Knitters with sums up their sleeves

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Needles and darts are being used to boost numeracy. Stephen Lucas and Dorothy Lepkowska report

Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts and Madonna have championed knitting for its calming effects but no one - until now - has claimed that it can boost maths and English skills.

At Shaftesbury primary, in east London, fashion designer Sasha Kagan has been helping to teach pupils to knit to promote literacy and numeracy.

Jenni Stather, ethnic-minority achievement support teacher at the school, said: "It's a way of improving core subjects such as maths in a fun way.

"The children have to count the stitches so it helps with their maths, they have to read the patterns and understand them which helps their English."

The 608-pupil school is one of several experimenting with innovative and fun ways of raising standards in basic skills.

Pupils at a Hertfordshire middle school are playing darts to improve their mental arithmetic, while a Lincolnshire primary has started a bridge club to develop children's thinking skills.

Ms Kagan, who has created garments for Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Eric Clapton, has taught knitting around the world and is now working with 45 youngsters.

She said: "With the kids it's just raw gutsy enthusiasm. Some Year 5 girls came back for more. They had suddenly all forgotten their PE kits and wondered if they could do knitting instead."

Pupils at the school come from 41 countries and speak more than 43 languages. Ms Stather said: "We have children from Ecuador, Lithuania, Russia and Bangladesh where there is a tradition of knitting. Some have very little English but know how to knit. They can share this skill with other children and it raises their self-esteem."

At Woodland middle, in Flitwick, Year 6 youngsters have been signing up for a darts club, where they will learn the minimum number of throws for a 201 finish, and how to end on a double.

Philip New, the Year 6 teacher and maths co-ordinator at Woodland, was inspired to set up the darts club by Bobby George, the champion thrower.

"I heard him say in a post-match interview how much fun it was for children, and how it could help their maths skills. It seemed like something different to do in school," Mr New said.

The darts club began this week with 12 members - and a waiting list. Pupils examine the combinations of darts needed to finish a game, and do the maths in their heads while playing.

Club membership will be determined in part by good behaviour, so there is an added incentive.

At Digby primary children have been playing bridge. James Greenwood, head, said the card game had improved pupils' social and communication skills as well as their ability to think strategically and to predict the next move.

"It has been a really useful tool in citizenship and PHSE classes because the children have to learn to take turns and develop good manners, as well exercise judgement," he said.

* dorothy.lepkowska@tes.co.uk

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