Thursday, June 22, 2006

Handicrafts Should be Handy

girlsewingonpillowmeIt is unfortunate that I had to unlearn so much of what I was taught during my teacher training years at University and teacher in-services. One of the falsehoods I had to purge from my thinking concerned the necessity and the amount of crafts in a young child’s life. As a teacher and eager young mother, I loaded up on arts and crafts books and spent countless hours with my children making pipe cleaner creations, pom pom animals, popsicle stick creatures, paper fish, paper faces, paper this, paper that…

Before I had even heard of Charlotte Mason I began to grow dissatisfied. I had precious paper ‘junk’ all over my walls and house and didn’t know what to do with them. Every few weeks I would have to purge and guiltily threw away child masterpieces in the wee hours of the morning, while my cherubs were sleeping.

My children enjoyed making them, no doubt, but I began to ask myself what skills had they learned in the process--cutting, gluing? The answer was not satisfactory. At that point, I discovered Charlotte Mason’s writings and learned that she cautioned against this very kind of ‘dime a dozen’ craft making and instead, recommended ‘handicrafts.’ The very nature of the word denotes ‘handiness’, ‘usefulness.’ “Ahh…”, I thought, “Now we are getting somewhere.”

Here are four principles she espoused and I latched on to:

1. The projects should be useful and/or decorative: if it doesn’t make the home more beautiful, it is not worthy of the child’s time.
2. The child should be taught slowly and carefully what to do; no slipshod work should ever be allowed.
3. It should suit the child’s abilities.
4. It should bless others.

Wow! I suddenly liked the idea of handicrafts. After all, when I look back on my own childhood years, the crafts that I was most pleased and proud of and those that still stand out in my mind today were those that lasted and were a thing of beauty.

My youngest daughter recently had her 8th birthday. She had her heart set on some particular items and her daddy and I acted as if we could not possibly buy them and would have to think long and hard about her request. (Secretly, we were thrilled) She wanted her own hammer, bag of nails and wood planks! So, that’s what we gave her and she now spends hours outside happily banging away, her daddy occasionally giving her pointers. She has learned to plan, measure, utilize addition and subtraction and use a calculator for multiplication and division since she doesn’t know how to do those operations, herself yet. The first thing she made was a toolbox for her new tools. Now she is making a house for her Playmobile people, and later, plans to make a sled. I am a pleased mama.

My middle daughter is learning to carve wood (she started with soap), make leather and bead jewelry and quilt. My oldest is leaning calligraphy, wood burning picture art and quilting, as well.

In our family, individual projects are always ongoing, but I try to do as CM suggested and have each child focus on learning one new skill each 12-week term. Other projects are allowed but this one particular skill must be mastered and a project finished. This teaches them to finish what they started because, as you are well aware, children are naturally great at beginnings, but not always at finishing.

We also have an annual ‘Craft Bazaar’ during our summer break. The children set up individual booths displaying wares that they have made throughout the year with handmade signs advertising the good deals to be had. Another family or two of many children is invited and they also set up their booths. All the children are given a certain amount of money to spend (school age children use their allowances). The prices are ridiculously low and no one cares. (Last year, some of the items were so beautiful, we had to have an auction and let them go to the highest bidder among the mamas! We all wanted them so much! ) Afterwards, the children buy their own refreshments from the ‘bakers’ table, which belongs to the mothers. The children know that they must hold a little money back for these later refreshments and so, figure that into their spending as well. At five cents a cupcake, it’s not too hard to do. So many skills are learned from our little bazaars, not to mention, all that FUN!

Here is a suggested list of handicrafts that we have done in the past. Of course there are many more possibilities, but this is a good starting point for some of us. If you have other suggestions, please share them with us in the comments section. We can add to each other’s pool of knowledge.

Carving-soap or wood
Braiding/knotting (e.g. friendship bracelets)
Wood burning
Woodwork (birdhouses, bows and arrows, swords, shields, etc)
Basket weaving
Rug braiding
Paper cutting (elaborate, decorative designs)
Doll making and their clothing
Spool knitting
Rug hook
Cross-stitch on felt
Clay sculpting
Christmas ornaments
Tinwork (candle lanterns)
Candle making
Pressed flower cards, bookmark gifts
Rock tumbled jewelry


  1. Marcia31.7.08

    When do you spend time teaching these skills? My girls are 3, 5, and 8, and, while the 8 yo can do some things on her own, I'm finding it difficult to fit in the readings and still have time for the handcrafts. Our afternoons are pretty packed, usually because each girl is allowed one outside activity, I teach a ballet class, and I take ballet. Mornings are when we do our readings and lessons. Handcrafts seem to get pushed to the end of the "to do" list. We did do origami this term (so far) which has been successful in terms of finding something they can do on their own, but I'm not so sure it meets the criteria for handwork that you mentioned. Maybe I'm just not thinking out of the box very well. Any suggestions or insights would be great!

    Marcia B. in TX

  2. Marcia,
    I've learned that if I don't carve out a time to do them, they just don't happen. We usually spend winters doing most of our handicrafts and concentrate on nature study in the spring. I schedule handicrafts only once a week. Usually, during our tea time we have a handicraft lesson together. I encourage the older kids to continue projects on their own for the rest of the week.


  3. I just wandered over to your blog through a google search on children memorizing long passages of Scripture. I wish I had much longer to just sit and read...but I am bookmarking to come back later! Crafts are my *thing*, but I can really get on a soapbox about "twaddle crafts". :) I *SO* appreciate this post!