Sewing In Preschool
Updated: Feb 16
I don't know about you, but I have always wanted and struggled to introduce sewing to my preschool students. For years I have done some version of something, usually in the form of lacing cards. But this is the year, I think I figured out a successful way to work with fabric, yarn, and needles. So now, I can share it with you.
As always, I like to start with why?
Why do I want to teach kids to make a stitch? Of course, it’s great fine motor work. That is easy to see, and nothing to take lightly. Strong fine motor skills prepare children for the ever important writing that they will do one day. But there is more to learning in this world besides writing. In this case, what I want to give to children is another tool to make things. In the world of making, any creation can be made more complex when parts can be connected together. It’s why we use tape, glue, and even staplers. Threading a string or a wire through two objects, is a great way to connect things together.
Stitches also add lines on a surface. Many lines together can create shapes and images.
And, I have noticed, for some children it is calming and soothing. In and out, in and out. I can watch those children forever, enjoying their Zen moment.
So now onto the how:
First, here are the materials that we used:
These small (6 inch) embroidery hoops work well with 5 inch burlap ribbon. I got mine at Michael's. You could always vary the size, but this is what I had on hand already. The hole-y-ness of the burlap makes it pretty fool proof. The large, plastic needles fit through the openings, so that anywhere the children place the needle, they will be able to poke through to the other side.
On day one:
We put an embroidery hoop and stretched burlap, with pre-threaded needles on each tray. Most importantly, we knew that for this activity to be a success, it required some teacher guidance, and we were prepared for one teacher to have her focus there. This means that we made sure we did not have other high intensity, complicated activities happening at the same time.
At this point, we were only focusing on making stitches. Threading needles, cutting, and making knots...we are not ready for that. (Perhaps this could be something to work towards in the future.) So, in addition to needing a teacher to demonstrate how to make the stitches, she was also needed to thread new needles, and make knots when the need arose. To help with this step, we have several extra needles threaded and ready to go quickly.
We also planned that we would reuse these pieces of fabric and thread over and over again, rather than creating permanent artwork to be displayed or taken home. As one child finished working, we pulled out their stitches, and gave their hoop to another child. Of course, some children did want to take their work home, but to do so would require too much teacher attention and management.
Here is what the children needed help with:
These were new materials to them. They did not know the words for needle, yarn, sewing.
We showed them how to put the needle into the fabric, and to keep on pulling the needle and thread before making a new stitch.
Children, at first, will definitely go all the way around the sides of the embroidery hoop, rather than alternating back and forth between the front and back. As we began, I was not sure how much I wanted to correct that technique. Ultimately we did, because it made the activity as a whole more successful. When they just went around the edges, they quickly needed new pieces of yarn, and it was tricky to keep up with giving the children new thread so frequently. This meant we were a little more directed than we usually are at the art table, but we have a longer term goal in mind, and hope to allow the children more independence in the future.
On Day Two:
We added some pipe cleaners with the needles and thread. This allowed children to practice stitching, but required less help from teachers. When a child used up a pipe cleaner, they could quickly take another one, and begin again.
Day three continued with more of the same as day one and two.
It was the following week, that things began to get more interesting.
I found this large standing frame in the cellar of my school. I believe something similar could be made using some 2x4's. I honestly do not know what its intended use is, but this kids' loom might do the trick. Again, I used my strips of burlap ribbon, although clearly, a large single pice of burlap would be more efficient. Once again, I just wanted to use materials that I already had available.
This piece was available for several days in a row, in a corner of the room. Whenever I noticed a child heading over to work on it, I ran over to guide the process. I wanted as much as possible for the children to move back and forth between the sides, and later, I wanted them to have the option to attach buttons as well.
I really loved the final creation, which we detached from the frame and hang on the bulletin board.
Since this experience, I have left out those embroidery hoops and needles every once in a while, but I have noticed that the children don't return to them. However, they do head to the string and pipe cleaners a little more frequently now that they have some experience with its uses.
As I write this post, two months after we introduced sewing, I realize it is time to offer sewing once again at the art table. To add this to their repertoire of skills and tools, they need more exposure and practice. Repetition is the name of the game.
Have you done more needlework with young children? I am curious to hear how you managed it. If this post was helpful to you, let me know, and please share with others. More than anything, I want more children to have the time and opportunity to explore the world, and play with all the wonderful things inside it.