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My daughter just showed me a little mouse that she knitted today. It’s the cutest little thing, with a tiny knit hat and pink ears peeking over the top. She found the pattern and decided to knit it just for fun.
While I was making supper tonight my other daughter was busily drawing a geometric pattern on a book cover. She has taught herself to do book-binding and was helping daughter #3 create a customized book.
How did we get to this point? By giving our children a wide variety of handicrafts through the years. We tried to encourage productive creativity by providing the raw materials and lots of time to experiment with them, along with some guidance in specific skills.
Now, lest you think I’m a master handicraft-er, let me set the record straight. Ask anyone who knows me. I don’t know how to knit or crochet or decorate cakes or create a scrapbook. I’ve never done leather tooling or woodworking. But we have met people through the years who do know how to do those things and who have been eager to teach the children their special skills. In addition, some of the crafts my children have picked up, they have taught themselves by watching online videos.
The key is to not be afraid to try it—to become a learner and see how much you can reap from others’ knowledge. So choose a handicraft and dive in.
Don’t get paralyzed by trying to select the perfect handicraft for your child. You never know which one will strike a chord within which child. That’s half the fun!
If you want some ideas of where to begin, here are some of Charlotte Mason’s handicraft suggestions, along with the ages she recommended for them.
- Ages 6–8: chair-caning, carton-work*, basket-work, Smyrna rugs, Japanese curtains, carving in cork, samplers on coarse canvas showing a variety of stitches, easy needlework, knitting (with big needles and yarn) (Vol. 1, p. 315)
- Ages 6–12: cardboard Sloyd*, basket-making, clay-modeling (Vol. 3, p. 301)
- Age 16: leather-work, wood-carving, brass-work, cooking (Vol. 3, pp. 357, 358)
*Sloyd/carton-work is a new handicraft to me, but looks like it would be quite interesting. It is the craft of designing and building boxes of various shapes and for various purposes. You can start by working with paper, then cardboard, then progress to wood. The 1893 book Sloyd by Everett Schwartz will give you many samples and ideas.
If you would like more handicraft suggestions, see our list of handicrafts and life skills on our Web site. We like to combine handicrafts with life skills because there is a lot of overlap. For example, sewing is both a craft and a life skill.
When selecting a handicraft, keep four helpful guidelines in mind. Charlotte gave these principles (Vol. 1, pp. 315, 316), and they make a lot of sense.
- The children “should not be employed in making futilities.” In other words, make sure the project is useful; not something that you will hang on the refrigerator for a week and then throw away.
- Teach the children “slowly and carefully what they are to do.” Allow several weeks to learn the skills step by step and learn them correctly.
- “Slipshod work should not allowed.” Encourage careful work and best effort right from the beginning.
- “Therefore, the children’s work should be kept well within their compass.” Select a handicraft and a project that will challenge but not frustrate.
Since the children’s projects should not be “futilities,” but something useful, here are three ways that you can put handicraft projects to use.
- Use them in the home. Children acquire a sense of belonging and purpose when they can contribute something useful to the household. Pot holders, scarves, bird houses, stepping stools, boxes, thank you cards—try to think of projects that you will be able to put to use in your home.
- Give them as gifts. Handicrafts are a great source for gift giving and can provide extra motivation to do good work. And don’t overlook the gift wrapping or gift box; both can make great handicraft projects.
- Donate them to charity. Let’s face it, you can use only so many pot holders and scarves. But if you look around, you will find other families and individuals who can benefit from your children’s handwork. Our family has connected with a local charity that gives handmade baby layettes to hospitals. The charity provides all the yarn and cloth and patterns. They even have volunteers ready to help you learn how to make the projects. Then the finished baby sweaters, blankets, hats, and booties are donated to needy families with newborns or stillborns. It’s a wonderful way to encourage what Charlotte called benefiting your neighbor. In fact, many of Charlotte’s students’ handicrafts were donated to local charities.
Handicrafts are a great way to keep little (or big) hands and minds busy being productive and helpful. Craft opportunities abound and can be a wonderful means of ministry to others.
What handicrafts have your children enjoyed? Do you have any ideas for using or giving or donating handicrafts that have worked well for your family? Leave a comment. We would love to read your ideas.
Next week we’ll finish up this little series on handicrafts by looking at three obstacles that you might face and how to overcome them.
Only a Few 2011 Calendars Left
We wanted to let you know that we have only a few 2011 The Way of the Will calendar journals left in stock. If you were planning to order one for yourself or as a gift, now is the time.
These calendar journals contain monthly articles about Charlotte’s thoughts on shaping your child’s will, plus space to record prayer requests, books you are reading, and personal journal notes. We’ve also included handy monthly tabs and lots of Charlotte Mason quotes.