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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part II)

    December 1, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I have spent an excessive amount of time lately pondering the idea of crafts. What is it about them that makes me uncomfortable? Why do my instincts tell me that spending my teacher-related energy on planning and executing the building of a paper Celestial City would be a poor use of time and resources? I thought about this when I did dishes, laundry, and cooking.

    Crafts in the Life of the Child {Part II}

    It took a couple days, but it finally dawned on me that my problem stems from a combination of factors:

    • Crafts tend to have no real purpose. Exceptions here can be made for birthday cards, paper Christmas ornaments, and so on. But in general, crafts on a daily basis, and even most Sunday School crafts (exceptions, again, for Mother’s Day imprints, and the fine laminated Thanksgiving place mat my son brought home this year), are completely and totally disconnected from the real world. The philosophy of Sunday School tends to maintain that crafts “support the lesson” but if you have ever interviewed a child afterwards you know that these things tend to distract from the lesson.This, by the way, is why I will never do unit studies.Famous last words.Ahem.
    • Crafts are disposable. I have a hard time putting my heart and soul into something that is destined for the trashcan. I know a couple sentimental moms that save every last scrap of paper upon which their child doodled, but multiply that by four children (or more, if you have more!) and you’ll end up living in a dumpster by year’s end.
    • The disposability of crafts contradicts the lesson. We can joke about this all we want, but in the end, if I can think of one phrase that I want to characterize the education I am offering here, it is Permanent Things. If we are going to spend all of this time studying the imperishable, why would we contradict this by encouraging the children to produce the perishable?
    • Crafts that fall into the above two objections are in tension with the Christian virtues of care and thrift. They are characteristic of affluence. Affluence, by the way, is not bad. In fact Scripture talks a lot about affluence being a blessing of the Lord upon a culture. However, children are not affluent. Unless your family is very wealthy, your children will start out exactly the way you did: with a few dollars in their pockets and correspondingly few bills to pay, ready to make their ways in the world.Do you read old books? I do. They shape me, and they put our current culture in perspective. A hundred and fifty years ago, paper was an extravagance and folks couldn’t afford much of it. It was reserved for the writing of real things: letters, books, records. It was not for children to scribble upon a tiny bit and then toss in the trash. Even though our culture has changed, and paper is more readily available than it once was, the mentality that comes with this disturbs me a bit. I once had a child (old enough to know better) go through the notepad I use for my grocery list and write on every single page. When I told that child I expected my things to be treated with more respect, the child shrugged and told me that I could just buy a new one.This wasting of small things — paper, tape, glue, and so on — is, on the one hand, potentially harmless and yet, on the other hand, completely at odds with the Christian virtues of care and thrift.

    So, you see, there is a lot more to this issue than meets the eye.

    This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I am going to go trash my craft box. No, I still fully intend to give my children their occasional craft hour as I’ve been doing. But I want to do it with my eyes wide open, not just swallowing culture whole and without question. I also want to offer this to them, in this current time in our lives, but with an aim toward something different — better — in the future.

    If our goal for them is care and thrift, and also fine workmanship, and other such noble qualities, perhaps there is a better way to accomplish this.

    Children have, by the way, always made disposable crafts: mud pies, sculptures with mud and twigs and leaves, drawings in the sand made with sticks. This was, I think, a more appropriate media for the endeavor. The world is there for children to explore, and as they do so they will engage in natural “crafts” that, rather than piling up as trash, are washed away naturally by the wind and rain, the slate clean for another “work of art” tomorrow.

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  • Reply Mystie December 3, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Right now my boys are out in the cold trying to build a roof out of a wood pile. I don’t exactly know what that entails, except that Hans came in with a hole in the knee of his pants. Ilse is watching, but she’s starting to object to any foreign substance on her hands, so maybe she’ll be the one for whom I have to buy Kumon workbooks. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm


    Consider it an early Christmas gift. πŸ™‚ Just kidding. It probably depends on what they are actually doing out there. I am thinking here of two of my four children who do not like getting their hands dirty. Because of that, I think I need to work with them more in a paper-craft sort of way because they aren’t getting the practice outside the way they should. But generally, it seems like most children do this just fine!

  • Reply Mystie December 3, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Great series, and great discussion!

    Brandy, I had thought it would be too much to ask for you to tell me that letting my kids play outside was equivalent to craft time, but then, to my delight, there it was! Woohoo! πŸ™‚

    Craft twaddle is the perfect phrase. And Rachel’s point about the drive to create is also excellent.

    There is much to consider. Thank you for doing this, Brandy!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 3, 2009 at 10:47 pm


    Sorry about the swipe at unit studies! I meant I think that crafts often distract, even when they are intended to reinforce (again thinking more of what I see in Sunday School classrooms and coming home with classroom-schooled students I know). I am going to flesh that out a bit in a couple days…

    I totally and completely agree with everything you said about crafting: i.e., not just twaddle, a reflection of the Lord’s image in us, etc. In fact, because we can say these things, that motivates me to strive to not get trapped in twaddle-crafts but rather rise up to something (over time, of course) that is more fitting for that image of God. I wish I had remembered to start off this whole series from that theological/anthropological place. In a syllogism:

    -God is the Creator.
    -He made us in His image.
    -Therefore, we create, too.

    I love this thought! As we strive for excellence in this area, we are actually striving for propriety in relation to who the child was created to be.

  • Reply Rachel R. December 3, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    You think unit studies distract from the lessons children are learning? Or am I misunderstanding? If that’s what you’re saying, then I think that maybe we don’t use the term the same way. All of our studies are unit studies, and I absolutely believe it helps my children to integrate what they’re learning into their little minds far better than other methods.

    But back to the subject of crafts…I like the term “craft twaddle.” I am not a fan of junky crafts like those often made in Sunday School and VBS. (And I don’t believe they are generally designed, truly, to reinforce the lesson. They are designed to take up time.)

    However, I would also argue that crafting is, in and of itself, not just twaddle. We are inherently creative beings; that is one small piece of being made in the image of God. As such, I believe we are compelled to create. There are only so many useful things that young children can manage to create, so in the process of learning, they produce a lot of not-so-nice end results. I think it is important for our children to recognize the difference between a piece created to fill a specific need or serve a particular purpose, and those pieces created just for the enjoyment of the process.

    (I also think that art/craft projects related to a lesson can be beneficial, depending on what they are. Particularly those, like someone – Jani? – described, that help to temporarily immerse our children in a culture that is otherwise unfamiliar. For some children who are not strong auditory or visual learners, the act of creating can help to embed ideas in their memories, too.)

    So, ultimately, I guess I believe that crafts can be profitable or a waste of time, depending on what they are and how we make use of them. Good stuff to think through!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 2, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    “Craft twaddle”!

    That is a phrase that just might catch on!

    So I’ve been thinking about Dewey now that you brought him up, and I think you might be on to something. I don’t know that it was Dewey’s intention, but one of the effects of his work was to almost completely eliminate meaningful work from the world. His methods paved the way for acceptance of a factory-style economy, socialized beaurocracies, and the like. People who know and love making things do not embrace an overly mass-manufactured world. I mean, they might be happy about toilet paper like the rest of us, but they aren’t much interested in propping up a trade deficit with Chinese trinkets, are they?


    As far as paper guilt, I think that is misplaced guilt. The greening of the national religion has caused us to consider recycling a sort of penance for our ecological sins. I wasn’t really meaning to head in that direction, and I think that when we focus on the waste, we miss the heart of the problem, which is a soul that is willing to produce things that are destined for destruction. This seems to conflict with Scripture’s commands to not get caught up in the things that are passing away, to engage in fine workmanship, to build a world and culture for Christ that will last. In this regard, I’d consider our affection for crafts to be symbolic of our cultural affection for things that are trivial.

  • Reply Anonymous December 2, 2009 at 1:41 am

    I wonder if we can thank Dewey and modern philosophies of education for the wrongly placed emphasis on crafts. πŸ˜‰ After all, if you have a large classroom of children, crafts provide a perfect way to keep them busy when there isn’t content to teach. AND for the crafts actually related to content taught (and perhaps learned), you have OUTPUT! Something to take home to parents to prove that yes, their little dears are learning something and now they can place the proof of that education on their refrigerator/mantle/wall.

    I felt a twinge of guilt about the amount of paper that we go through here. My kids draw and color like fiends. We do recycle, if that helps a little. Another area of guilt for me is that my children would like to create more true handicrafts–carpentry projects, sewing, baking, and so on. But, *I* don’t want the hassle of teaching or learning those things. So I encourage them to fulfill that need to *make* things by pointing them toward the glue and paper. I suppose it’s craft twaddle that we’re settling for in some ways, huh?


  • Reply Kansas Mom December 2, 2009 at 1:06 am

    Well, I’m not going to post about what we’re doing this year because I want it to be a surprise and sometimes the aunts and grandparents read the blog. I can post about the old ones, though. And I’m hoping to be on the ball and take pictures for this year so I can post it after Christmas.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 2, 2009 at 12:06 am

    KM, Okay, you are now the second person in two days to mention an annual ornament. I want to start this! Please post what you are doing…I want to see. πŸ™‚ I find this idea really appealing, and I would love to put it into DecemberTerm next year…

  • Reply Kansas Mom December 1, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    I’m looking forward to more posts on this topic. I have many of the same reservations about crafts (which is why many of our art/craft sessions are done with real paper and real art materials, things that can be used to create a few works of lasting value), but I also see the physical benefits, especially for young ones, of using scissors and drawing utensils.

    We are very lucky to have an almost endless supply of card stock from Grammy’s church. It’s got something printed on one side, but they use the other without any problems. I save a representative few for each child and throw the rest away (though I’d prefer to be recycling it).

    I’m also preparing for our annual Christmas ornament. Each year the kids and I make some together to give all the aunts and uncles. I think I’ll write a quick post about some of the past ones we’ve done. I love this tradition, one of the very few I’ve instituted with our children.

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