Get the exclusive (almost) Weekly Digest.

    Educational Philosophy

    Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part V)

    December 4, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Do you consider art narration or nature journaling to be a craft? Whatever we call them, or however we categorize them, we can see how these two dovetail with handicrafts when we consider the formation of a whole person, a free person. Today’s children have many leisure hours, and statistics tell us that many of those leisure hours are spent consuming movies, television, music, video games, text messages, and so on. They are producing very little, if anything at all.

    Crafts in the Life of the Child {Part V}

    My guess is that many of these children don’t even really know how, or don’t have the materials available to even use for making an attempt at producing something beautiful.

    One of the characteristics of a free man is that he does not need others to provide for him, including entertainment for him. In fact, he is able to produce something that gives joy to others. Reminds me of a verse:

    He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. (Ephesians 4:28)

    Now, obviously this verse is talking about a man taking a job and sharing the proceeds. However, we still know that the Christian life is a life which overflows. Habits of production (I hate using that word; I do not mean factories) have the potential to overflow, while habits of consumption of electronic media and entertainment-based toys do not. It is impossible to overflow that which we are consuming ourselves, which comes from outside of ourselves. Mountain springs overflow from within; waters pouring down a bottomless drain are wasted, even to the drain.

    I think of art narration and nature journaling, along with musical training and handicrafts as a four-pronged strategy for growing the soul up into an adulthood that has the potential to overflow, to give generously, and to need little. Riches do not necessarily result in generosity, but rich lives do. This is part of what it means to live a rich life: to be able to see beauty and imitate it, record it, produce more of it, and share it, blessing others with it.

    Many of us cringe when we think of all of the factories our lives depend upon. Raising a different type of children will produce a different type of culture, for their very lives will demand it. What need of mass-produced plastic Target Christmas ornaments has a skilled craftsman? What need of a Chinese sweatshop has a skilled tailor or embroiderer? We require these things because we cannot (or will not) create them ourselves.

    I, for one, mostly cannot.

    But that will change.

    There are a number of things that keep me from handicrafts. I could blame the budget, but when I get to the core of it, my biggest hesitation is due to my own ignorance. Once I realized that, I felt challenged to discard my fears and insecurities and join the adventure with my children.

    This is what I meant when I wrote that a huge benefit of homeschooling is its ability to produce an educated populace because it stretches and grows the older generations along with the younger. If we rise to the challenge — and it is a huge challenge to attempt to educate a child into a full life — we are changed.

    This means that some of us will really grasp math for the first time. Some of us will read books no one introduced us to when we were children.

    Me? Well, it looks like I’ll be learning to work with my hands a bit, to make something beautiful.

    What about you?

    Crafts in the Life of the Child Series Index:

    Get the (almost) weekly digest!

    Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

    Powered by ConvertKit


  • Reply Rachel R. December 7, 2009 at 3:05 am

    My husband crochets. (Well, he really doesn’t anymore, because he doesn’t have time, but he used to.)

    Are you familiar with Contenders for the Faith? I wonder if that book has “boy handicrafts” in it. (I only have girls – so far – so I’m rather clueless.)

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 6, 2009 at 5:49 pm


    This is so funny because I really didn’t think I knew guys who liked this sort of thing and I learned this week that my friend’s brother KNITS. And he loves it! πŸ™‚ I am willing to give this a go.

    While we’re here, I’ll share a deep, dark secret: when buttons fly in this family, my husband sews them all back on. It is true! He is the better stitcher, and he often does it while I’m folding evening laundry anyhow.

    You know, I was thinking about the lighthouse scene you mentioned David was doing, and I wondered: is this our modern version of the tapestry? Either way, what a worthy endeavor!

  • Reply Sallie @ a quiet simple life December 6, 2009 at 2:51 am

    Brandy –

    David does counted cross stitch and really enjoys it. He made a beautiful Christmas stocking and is now working on an elaborate lighthouse scene.

    When he first learned, he made a small project for his mom’s birthday. When she opened it, she immediately looked at me and thanked me. I said, “Don’t thank me. Your son made it.” Was she ever surprised! LOL!

    And my first year I taught at a brand new private school (Hillsdale Academy), every student in K-8 cross stitched a square for a keepsake school quilt. The boys in my class enjoyed it and were very proud of their accomplishment. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 5, 2009 at 6:50 pm


    I really appreciate what you said about consumption! This word has acquired a negative connotation, especially when we talk about “consumer culture” but we all must eat, have clothing, and so on, so consumption is part of what it means to be human. I do often wonder what the differences are when it comes to mass consumption, how this effects local cultures, and so on.

    I also liked what you said about the ability to make something informing our knowledge of that thing. I feel like this is why I am so dense when it comes to buying things! I do not know what makes one item superior to another item. This really means I have poor taste, for I am unable to distinguish what is excellent. I can see how crafting allows for that growth in taste, even if the child chooses not to continue it in adulthood. In this way, I suppose we could say that this is how crafts form the soul.


    I was thinking of ‘Chung in all of this! The things he makes and has made truly amaze me! I want this for my sons (as well as daughters).

    Thank you for sharing that learning to sew was foundational for your father. I think you helped me see it in a new light. The context I had heard this in before was more of a gender-neutrality issue than a look-how-it-is-healthy-and-good issue.

    I think E. would adore leather work, and I hadn’t considered how sewing would be foundational. He loves to occasionally go to my cousin’s place (a ferrier) and look at the saddles…they are both functional as well as beautiful.

    In this culture, we really have deprived men of enjoying beauty as men. I don’t know exactly what that should look like, but I know I want to give this as a gift to our sons.

    By the way, that picture of your dad’s work was amazing.

  • Reply Rahime December 5, 2009 at 7:38 am

    My dad is an incredible example of a man who has embraced handiwork and created some beautiful things with his crafts. Woodwork, leather work, metal crafts, tile work, you name it.

    I once asked him how he became so talented at so many different crafts. He told me that he used to sit with his granny and she taught him to sew, knit, tat, and cross stitch.

    It was then I learned that he had created some of the lovely needlework in his mother’s home (which I had always assumed had been done by a woman)…including a cross stitched bell-pull that was fought over by various family members when grandma died, and tatted handkerchiefs like this one.

    These days he doesn’t do as much sewing, but it definitely gave him a foundation for his leather work.
    Most of what he makes now is practical and less purely decorative (though oftentimes sometimes still beautiful): leather checkbook covers, bible covers, etc., various wood work from cutting boards to furniture or crown molding.

    I’ve seen crafty men oftentimes also do glass work (blowing glass or stained glass) and pottery too. ‘Chung’s woodwork led to crafting his own bass guitars (electric) in high school and college. When my sister and her hubby didn’t have much $ for christmas gifts last year, they set to knitting scarves for their family and friends–they were beautiful, but I found it interesting that his turned out even better than hers did, and he enjoyed it (though probably wouldn’t necessarily admit that in public).

    I wish I was half as talented at creating things as some of the men in my life are. πŸ˜‰ If we ever have kids though I hope both boys and girls will spending some time learning some of the foundational crafts that can create beautiful handicrafts.

    Oh my, I can be long-winded. I’m enjoying this series. I completely agree with your 3rd paragraph about a fee man not needing others to provide for him….and that rich lives can result in generous living living.

  • Reply Willa December 5, 2009 at 1:25 am

    I have been thinking about your posts on crafts all afternoon! I’m not naturally “crafty” either, which means I am always looking for a philosophical justification for what so many people recommend and seem to derive satisfaction from.

    Production derives from “bringing forth”, while the etymology of “consumption” is “wasting, using up”.

    It strikes me though that production/consumption are relative terms — that is, for every “production” you need a “consumption” of a sort, or else you end up with an unbalanced ecology, the equivalent of a landfill. Our society seems to have so. much. stuff.

    I googled a bit and found that Thomas Aquinas said that the virtue of “making” is that it embodies an idea. In a way it is a reflection of God’s creation. He also says that a person who knows something and also knows how to do it is in a better condition than someone who merely knows a thing in a speculative way. For example, a house-builder knows more about a house than the one who is “forced to take his knowledge from a thing already made”.

    I think this is somewhat the same as your point about “the habit of production” in your children, as opposed to the simple production of X times Y Sunday school projects. I guess I would worry that without pinning the production to a habit within the person, a habit of knowledge and action, one would end up with “production” as an end in itself, with its corollary of necessary consumption to keep the engine running, or else surplus and waste.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 4, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Good point about surrendering words. We shan’t let factories steal our word “production!” πŸ™‚

    As far as boy equivalents to handwork, I felt completely in the dark about it when I first began reading CM’s works a few years back. I joined the Ambleside Yahoo group, and that helped a little, but some of it was “good for you, having your little boy do crossstitch!” and even though I do think a boy could gain valuable skills learning to do it, I wouldn’t consider it really a handicraft because I have yet to meet a man who thinks that is a valuable way to spend a man’s time.

    Lately, however, I’ve been trying to note what little boys do in the old books we read. So far, I have:

    -learn to sew well enough that they can sew a sail or a tent covering
    -build treehouses
    -paint rocks
    -anything with knives is GOOD!

    In addition to this, I am going to add
    -elaborate knot-tying
    -elaborate paper cutting
    -origami (not limited to paper airplanes, but we will start there)

    I think part of why this is hard is because the traditional male crafts are even more lacking in this culture than the female counterparts. Men used to try their hand at silversmithing, goldsmithing, blacksmithing, wheel-making, and so on–all things that pretty much don’t exist.

    However, we are going to take some field trips and see iron working, welding, shoeing horses, carpentry.

    Perhaps buying an old, old boyscout manual would have ideas…

    Also, I was recently thinking of the significance of the fact that pretty much all old famous painters and sculptors are male.

  • Reply Mystie December 4, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Rich lives. Excellent point.

    I hate to surrender words. I’d rather stubbornly use them “properly,” even if I risk being misunderstood. I don’t think we should be afraid of production or productivity if we are keeping the concept in its proper place.

    One reason my blog has been quiet is because my fingers are busy crocheting Christmas gifts. And I did notice the irony when this discussion began. I don’t want to teach crafts, and yet here I am crafting Christmas presents.

    My mom didn’t do paper crafts or crafty crafts, but she did always have her own creative handwork she was working on, and she was willing to teach us when we wanted. So between my mom’s example and the old-fashioned books I read, I did grow up assuming that a girl needed handwork. πŸ™‚ The boy equivalent of handwork still baffles me a bit.

  • Leave a Reply