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Have you ever had the experience where things just come together?
You have a discussion with someone, and that person brings up a great point that causes you to ponder. You form some ideas in your head and tuck them away for the time being.
Then just a few days later, someone else mentions that exact same point and adds another idea to it.
And the next day it happens again with yet another idea!
That’s when you begin to feel that you’re growing in that area from all of the mental food that came with those related ideas.
I just had one of those experiences, and I want to share with you the ideas that have enriched my thinking and living because of it.
Recently, I wrote a post on Productive Afternoons and shared lots of ideas for how to keep your children learning and growing informally after regular schoolwork was done.
That post generated a lot of questions, and one of those questions is what sparked this whole thought process and relation of ideas that I want to tell you about.
The mom who wrote this question has a son who loves to read and dislikes doing anything “creative.” He would rather spend his afternoons just reading. So this mom was asking me for ideas of how to encourage him to work with his hands and do other things besides reading all day. Her question made me start thinking about why it’s important to work with things as well as books.
Let me give you her question and my original answer first, then I’ll share with you those related ideas that have come my way since that conversation. It’s been fascinating to make some new discoveries.
First, the question:
Hi. I love this post [Productive Afternoons] and all the ideas in it. I’m wondering, though – how do you get your kids to do these activities? Mine usually just read or play. I would love to have them do things like [the ideas you suggested], but I’m not sure how. My kids are 10, 7, 5, and 2. My two middle kids love creative things, so it would probably be easy to encourage them to do more of that. My eldest strongly dislikes doing anything creative, so he pretty much reads all day. Should I start requiring it? What should I say? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you. Christie
And here was my answer:
Thanks for your question. I think it’s great that your little ones play and read. They need time for free play. And it’s great that your 10-year-old loves to read, but it would also be good to encourage him to have a variety of activities and hobbies, especially ones that get him up and moving physically. Balance in life is important, and I think physical work is especially important for boys.
Not all of the ideas [in Productive Afternoons] are about creating. You can do your nature study and nature notebooks in the afternoon; have him help with outdoor yard work; have him walk the dog; work on a seasonal outdoor chore, like sweeping the porch or washing the outside of the front door or vacuuming the inside of the van or shoveling snow or mowing the lawn; he could work on his Book of Centuries; play chess; collect something of interest; or you could all do volunteer work in your neighborhood, at a local non-profit, or a church.
As a growing boy, he needs exercise in order to strengthen his muscles. Plus, he will be learning a lot about practical scientific concepts as he works with heavy objects, friction, momentum, etc. and exercises his problem-solving skills in the physical world as well as in his mental/book world. Good physical coordination and personal familiarity with how the physical world works are important for our children.
So go ahead and assign him some extra chores for afternoons that will get him up and moving. You don’t have to completely fill his time, but start nudging him toward doing other things along with reading. It might help to create a list of expectations/responsibilities for each child each day of the week. List what chores you expect to be done before school and what chores you are assigning for each afternoon.
Another possibility: you could write several afternoon ideas on index cards, one per card. Choose mostly ideas that aren’t creative (you can throw one in every once in a while if you want to; maybe once a month or something). Then every Monday give your son five idea cards. He should choose one to do each afternoon that week. That way he has some choice in the matter, which may be important to him, but you are still encouraging him to expand his horizons and keep his days balanced.
As he grows older, include some of the maintenance skills (around the house and vehicle) for him to learn and practice. Those will be important things for him to have mastered when he moves into his own household. Look at it as a long-term goal: you have seven years or so left with him; what does he need to know how to do by the time he moves out? Set up a seven-year plan to ease into all the skills gradually, and know that you have those afternoon time slots to plug them into over the years.
OK, those were my initial ideas about the importance of working with your hands. I also reviewed what Charlotte Mason said about the importance of children forming relations with various materials in their world:
“He practises various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials” (A Philosophy of Education, p. 31).
“Another elemental relationship, which every child should be taught and encouraged to set up, is that of power over material. Every child makes sand castles, mud-pies, paper boats, and he or she should go on to work in clay, wood, brass, iron, leather, dress-stuffs, food-stuffs, furnishing-stuffs. He should be able to make with his hands and should take delight in making.” (School Education, p. 80).
A few days after reading those passages, my friend and coworker, Karen Smith, sent me a link to an article. Karen often does that when she comes across something that she thinks is interesting and will be interesting to me too. The article she sent was put out by the BBC, and it drew attention to a problem with today’s medical students: they had so little experience making and creating things with their hands that they didn’t have the dexterity that is needed to carefully stitch shut a wound or an incision. Such work requires delicate fine-muscle work, but the students lacked that necessary coordination because they had spent all their time simply swiping a finger across a screen or typing with their thumbs.
That idea rocked my world. I had never thought about the impact that working with your hands can have on a future career! I know that if I have surgery, or even a deep cut that requires stitches, I want a doctor who has the head knowledge, yes, but who is also good with his hands, please!
So I tucked that related idea away in my mind along with that previous conversation and Charlotte’s thoughts about working with your hands.
The next day I received another e-mail. This one was from my chiropractor. It contained a link to an article about a related study.
Education is the science of relations! I’m being educated as my mind connects the dots and forms these relations between ideas.
Well, this article suggested that, according to the research they cited, busy hands can alter your brain’s chemistry and make you happier. And working with both of your hands increases that sense of well-being and contentment.
Isn’t that amazing? Karen said, when she sent me the first article, “We often hear about the advantages of the academic side of education: reading to children, graduating from high school, and going to college. We rarely hear about how important it is to learn and practice cutting things out, measuring ingredients, sewing, and just plain working with our hands.”
I must admit that my view of handicrafts has been pretty limited. I’ve thought of them as a nice, wholesome pastime; or a good way to switch and use a different part of your brain; or even a good way to increase fine-muscle skills so the child will improve in handwriting.
But now I have a whole new appreciation for handicrafts. Working with your hands is not just a pleasant distraction from bookwork. It’s not just a wholesome way to pass the time and stay productive.
It is those things, but it is also so much more. Working with your hands is an important part of our children’s education. Just as Charlotte said it was so many years ago.
What handicraft project or life-skill project are your children going to work on this week?