Remembering how it feels to be a beginner learner is difficult once you have mastered a skill.

You just don’t really remember how you first learnt something and you have to think hard to break a skill down into the first steps to teach someone. It’s easy as the teacher to become frustrated with your student because you perceive something as “easy” purely because you mastered the skill so long ago.

That’s why I like to learn new skills every now and then so that I’m a beginner learner again. Learning as a newbie can be tough, particularly physical skills when you have zero experience and your teacher is a real pro and makes it look easy, your muscles just don’t have the same practise.  I think it’s important for all teachers to experience being a newbie again – it’s pretty humbling and gives you renewed empathy for your learners.

As part of my learning new skills I’ve taken up knitting. Well actually I took it up a couple of years ago and made a couple of things, but then a puppy descended and well, that just didn’t leave an awful lot of time for such pursuits as knitting on a dark winter evening. But Flint is two now and more inclined to settle after dinner so I’m occasionally left at a loose end and I’m trying to wean myself off of Facebook…..

Anyway over Christmas I knitted myself a pair of finger-less mitts (finger-less because they are better to handle treats with on a dog walk, plus you know the thought of knitting individual fingers seemed hard). The pattern I (sort of) followed said it was a one day project. It didn’t take me a day. The first mitt took a couple of weeks. My skills were rusty and I was only getting the chance to do 10mins or so at a time. The second mitt though – that only took me a day, Christmas Eve in fact. I’d finished work and my husband and I had designated the day a movie day so it was the perfect thing to do sat on my new sofa with movies playing on the TV.

It went quicker in part because I had a larger chunk of time, but more importantly I’d already practised on the other one, and i knew better how the pattern worked and was more confident about the trickier part for the thumb hole than I was on the first one. They turned out OK I think.

Lioness attacks a zebra pinata
right mitt

I’m easily bored. Actually I like to think of it more as I’m always looking for the next challenge. So because the pattern had said I should have been able to knit both mitts up in one day I’ve decided I’m not a fast enough knitter. So I’m now learning how to knit in the continental style which is faster as you don’t let go of the yarn. It requires some serious dexterity with your left hand – which I’ve lost considerably as it’s been a long time since I played my violin with any regularity (that’s perhaps a story for another day.)

To first learn how to speed knit, I just worked on plain swatches so I could learn how to tension the yarn and my fingers could feel more comfortable. I did that for a bit and then decided I could tack a project so I decided to learn how to knit a sock at the same time.

The dog trainer in me is shaking her head right now…….learning two new skills together is not really a recipe for much success. What I *should* be doing is knitting something I’ve done before but using the continental method. But well it’s me and this isn’t important so I guess it doesn’t matter really and it has given me some interesting insight into learning new skills.

When the going gets tough in the new pattern and a stitch comes up that I’m not that sure of – I resort back to my more comfortable English style knitting with the yarn in my right hand. I do it without thinking.

Isn’t that interesting? When things get hard in another part, I resort to a method I’m more comfortable with.

Even more interesting, when I get fed up with how long it’s taking and I just want to finish the sock – I switch back to my old style too.


This got me thinking about what happens when we’re trying out a new method or technique when dog training. All too often we can fall back on grabbing at our dog’s collar or shouting, particularly when we are trying to do too many things at once and it’s got a bit stressful and the dog is doing something we’d rather he wasn’t, or we just want to get something done. We have the knowledge to train in what we know is a better way and the rudimentary skills are there, but it’s not quite fluent yet, we haven’t quite mastered it. So when the going gets tough sometimes we fall back into our old methods.

Why am I telling this story? Well, maybe we shouldn’t beat ourselves up so much about our failings to be the perfect person who masters skills at the drop of a hat. Learning a new skill is hard and it takes time and persistence to build them to fluency. Persistence and practise is the key, you won’t get better at it if you give up. It can help to have someone coach you through though so get in touch if you think you’d like some help.

I’m happy to report that my continental knitting is getting better and that my first sock** is taking shape if slowly. Hopefully I’ll have something to show you next time.

** – I eventually gave up with the sock after making several mistakes and getting annoyed. I’ve pulled it apart and started on a neck cowl that I’ve knitted before so I can practise on something familiar. Which is what I should have done in the first place…….

P.S. Flint nail trimming update: The fist pump behaviour is going well so it’s time to move on. I’m now looking for him to be a bit calmer about it and to use the behaviour as a start button – him giving his permission for me to clip. I’ll tell you more about that another time