Wool with Kids: Teaching through Story

Child with black sheep finger puppet

When you want to teach a young child big ideas about the world, little stories are often the most effective way. Pelle’s New Suit tells how a growing boy uses the wool of his lamb for a new suit.

Last week, in my post about basic weaving with children, I mentioned the book Pelle’s New Suit. I love this book so much for children that I want to come back to it and tell you more. We’ve been celebrating lambing season this month with wool crafts for children: felted wool ballspool knitting, and basic weaving. I want to make that connection between the life of a sheep and the natural materials we use in our lives. Reading the story of Pelle’s New Suit to my children was one of the ways I helped them understand where wool comes from and why we value sheep so much.

Before I had children, I recall a friend telling me a story about his daughter’s dawning realization of her connections with the world around her. Like many very young children, she had story books that told about animals and she had visited animals. One of her favorite animals was the chicken. One night, when she asked what they were eating for dinner, her father said, “Chicken.” “Oh,” she said, “’Chicken’ sounds just like ‘chicken!’” As he told me, I waited for the lesson when he told her the rest of the story. He didn’t. “You didn’t tell her at all?” I asked. No, he didn’t. He didn’t want to upset her. Maybe not now, but imagine her upset when she realized the truth.

I considered this a lesson is parenting. I decided that I would always make an effort to help my children understand the connections among things—like fluffy chickens in a petting zoo and dinner on a plate. The right time to talk about connections is when the child brings it up. In my family, we talk about the origins of different foods, fibers, and the other stuff around us. I have always wanted my children to have, in their own developmentally appropriate way, the tools to make their own decisions about their actions.

When I first read Pelle’s New Suit, when my first child was not quite one year old, I knew this would be one of the books that would help me make those connections for her. Both of my children know the story well. We read it often. Even now, as they are older, they love this book. When I asked my 12-year old where the book was so I could reread it for today, he pulled it off the shelf next to his bed.

Pelle’s Suit Grows Shorter

Pelle takes care of his lamb all by himself. His lamb’s hair grows longer as his own suit grows shorter. Step by step Pelle makes his new suit happen, through sheering to carding to spinning to dying to weaving to tailoring. Pelle trades his help for that of the adults who have the skills to create his suit. In the end, we see the bigger boy in the bigger suit with his bigger lamb.

Simply and clearly the process of creating clothing unfolds. This is such a sweet story of an independent child as part of his community.

Pelle’s New Suit is 101 years old. It was originally published in Sweden in 1912 by Elsa Beskow. For over 50 years she created beautifully gentle illustrations of adventurous and strong children. Her books are still quite popular in Waldorf education, and they are still in print in many languages. I’m not the only parent for whom these stories resonate.

Little Black Sheep Puppet

With a family favorite story, it’s fun to have props. When my children were very young, we often gathered up particular toys to listen to or act out stories. The moose joined us for Mooses Come Walking and the mouse joined us for Sugar Mouse Cake.

At bynature.ca we carry puppets of all sizes because children use characters like these to tell the stories that help them understand their world as their world grows. In case you want to invite Pelle and his lamb into your library, you might be interested in the little black sheep puppet as well.

Happy storytelling.

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