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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part I)

    November 30, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    There was a time when I thought I was a horrible mother because I hated crafts. First, there was the mess. I did not like getting everything out because this was soon followed by the tedious job of putting everything back. Second, there was too much stuff. If you have four children making a craft in four separate Sunday School classes on four Sundays per month, this math shows the problem:

    How many crafts come home per month?
    4 x 4 Β = 16

    Crafts in the Life of the Child {Part I}

    Perhaps you didn’t catch that.


    Sixteen sheep made out of cotton-balls. Sixteen paper place mats that bleed ink onto your dining-table the second someone spills their water. Sixteen watchamacallits and thingamajigs.


    So you see, having boatloads of junk crafts pouring into my house and languishing on my counter tops (because I feel guilty throwing them away) was enough to keep me from adding any crafts whatsoever to our days.

    But then, Neighbor M.’s dad brought craft supplies over one day. The children were so excited that I couldn’t say no.

    So I said yes.

    And they made a happy, sticky mess all over my living room. Some of what they made was actually quite good, so I cannot begrudge them their fun even a little bit.

    However, they suddenly decided it was time to go play and they all left. I surveyed the living room and it was Not Good. I worked hard to get it safe enough to set Baby O. free after his nap.

    Since then, I have slowly come up with a plan for allowing craft time without losing my mind. Here is what works for me, not necessarily in particular order:

    1. Keep all supplies in one giant box. (Disclaimer: no paint is allowed without supervision ever, ever, EVER.) I actually had the children decorate the box on the first day we used it. It says “CRA-FS” on it. Guess we aren’t done learning to spell yet, now are we? This box is big enough that everything fits in it. I even looked in nooks and crannies all over my house and added whatever I could to it that I had stashed somewhere else. Clean up now involves only two steps: put trash in the trashcan and all of the supplies back into the box. They don’t even have to be put back neatly. Little people can dump armfuls of construction paper into it, for all I care.
    2. Have someone to give/mail the projects to. This keeps me from feeling guilty. No throwing away necessary.
    3. Make sure the children clean up before Baby O. wakes from his nap. This prevents chaos and disaster.
    4. Four special frames for four special people. Each child has a frame in the playroom that fits one masterpiece. We do not change them very often, and it adds a fun, needed touch to the room.

    So that, my friends, is how I manage, as a non-crafty mommy, to allow crafts after all.

    However, this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg on this subject. What I really want to begin to explore is whether or not crafts have any inherent value for children. Are they a waste of time? Do we really need to encourage crafts to be good mothers, or good teachers? Are some crafts superior to other crafts? Are crafts a symptom of a certain type of culture? Think about it, and we’ll talk more in Part II.

    Crafts in the Life of the Child Series Index:

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  • Reply Ellen December 6, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Hey! I’m only just now getting to this. Sickness and out of town husband has laid me low this week. I have to smile a bit at the differences in our experience. At our church, there aren’t crafts. And there really aren’t many crafts at Community Bible Study or MOPs either. So I guess I don’t have the worry about throwing away much. He needs fine motor skills that crafts teach right now, but I have wondered how to balance things. One day this week, I let him help me make a craft of my own that was something that I was working on beyond his skill level. It will be a gift later on, and he enjoyed doing it with me. Some say that you should get your child to participate in the creative things that you do, and that will really stretch their skills and imaginations.

  • Reply Rachel R. December 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. In the meantime, I thought you might be interested in this post I wrote about purging artwork.

    I rarely let my children do anything messy, because I can’t deal with the gluey, cut-paper-everywhere mess. But even with just drawing/coloring, we end up with hundreds of drawings. We only just recently managed to figure out how to communicate to Ariel what she needs to know to purge these pictures so that we don’t feel bad and we aren’t making her feel bad, like her artwork is junk.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 1, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Kristie: ACK! I have proven, yet again, that I cannot do math while thinking about something else. Darn. I’ll fix it.

    Thanks for the edit. πŸ™‚

    Yes, 16 is enough. And actually, it is 20 as there is a craft in Cubbies on Wednesday night each week for A.

    Sarah: I especially liked two things that you said.

    1. “They have value to us as they are connected to a tradition or memory.”


    2. “I do think the crafts help with fine motor skills and I’m glad they’ve chosen to work on inexpensive projects to refine their skills before tackling more costly projects.”

    If the craft is disposable but the tradition lives on, I would never call that a waste. This is why extravagance in food is never a waste. πŸ™‚

    I think the biggest weakness in my “let ’em loose” approach is what you are talking about here. Because I typically offered NO coaching whatsoever, there was a bit of refinement that was not happening. That is why I decided to take some deliberate steps when it came to learning to use tools, such as scissors.

    I must admit that a big obstacle for me is the budgetary issue. If we start adding in lots of crafts, that has to come out of a school budget that is always tight because there are so many Good Things out there.

  • Reply Anonymous December 1, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Random thoughts…

    I don’t do crafts related to school anymore. Five years of experience has taught me it really isn’t worth the effort.

    A few years back we participated in an ornament exchange with other families in an Internet homeschooling group we belonged to. All ornaments were handmade by the families and had to fit into an envelope (for mailing across the country), and I believe there were around 15 or so families. Some were cotton-ball sheep, some items were made of craft foam, ours were made of felt and based off a book we read that year around Christmas (A New Coat for Anna).

    Those ornaments still go on our tree each year, along with all the craft-type ornaments my kids have made over the years in Advent workshops held at our church. They have value to us as they are connected to a tradition or memory.

    My kids (12, 9, and 6 yo) have access to a large box of somewhat organized materials. When they get a new copy of Highlights Magazine they often do the crafts included in that issue. My son has asked me several times to help him with sewing projects based on craft ideas. They make what they like and cherish those items because they took the initiative, not me.

    I do think the crafts help with fine motor skills and I’m glad they’ve chosen to work on inexpensive projects to refine their skills before tackling more costly projects (the 12yo is embroidering a pillowcase doll–she bought the kit herself but still, it was costly to her).

    As far as weekly Sunday school crafts, I know what you mean about multiple projects coming home. I’ve never had a problem with pitching ours as they really are just busy work. Would each of your children make four crafts every Sunday?!? I thought our 12 crafts per month was a lot (one craft each, three children, four Sundays). πŸ™‚

    I think since this is a perennial topic among ALL moms, I see the value of crafts as based on a variety of personal issues and objectives.


  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 1, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Sara…felt decorations sound like a good idea! I will have to file that one away in my mind. Perhaps next year we can do something like that, even as gifts for people…

  • Reply sara December 1, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    uh oh – I just realized that I lied. I have been teaching my son to use a needle and thread by sewing felt christmas decorations. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 1, 2009 at 4:33 am

    Jami, What you described is like what often happens in my backyard–a sort of physical reenactment of what we’ve been thinking about. I, too, would categorize these things as more of a narration than anything else.

    I find it interesting that children will do crafty-type narrations on their own. I think when it comes from within their own minds, it does a better job at reinforcing the lesson than when a SS teacher (poor SS teachers! we are really picking on them today!) decides to reinforce the verse “We all like sheep have gone astray” with a cotton-ball sheep.

    Mystie, I can see the benefits of what your friend is doing, especially if it is a family hobby of sorts. Such things bind families together, I think, and build happy memories. I agree with you that it is not necessary. I also think that such things can crowd out ideas if we are not careful. But I have already experienced timelines adding a wonderful dimension to history study, so I think, done the right way (especially someone like your friends who is a natural) it does not have to be detrimental.

    Sara, Your list sounds like my supply box! I am stashing it a way for a while in anticipation of coming rainy days…which will hopefully be more fun than last year.

    I like that you don’t give them direction. I don’t, either, unless they literally don’t know how to use something (like a new type of glue dispenser or something).

    You and Jami are reminding me of something I read in Teaching the Trivium about having art supplies available. I’ll have to look it up…

  • Reply Anonymous December 1, 2009 at 4:10 am

    Mystie–my kids are 8, 7, 5 and 10 months. They would cut, paste, and play playdough or clay all day if I’d let them. I rarely have directed crafts for them to do, but I do try to make materials available and be tolerant of the mess. πŸ˜›


  • Reply sara December 1, 2009 at 2:48 am

    I just chuck the supplies at the kids and let them have at it for about a half hour or so. I offer very little instruction or direction. They have all the basics at their disposal – felt, pipe cleaners, colored pencils, markers, crayons, scissors, glitter glue, construction paper, etc. I don’t know if crafts serve any educational or developmental purpose, but it sure makes them happy and sometimes that’s enough for me.

    One interesting thing -recently DH and I were discussing “the perfect circle” and the story behind that Rembrandt painting – you know the one? A little while later, my 4-year-old proudly presented me with his very own “perfect” circle.

  • Reply Mystie December 1, 2009 at 2:24 am

    How old are your kids, Jami? I like that those things you listed sound like they are independently thought-up, initiated, and pursued.

    I don’t remember a lot of what I did; I mostly remember browsing the books. πŸ™‚ I think paper grocery bag masks, lunch bag puppets, popsicle-stick puppets and frames…that sort of thing. I tried tissue paper flowers and never really did it. Once we had a huge box (some sort of appliance box, I think) that we painted inside and out to look like a house. I spent a lot of time during one phase making imitation checks for when we played store, and I created quite a few clothes catalogs. Somehow a few times we made homemade window clings. My mom also did card making and scrapbooking (mostly with stamps), so I, of course, did too. πŸ™‚

    I was at the library the other day and took a minute to browse their kids’ craft section. There were actually quite a few books I could see letting the boys pick from once they’re 8+ if they’re interested.

  • Reply Mystie December 1, 2009 at 2:13 am

    I look forward to your series. πŸ™‚

    Another aspect is that although I am not prone to crafts, I also am not sure I want to go so far as to say crafts are something a craft-mom *shouldn’t* do — even schoolish ones. I have a friend with 3 kids 8-6yo who loves History Pocket type things — it is a cut-and-glue way to put together coloring, drawing, timeline, and narration sorts of items. She likes having one spot for all that stuff that does look decent and cohesive and her kids *love* them. Her oldest is a girl who is very talented in crafts. My point is that despite how much her kids love that sort of thing, and how nice it looks, and that it *is* a good thing, it’s not a *necessary* thing, so I don’t have to feel compelled to do something similar or feel guilty about leaving it at coloring or drawing and filing it away.

  • Reply Anonymous December 1, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Great post, Brandy and good questions from you, Mystie.

    Angelina has a post over at Permanent Things about Crafts (or lack thereof) that I just love on this topic.

    My kids love to make things, but I’m not sure I’d call most of what they make “crafts.” Somehow the word “crafts” makes me think of Sunday School too and teachers helping and planning things to keep kids busy.

    But here creativity abounds and after reading about Egyptians the kids may get out the Sculpey clay and make jewelery. Or they might draw and cut-out Greek paper dolls. Or draw elaborate maps and pictures from Wind in the Willows. These *could* be crafts, I suppose. But they don’t feel like it. I think of these creations as 3-D narrations.

    I think handicrafts have more purpose in mind, even if that purpose is decorative (like the salt dough ornaments we’re planning to make this week).


  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 30, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Mystie, I love your questions. We are thinking in the same vein, you and I.

    Some of your questions are covered in posts I have planned.

    In general, I, too, am in favor of throwing out thematic, “reinforcing” crafts in general. This is because I think they distract from the ideas, and the ideas are what we want them to take away. Why hand them an idea and then drown it in a paperwork nightmare?

    The only exception I would make to that would be some sort of creative narration, but then I think that might end up being more along the lines of a drawing and have nothing to do with glue, but perhaps I am biased against glue.

    I am curious: what sort of crafts were in the book you used when you were 8-10?

    I personally want to get the paper crafts out of the way by around age 6, unless we are talking about making nice cards for people who are sick or something like that. That is all I will say on this last point for now. I am still chewing on some related thoughts.

  • Reply Mystie November 30, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    I’m glad you’re tackling this for me, Brandy. πŸ™‚ I don’t have the brain for thinking it through right now.

    Here are the items in my thinking on it, though:

    1. What is the difference between a craft (like a SS craft) and a handicraft, and can we do handicrafts without bothering with cotton-ball clouds and torn tissue-paper pictures?

    2. What is the difference between a fun craft time and thematic crafts done to “reinforce” lessons? Can we have one (the fun ones) and not the other?

    3. Does James Daniels’ quote about not letting the good things drown out the best things apply? I’m not going to say crafts are not good things, but rather that they are tertiary, discretionary good things rather than necessary, integral best things.

    4. Can’t coloring and drawing suffice? πŸ™‚ Or, at least, whatever crafts they do at SS?

    5. I got library books on crafts when I was 8-10 or so and did them on my own. Is waiting for that stage (if there is that interest) sufficient? Is the 4yo really doomed if I don’t teach him how to cut along a line? Won’t he learn on his own when he’s 6-9?

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 30, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    R, Your mother sounds like my sister used to sound when she was doing all of her special ed studying–fine motor skills, she used to say.

    Just wait till those twins start their first glue fight. Then you will do what I sometimes have had to do: ban glue and buy tape. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Rebecca November 30, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    I will start this by admitting that I hate crafts. I don’t mind them done elsewhere, but I hate coming up with them and then making them and cleaning them up. And I only have one little crafter.

    That said, my mother (the teacher) does try to encourage me to do crafts with L. Something about coordination and brain connections and something else I just take her word for because I am too lazy to research it myself.

    If you shoot me an email, I have a fun craft idea for your December term that we might even be able to join with you in doing. I could tell you here, but then you wouldn’t email me. See how fun this is?

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