The believed they could, sew they did


Project author:

Project summary:

An observational study on whether engagement in sewing is a gender equal occupation for 2-5 year olds



The project examined the level of engagement with sewing, seen as one of Froebel’s occupations, shown by children aged 2-5 years within a nursery setting. It offered the opportunity to explore how we could enable sewing to be a gender equal play opportunity while ensuring that the children have the freedom to choose where to play and opportunities to learn new skills through guidance from a familiar adult.

The purpose of this project was to use my own sewing skills and my new knowledge of sewing through a Froebelian approach and how this occupation could be incorporated into the setting using a gender-neutral approach.  Tina Bruce (2021) questioned if teaching of weaving, sewing was obsolete in educational settings today, however the Froebel approach should encourage settings to offer this occupation.


In the past materials were limited to threading so sewing is not an activity that has been on offer to the children which allowed us to identity sewing as an opportunity for all. Some practitioners have little interest or knowledge in sewing but were willing to learn to support the children. This project was implemented in a small nursery class of 19 children aged between 2 years and 5-year-olds. Following consent from families there were 15 children taking part in the enquiry although all children had the opportunity to participate. In the group of 15 children there was 8 girls and 7 boys. The children within the class are very involved in block play, jigsaws, outdoors and a range of role play opportunities daily. Both boys and girls play well together in all the above activities and each group of play are gender equal. As a staff team through observations and discussions we identified that the children lacked interest in fine motor skill activities so felt this was a good time to introduce a new activity which supported this learning. As a child who was left handed, I learnt how to sew and knit with my papa due to my mother and granny finding it challenging to teach a left person, so I was aware of this difficulty before I began the project.

Prior to the project, a summary of the project along with consent form was provided to all parents. The project was discussed with all staff at a meeting to discuss the planned activities and how this would look for the children in the setting. This gave staff the opportunity to get on board with the project enabling teamwork.

Narrative observations of individual and small groups of children took place during the research, which were carried out as part of my daily practice. The children chose if they wanted to sew and chose the area of the room. Adult guidance was offered, and staff engaged with the children to talk about their creations and socially interacted with the children as they sew. During the research, children were given the option to be included and the project was explained in language they understood. It was explained that photos would be taken, and notes written down for comments, which is how observations are noted daily. Individual learning was recorded on learning journals and a group post was shared to allow all parents to see what the children have been doing as part of the project. Resources were carefully considered to ensure a variety to meet all the children’s needs and allow for progression.

A is very happy to learn about sewing. Her grandmother is an expert seamstress and she’s excited to tell her about this” ( Comment from a parent)


Before I began my research project, I used a questionnaire to ask the parents to give consent for their child to participate. Within this information parents were advised should any child disclose any information which triggered child protection concerns this would be actioned using our council procedure. I shared my project question and how I planned to find this out. Once my project is complete, I will share my finding with my stake holders. Children were given the opportunity to verbally consent to be included in the project to ensure their views were counted and wellbeing was promoted. Children’s names will not appear in the project and any photos shared in this project will not contain the child’s face to protect their identity online. Some children have their name on their uniform, but no photo will show this information or the school logo.

"Beautiful things come together one stitch at a time." (A saying)



Firstly, this has been an amazing new experience for the children and staff in the setting and is great to see the learning that has taken place from this project in a short space of time.

Sewing has been an occupation used by both boys and girls particularly the 4- and 5-year-old boys and girls. These children have shown good focus and able to concentrate for around 20 –30 minutes at a time. This has also been an experience the children don’t get distracted from and are keen to finish their piece of work before moving on to another task including snack time.

Only 2 boys have never been present at the sewing activity

1 boy and 2 girls have looked at the equipment and observed other children sewing but were not ready to participate themselves.
10 children aged 4 and 5 years (6 girls three 4-year-olds and three 5-year-olds and four boys all aged 4) have been engaged in sewing when the equipment has been in use. Most of the time there was at least 1 boy and 1 girl sewing at the same time. The 2-year-olds have not completed any sewing and the 3-year-olds have visited the activity briefly if at all.
The children who were less inclined to participate individually spent short periods using the needles on the tuff tray with hessian material as this was something that could be done while standing up and working together with others.

Therefore, this has been identified as an activity that is aimed more at meeting the needs of the older children in the setting regardless of their gender.

Froebel noted that sewing supported wellbeing, and this was observed throughout as this was an activity in which the children appeared calm, content and sociable. Children were having great conversations amongst themselves about what they were doing and just general conversations which was great to observe.  

Very quickly it was apparent that some of the plastic needles were not easily going through the plastic squares, beads and bending easily. Initially I opted for plastic needles as we have a wide range of ages and stages of children but within the first week, we progressed to darning needles. The children loved these and got straight into trying them out and achieving more with them without any support as they were stronger. The children quickly moved on from making lines with their needles and threads and were already using their own ideas to make bigger creations and thinking what to do next. First hand experiences are important and through conversations with the children, they had an awareness that sewing is a skill required to make soft toys and clothing particularly for babies. With sustainability being a global priority and sewing being a valuable life skill children could continue to develop their sewing skills to make their own clothes for dress up or mend clothing to reduce waste of good clothing.

Child M “Can we make some clothes for the baby; she is just born. I will tie the blue, red and orange one together. Let me just measure the baby first”

Sewing didn’t have an area in the room which allowed the children to choose where to work and could transport the materials anywhere in the room. No one has asked to take the sewing outdoor yet, but this is something we will introduce in time to see if this changes the age and gender of the children who wish to sew.

When a familiar adult was present, the number of children engaging increased along with the duration of their engagement, highlighting the need for an adult to be present at the beginning.

Child M “Mrs Smith can I do some sewing with you?”

Child M “Can you come help me?”

Child A “Mrs Smith can we sew?”

Child J “Come on Mrs Smith, let’s go sew”

However, the children are beginning to include sewing in their daily play choices and if they are unsure about sewing on their own, they ask another child to do it with them.


My project has supported me to conclude sewing is a gender equal play occupation within our setting. Both girls and boys choose to involve themselves in the sewing provision on offer particularly when there was an adult present. Froebel emphasised the importance of adult guidance and this was relevant at first as children waited for an adult to support them however as their confidence is growing, they are beginning to include this in their play choices. Our children did not refer to it as something that was girl or boy specific and both genders are engaging with sewing at nursery. Boys and girls used the accessories to add to their work and this included beads, buttons and other materials. This was a new experience for many and very few children had used a needle and thread before at home.  From introducing sewing within the setting, it has showed practitioner how engaged children are in this occupation and the learning opportunities have been amazing. This is only the beginning of our sewing and I plan to take this learning outdoors as well as developing the resources with the children to continue to keep the sewing resources relevant to their needs and sewing goals.

Dissemination/Impact Report


Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Claire Douglas
    Claire Douglas
    31 May 2023 at 8:21 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your project and can see by your data it has been a real success to introduce sewing. I love how your children had complete freedom as to where to sew and not restricted to a designated area. It was interesting to read the older children were engaging regularly whilst the younger ones not so much so, I look forward to hearing how this evolves when you move outdoors. Being very much at the beginning of the sewing journey you really have inspired us to jump in feet first, thank you!

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  2. Ruth Johnson
    Ruth Johnson
    31 May 2023 at 10:54 pm

    This project is very inspiring. After reading it, I wanted to share your ideas with colleagues and open my sewing box! I thought it was interesting that sewing encouraged talk as well as concentration and calm. I could just imagine the conversations the children were having with one another and with the adults in the nursery as they sewed together. I liked too the way you were so responsive to the children, letting all ages have a go, letting them use darning needles and letting them sew where they were comfortable to sew and come up with their own creations. It was valuable learning that sewing held the interest of the older children most and the way you went about including sewing within your setting. I hope your crew continue keep you in stitches!

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  3. Kirsty Maxwell
    Kirsty Maxwell
    02 Jun 2023 at 11:53 am

    I really enjoyed reading your project. Freedom with guidance allows the children to build their confidence and have fun. I can imagine the conversations in corners and wherever the sewing basket went. It will be lovely to see how this impacts on your new cohort of children and the opportunities for parental engagement and the wider community. I can’t wait to come and see this occupation in your setting.

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  4. Heather McInnes
    Heather McInnes
    14 Jun 2023 at 2:40 pm

    Wow! Your project is inspiring! I liked the way the children were allowed to transfer the sewing to any area they’d like – allowing their own creativity to flow. It was interesting to learn that it was mostly your older children that were engaged in the sewing activities. I would love to come and see you sewing in action.

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