Here’s Lefty, one of the lucky sheep living at the Ozark Folk Center State Park. Lefty, like all sheep, grows wool. Sheep have been raised for wool, as well as for milk and meat, for centuries. In fact, sheep are among the earliest domestic animals. Studying about sheep can include life skills and economics.
Wool is removed from sheep by shearing, which is a lot like getting a haircut with clippers, as many boys do. Wool comes in different colors.
The wool is washed and carded (which is like combing), and the resulting wool is called roving . We got to play with some roving at the Ozark Folk Center.
Once the wool is clean and ready, it is spun into yarn with a spinning wheel like the one below, or with big machines in a factory. Spinning is a matter of twisting all the fibers together into one long strand of yarn.
The yarn may be left in its natural color or dyed. At the Folk Center, yarn is often dyed with plants like onions or flowers to give it color.
We also learned how to dye wool in a Zip-loc bag of Kool-Aid, though!
Once the yarn is ready, it can be woven into fabric on a loom.
The yarn can also be knitted into sweaters or socks. Both knitting or weaving are now mostly done by big machines in factories, but chances are good that you could find someone in your community who knits or weaves. Let kids try it out, if possible.
We are very thankful to the Folk Center for showing us all these things and letting us share them with you. If possible, give your students a chance to experience some of these steps in the classroom — maybe not a live sheep, but certainly wool yarn is readily available. Chances are good that someone in the class will own some wool clothing, and the path from sheep to sweater is an interesting one.
Younger students can enjoy reading about the steps from raw materials to finished product in these books:
- Charlie Needs a Cloak by Tomie de Paola
- The Goat in the Rug by Charles L. Blood
- Weaving the Rainbow by George Ella Lyon
- Songs from the Loom: A Navajo Girl Learns to Weave by Monty Roessel
Once students understand the process and have had a chance to experience wool to whatever degree is practical in your classroom, have students illustrate the steps from the sheep to their socks. Students should draw each step from sheep to socks onto a card. Add roving for 3-D fun. Stetch yarn across your bulletin board and let students pin their cards in order with clothespins. You could also make a class book or PowerPoint, or an infographic.
The simplest economics lesson here is the path from raw materials to finished goods. There are some other interesting lessons available, though:
- An infographic shows how price changes have affected the kind of sheep raised in New Zealand over time. This data compares wool and meat prices and production. Have students figure out the cause and effect shown in the infographic and write a paragraph.
- Check out llamas, too. They are another wool producing animal. Students can find lots of economic data from NCAT. Have students choose sheep, llamas, or both, and create a business plan for their imaginary farm.
- Do you have 4-H or County Extension agents nearby? They’ll be happy to come talk with your class about raising sheep. Urban classrooms, try this powerpoint presentation instead: