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.
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.
Crafts in the Life of the Child Series Index:
- Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part I)
- Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part II) ← you are here
- Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part III)
- Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part IV)
- Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part V)
- Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part VI)
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