheting and sewing projects like students elsewhere might examine computer programs or graphing calculators.
The private school in Bloomfield, Penn. -- one in a network of more than 900 schools practicing Waldorf Education worldwide -- is founded partly on the principle that forms of handwork such as knitting, crocheting and sewing are critical to a child's intellectual and emotional development.
"They're training their fingertips to be more alive," said Konefal-Shaer, the school's handwork teacher.
Every child in the school has two 45-minute handwork lessons per week. Kindergartners do projects such as sewing pouches for treasures found on nature walks. Fifth-graders spend much of the year knitting socks.
Knitting not only energizes the children's tactile sense but is also instrumental in mental development, Konefal-Shaer said.
"A child who knits when he's 6 will be a much stronger reader," she said. "They learn to communicate between both sides of the brain."
Students learn math, spatial and geometric skills in knitting and sewing, she said, whether it's first-graders counting stitches in each row of their scarves or fourth-graders creating and embroidering geometric patterns.
Waldorf Schools, founded in Germany in the early 20th century, stress "educating the whole child -- head, heart and hand."
The schools are distinctive in many ways. Arts and music are integral to the curriculum, for example, and students learn both Spanish and Russian in elementary grades. Students make and eat organic snacks, television is discouraged for children under 10 and walls are painted specific colors for each grade level, going from warm to cool colors as the students get older.
Taking on a project like a scarf also helps teach first-graders to manage frustration.
"Remember, just about everybody makes just about every mistake there is," she tells the class, first correcting their mistakes without their knowledge and then gradually pointing out missed or mangled stitches and teaching them to recognize their own imperfections.
The culminating project in fifth grade is a pair of socks -- something that takes the students nearly the whole year to complete. "You really have to be a skilled knitter to knit socks," said Konefal-Shaer. "Once you do socks, you can do anything."