Handicrafts Should Be Handy


It 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? This may be fine for a preschooler, but what about older children? 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.” Children who learn to create with their hands know how to use their leisure time wisely. This is just another step that leads to a FULL life.
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 beautiful.

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, many children are great at beginnings, but not always at finishing.

Here is a 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 who need some ideas.

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
Card making
Pressed flower cards, bookmark gifts
Rock tumbled jewelry