BATH TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Gavin Hill's brow was knit almost as tightly as the stitches on his knitting needles.
He wrapped yarn around the tip of one stout needle, his fingers gripping tightly, his movements slow and purposeful.
Knitting, after all, requires muscle memory, and developing muscle memory takes concentration. Call him a craftlete in training.
Gavin, a second-grader, is one of 11 pupils who are learning the ages-old craft as part of a five-week knitting program at Herberich Primary School. The second-grader is the only boy in the group, which didn't seem to trouble him a bit during one of its recent after-school meetings.
The program promotes not just knitting but also compassion. The young participants are contributing their work toward the creation of a couple of knitted patchwork blankets, which will be raffled to raise money for the Copley Township, Ohio, Police Department's Share-a-Christmas effort.
Allison Chrien, the volunteer who leads the group, said the blankets should be on display at River City Gift Shoppes, a craft and gift market in Copley. Raffle tickets will be sold at the market, where she runs Yellowbird Yarn Room.
Second-grader Teresa White took the charitable aspect to heart.
"People don't have blankets, and they don't have a home," she explained earnestly. "They live on the streets, and they'll be cold."
Maybe her understanding of her work's destination was a little off target, but her heart was squarely in the right place.
The knitting program was started at Herberich two years ago by Chrien, a knitting instructor and blogger and a parent in the Copley-Fairlawn school district.
It was an offshoot of a program Chrien had begun at Arrowhead Primary in Copley in 2007, when her older son was in kindergarten there. A friend was teaching a scrapbooking class at Arrowhead at the time, she said, and when she saw a story on the "Today" show about a woman who ran a knitting club, the idea clicked.
"It just kind of snowballed from there," she said.
The program is a hit, Herberich principal Kathy Ashcroft said.
"Every year we get more people," she said. "... The kids are excited about it."
So is Ashcroft. The program improves eye-hand coordination and instills discipline through the gradual building of skills, she said. It also promotes socializing by kids from a range of ages and gives the more seasoned knitters an opportunity to coach the newer ones.
Fourth-grader Marinna Hill is one of the group's veterans. She sat on the floor of the library, patiently going over the basics of a knitting stitch with a friend.
Marinna learned knitting from a book and has since honed her skills to the point where she has finished a number of projects and is now working on a pillow for a friend.
What does she like best about the craft?
"You can be creative and make a lot of things from just string," she said.
Chrien has her students use bulky needles and the thickest yarn she can find, which she said makes it easier for the novice knitters to see how the stitches are formed. Each child gets some yarn in a favorite color and a pair of knitting needles, which go home with the child at the end of the five-week program.
The children all knit simple 7-by-9-inch rectangles, which Chrien takes home between meetings and repairs on the sly, if necessary. Eventually she'll add their rectangles to those already created by knitters at Arrowhead to create a pair of patchwork blankets.
Last year, she ended up with so many knitters and so many rectangles between the two schools that she was able to create four lap blankets. Rather than raffle them all, she arranged for the two blankets made from the Herberich knitters' rectangles to be donated to Summit County Children Services.
This was only the second week of this year's session at Herberich, and most of the young knitters were still struggling with the basic stitch. They'd sidle up to Chrien and fellow volunteer Laurie Gamauf with needles and yarn and puzzled expressions, looking for a way out of their knitting stalemates.
Patiently, again and again, the two volunteers would show them how to resolve their problems. Sometimes they'd tear out a row to get to a dropped stitch. Once Gamauf held the hands of a child to guide her as they made the knitting stitches together.
Second-grader Michele Hofacker held her two needles wide apart, befuddled by the long piece of yarn in between. "What happened?" she asked.
Chrien studied her work, reassured her she was doing just fine and showed her how to keep going.
The girl's eyes lighted with understanding. "I get it now," she said with a grin.1 comment on this story
Chrien's manner is upbeat and encouraging. After all, she wants this to be an enjoyable and relaxing activity, she said.
"Learning how to knit is just a way of helping relieve stress," she said, "because kids get so stressed these days."
It can also be a means for giving to others, she said. She hopes her pupils will learn that even small gestures, even things they do for fun, can be used to benefit others.
That's a lesson they can knit into their lives.