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    Educational Philosophy

    Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part IV)

    December 3, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    As I’ve been thinking about this topic of crafts, I began asking myself a question a lot like one of Mystie’s questions from earlier this week: Didn’t Charlotte Mason promote handicrafts? Is this distinct from paper crafts? Do handicrafts have a value for the child that craft-crafts (for lack of a better term) do not? Why do I get the feeling that Mason would agree with my disdain for paper place mats?

    Crafts in the Life of the Child {Part IV}

    Naturally, I went to look for the source. Only then did I remember that I loaned two of my six Charlotte Mason volumes to my friend, Nicole, the very ones I would need to reference. So I found a secondary source, Lindafay’s website, Charlotte Mason Help.

    This is a Charlotte Mason 101 course, ladies. You simply must check it out, especially if you are attempting AmblesideOnline. From talking with other AO moms, I’d say that the moms who struggle with AmblesideOnline tend to be the ones that do not yet have the big picture when it comes to Charlotte Mason and what she was really trying to do.

    Lindafay helped me begin thinking through handicrafts versus crafts. Remember my general objections to paper crafts?

    1. Crafts tend to have no real purpose.
    2. Crafts are disposable.
    3. Crafts can discourage the Christian virtues of care and thrift.

    Charlotte Mason Help’s section on handicrafts begins with a quote from Mason herself:

    The points to be borne in mind in children’s handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not be allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children’s work should be kept well within their compass.

    Again we know that the human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handicrafts. Some day perhaps, we shall see apprenticeship to trades revived and good and beautiful work enforced. In so far, we are laying ourselves out to secure that each shall “live his life”; and that, not at his neighbor’s expense; because, so wonderful is the economy of the world that when a man really lives his life he benefits his neighbor as well as himself; we all thrive in the well being of each.

    One of the things I adore about Charlotte Mason is that she sees the universe in everything she does and suggests. So she does not just see a child with a pair of knitting needles, but the potential for joy and excellence in the soul and in the body, even the betterment of the whole world.

    This quote above gives guidelines for handicrafts, and it also calls paper crafts by this name: futilities. But where do we learn about the distinction between crafts and handicrafts. Is the only difference that one is futile and the other is not? How do I discern between the two?

    In her article Handicrafts Should be Handy, Lindafay shares a bit of what I myself have felt: the guilt over throwing away paper crafts, the pressure from authorities to load children up on crafts, that feeling that there is something better out there.

    This, by the way, is the perfect time to raise James Daniels’ timeless question: are the best things being drowned out by things that are merely (lowercase-g) good?

    Lindafay says that the word handicrafts implies usefulness.

    Out goes the transient, the disposable nature of the thing. Enter utility, but not in a utilitarian sense. Like Mason before her, Lindafay sees the universe:

    Children who learn to create with their hands know how to use their leisure time wisely. This is just another step that leads to a FULL life.

    If you haven’t read Mason’s works, this is why I love them. Her aim is nothing more than a full life resulting from a generous education. This is why her work dovetails nicely with classical Christian education, whose goal is the nurture of the soul itself. Even though there are distinctions between Mason and the classical approach, there are commonalities, and I find that the two work nicely together in our home.

    It is hard for our post-Industrial minds to cut the ties with the view of education in which the goal is a job with which to earn money. The goal of education, true education, is a full life, and that life well-lived.

    So how do handicrafts differ from crafts? The first distinction is what we just learned: they are useful in the whole scheme of life. The end result is something of worth.

    Lindafay shares with us the four characteristics of handicrafts:

    1. The projects should be useful and/or decorative: if it doesn’t make the home more beautiful, it is not worthy of the child’s time.
    2. The child should be taught slowly and carefully what to do; no slipshod work should ever be allowed.
    3. It should suit the child’s abilities.
    4. It should bless others.

    My new thinking is that it isn’t that I don’t want to do crafts, it’s just that I want the crafts we do to have meaning, purpose, and to really contribute to growing the soul of my child. I do think that the child is growing through simple paper-and-glue-and-possibly-pipecleaners-and-feathers-projects when they are under six or seven. But I want to grow these children; I don’t want to leave them languishing at seven-year-old levels.

    Mason said the hand was capable of what?

    A hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success.

    I want that joy and triumph for my children. I think that it is only possible for them to experience this throughout the years if I introduce handicrafts, progressively allowing them to grow in the use of their hands and small tools.

    I am slowly devising a plan for my oldest, who is ready to move on in this area. He has perfected the skills he is going to gain from doing regular paper crafts (not that I would forbid it … I am talking about direction and what I want to offer to him}). Our first real term-long handicraft commences in Term Two this year (he doesn’t know this yet): knot-tying. He’s going to learn to tie all of the knots you ever saw and many of the ones you didn’t. I hope he won’t tie up his sisters. As I look into Term Three, the most logical steps seem to be something like origami or elaborate paper cutting–something that utilizes and stretches the skills he has already gained. I remember that Mason said to expect careful and precise work by keeping that work “within the child’s compass.”

    As he grows older, I don’t want him to “outgrow” crafts, and I think this will only happen because I didn’t take him to the next level when I needed to.

    Crafts in the Life of the Child Series Index:

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  • Reply Carrie July 14, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I’m a first-time visitor to your site and I want to stick around for awhile and read more! I found this post via Google and enjoyed it very much, especially now that my girls and I are learning to knit.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 5, 2009 at 12:22 am


    Sounds like that friend you mentioned! 🙂

  • Reply Mystie December 4, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    What I see most in Jimmie’s comment is that crafty-crafts can be a way for a crafty mom to enjoy her kids, which is my weakness.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 4, 2009 at 5:17 pm


    That boys’ club sounds wonderful! It is funny that you mentioned, of all things, soap carving, because that was something I was considering for next year for my son! He has shown interest in wood carving, and it seems to me that soap carving would be a good in-between step.


    Thanks for the Ambleside links! I plan to read the PR articles there today if I can find the time. My two-year-old fell ill last night, so we will see how the day shapes up, but I am curious about the articles.

    I like how you added the idea of “building skills” to the concept of handicrafts. I do see the usefulness in that, which is why I’ve done the Kumon workbooks with my girls and the craft box with all of my students. I was thinking that paper really is the easiest thing to learn to use scissors on, and how could we ever quilt, or sew, if we never learn to cut paper?

    Thanks for the dissent. Dissent is where we grow in our understanding. 🙂 I agree that things like this–simple pleasures–have inherent value. If you read the whole series, I think you’ll see what I’m trying to work out is why, within the greater culture, we stop at paper crafts when there is so much more available, things that we take into the world.

    With that said, there is something else to consider, and that is the idea that one of the primary tasks of education is the ordering of the affections. If a child does not learn, over time, to love things of a lasting, permanent nature, more than things which are transient and intended for the garbage bin, we have not done our jobs as teachers. A mature graduate has learned to love things worthy of being loved in appropriate proportion to their worth.

    In thinking all of this through, I have actually become motivated to provide more opportunities for my children, rather than less. Before, I would have let them languish in paper crafts and then quit whenever they felt they had outgrown it. Now, I see the value of crafts as a lifelong endeavor, something which enriches the human existence, and so I want to help them grow up in their abilities as time goes on.

  • Reply Jimmie December 4, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    You’ve articulated your point well. But I do disagree. I think that crafts are valuable for creativity, expression, and plain old fun.

    All of our children’s activities fall within a broad spectrum of value. So although paper placemats may not have the prestige of a knitted scarf (granted), they are a far superior choice to TV or video games.

    So now, where’s the glitter? [grin]

  • Reply Headmistress, zookeeper December 3, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    I like this series.
    Charlotte Mason talks a lot about educating children for their future lives as adults, and she talks about them feeling comfortable with materials, with doing and making things.

    My understanding, then, is that the right sort of Charlotte Mason handicraft is one that somehow could translate into a later adult activity. Roughly, if it’s the kind of thing the children could still be interested in doing as adults, it qualifies. Adults do not generally make pictures of beans and seeds, or pipecleaner butterflies, or juice-can pencil holders.=)

    But also if it’s the kind of art project thing that builds or develops skills that can translate later into more advanced projects and skills an adult might pursue, then it’s a handicraft.

    Adapted from here

  • Reply Mystie December 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Oh, I do like Lindafay; she has a lot of excellent and helpful posts.

    Hans goes to a boys’ club at church, and they just started learning to carve by using soap & popsicle sticks (it sounds like the teacher fashioned a few sticks into better tools). The teacher (a dad) was encouraging the boys to use slow, careful movements. This seems to fit in with the CM idea. What he makes at the end might not be useful or worth keeping long, but it’s a beginner’s step toward lasting and important skills — and, best of all in my world, I’m not the one having to teach it! 🙂 It’s the point on instruction that I think is crucial, right-on, and severely headache-inducing. 🙂

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