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    Educational Philosophy

    Crafts in the Life of the Child (Part VI)

    December 5, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Yesterday’s post was actually my conclusion, but after reviewing some of the comments from the week, I thought I’d tie up a few loose ends. Thank you all for participating so much in the discussion in the comments. I love thinking through these things together, and even though we haven’t thought through it exhaustively, I feel like I now have a better handle on where we are and where we’re going and what I want that to look like, and I hope that you do, too.

    Crafts in the Life of the Child {Part VI}

    With that said, let’s take a quick look at those loose ends.

    Crafting is Fun and Part of the Imago Dei

    Jimmie said this:

    I think that crafts are valuable for creativity, expression, and plain old fun.

    And Rachel’s comment goes along with this:

    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.

    I’m tying these two comments together because one provides the reason for the other — children delight in creating because they are made in the image of the Creator. There is a verse which will nicely frame my next point:

    When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. (I Corinthians 13:11)

    A lot of folks simply discard any sort of crafts as they grow older and enter into an adulthood that produces very little of beauty. But if we are going to say, and we say this truly, that the nature of the child is a reflection of the imago dei, that they create not because they are children but because they are human, then we have to ask the question: what does it mean to become a man in this area?

    I think handicrafts answer that question. This is how crafts grow up. They become more, not less. They become valuable not just as a fun activity, but as an expression of beauty that can delight others, that can even delight the Lord who inspires them. They become a simple, lifelong source of joy.

    A Little More on Crafts “Reinforcing Lessons”

    Do you remember when I posted quotes from Understood Betsy? I am thinking particularly of this:

    It is possible that what stirred inside her head at that moment was her brain, waking up. She was nine years old, and she was in the third-A grade at school, but that was the first time she had ever had a thought of her very own. At home, Aunt Frances had always known exactly what she was doing, and had helped her over the hard places before she even knew they were there; and at school her teachers had been carefully trained to think faster than the scholars. Somebody had always been explaining things to Elizabeth Ann so carefully that she had never found out a single thing for herself before. This was a very small discovery, but it was her own. Elizabeth Ann was as excited about it as a mother bird over the first egg that hatches.

    I noticed a couple days ago that this quote is also posted over at Charlotte Mason Help. (I am really enjoying exploring that little corner of the Internet.) This quote is an introduction to considering Charlotte Mason’s opinions on … are you ready for it? … elaborate lesson plans.

    Lindafay, who was once a Teacher-of-the-Year as a public school teacher, explains in her article Let’s Talk About Lesson Plans in a CM Education, that she used to be Super Teacher. It sounds to me like she probably created the best lesson plans one could imagine. She says that she planned out in advance all that her students would learn, the mental connections they would make, and so on. It sounds exactly what I remember studying in the one (tedious) education course I took in college.

    Lindafay drops the bomb on this subject:

    Miss Mason was very much against carefully prepared lessons that correlated several subjects together. She felt that this made the teacher do most of the work (thinking), spoon-feeding information to the children while creating a teacher-dependent atmosphere. Instead, she believed children need to make those connections themselves.

    She has lots of quotes from Mason’s works (which are quoting from scholars at the time of her writing), and this article is well worth reading if you want to think through this subject.

    Since we have been talking about crafts, I want to bring it back to crafts, and crafts only, because such quotes could open a really large can of worms, and, it being Advent and all, I really don’t want to inadvertently talk myself into doing some sort of ten-day series on lesson plans.

    It might scare away my readers!

    And my self.

    Moving on.

    Mason quotes a certain Paterson who wrote:

    Too much learning, without requiring any effort on the part of the student. The teacher works too hard to use all her training and experience, but the student does nothing. If education is made too easy, then students are robbed of the active mental challenge of learning. Learning can be a difficult challenge, but the exercise teaches students to concentrate and to work independently.

    Following this quote, Lindafay herself explains:

    Eventually, I realized that during my teaching career, I had treated children like baby birds, chewing the food first and feeding them bit by bit as if they were helpless in this ‘getting of knowledge’ process.

    To put it in the terms I often use here on the blog, this is the difference between educating for freedom and educating for slavery. Students raised up to be dependent on teachers are intellectual slaves. Like Betsy, they are incapable of an independent thought life.

    If we bring it back to crafts, when we teach on the verse, “We all like sheep have gone astray” and then break out the cotton balls and glue and make a sheep, we are not reinforcing an independent thought life.

    In fact, we aren’t even reinforcing the thought, because the thought is that we have all gone astray. If a child is familiar with sheep, he will know they are incredibly stupid creatures who desperately need direction, and he will connect that this means it is inevitable that we go astray. No amount of cotton balls will teach him this if he is not acquainted with sheep, but they just might distract from the point.

    In my own home, I would rather see reinforcing-type crafts be spontaneous rather than carefully planned and executed because I thought they were cute and somehow connected to whatever was at hand. On day one of this discussion, Jami expressed this perfectly:

    [H]ere creativity abounds and after reading about Egyptians the kids may get out the Sculpey clay and make jewelry  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.

    Let’s examine the difference here. In the former instance (the lesson-plan instance), the teacher dictates the thoughts of the child and decides to reinforce her predetermined thoughts through a craft. In the latter, if I might embellish Jami’s house a little bit, the teacher has set forth a feast of ideas. These ideas are living and active and they take hold of the imagination. Because of this, the children do crafts as a response and reflection of the ideas they are chewing on. In the end, we might have two identical pieces of clay jewelry, but one represents the teacher’s thoughts and the other represents the child’s thoughts.

    Because the mind is nourished on ideas, our time as teachers is best spent learning how to help the child … have ideas. After that, narrations, even 3-D narrations, will happen quite naturally.

    Purging Paper Crafts

    In case you all didn’t catch it, Rachel R. had a great post over on her blog on just this subject. She is taking a more direct route than what I have done in the past, which is to say, sneaking around my house in the dead of night throwing away paper projects. I will repeat what I commented there: I think the process she described will actually make her daughter a better artist. Go read it if you have “masterpieces” piling up all over your house.

    On Not Being Crafty

    One of the things we learn as home educating mothers is where we ourselves are lacking. Actually, motherhood in general teaches this, but giving lessons certainly opens doors to rooms we tried to close off, now doesn’t it? We all got through school not being good at math/art/literature/spelling/whatever and now we go and decide to teach our children and there you have it: our flaws are back, staring us in the face again.

    This last year has taught me two lessons: (1) Don’t let ideals discourage or intimidate. Let them inspire. (2) View known and discovered weaknesses or aversions as a lack in my character, education, or formation.

    Even though I only plan on discussing (2), I put (1) in there because lots of times it is through ideals that we become aware of our weaknesses and aversions. I have spent time trying to embrace aspects of life which, ten years ago, I would have declared a complete waste of time. Let’s just say I didn’t grow up dreaming of a farm (even a microfarm) or hoping I’d own a flock of laying ducks. These things are things I have grown to love, but they are not a reflection of who I have always been.

    It used to be that when I discovered that someone loved something I thought was silly or somehow inferior to my own interests, I thought that that person was somehow lacking. Now I see that it is I who am lacking, for God created a very big world, full of things worthy of being loved by mankind, and if I do not love those things, there is something lacking in me, not in what God has made.

    We will never be perfect enough to teach our children everything. However, as we combat our own deficiencies before the watching eyes of our children, this just might be one of the greatest lessons we teach them. They will see that humans, not just human children, learn. They will see that old dogs really can learn new tricks. They will learn that flaws can be remedied, weaknesses made strong.

    And we all build memories in the process.

    I hope that, ten years from now, I will write a post and tell you all that I am, in fact, a crafty mom.

    Where are you going to grow?

    A Couple More Things:

    I was already done writing this post when I noticed two wonderful comments. I would love to share them with any of you who did not catch them. The first is from Willa, and the second from Rahime.

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  • Reply Kate Myers April 4, 2023 at 10:27 am

    So where did you end up on this?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 4, 2023 at 3:16 pm

      I still wouldn’t call myself crafty (though I do work on my cross stitch every single day) but I think we did okay. The children have a number of skills; I am content. We could have done more. I am glad we didn’t do less!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 8, 2009 at 12:37 am


    Yes! I totally agree with you, and I hear stories so often that make me feel so badly for classroom teachers! I mean, sure there are some bad teachers out there, but many of them are good teachers fighting losing battles because of this attitude.

  • Reply Sallie @ a quiet simple life December 8, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Re: the situation with your son…

    That is one of the reasons I don’t think I will ever be a classroom teacher again. The teacher is expected to do everything and if the child doesn’t learn… it must be the teacher’s fault. The parents and the student expect the teacher to do everything to make sure the child learns.

    My view of a teacher is that of facilitator. I am there to give every student an opportunity to learn. What they do with it is up to them and their parents. But this view is completely contrary to the prevailing attitude right now.

    I should really write a post about all this instead of filling up your comments! LOL!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 7, 2009 at 7:57 pm


    What you said about your unit studies is exactly why I apologized to you earlier in the week! I was thinking in my mind of the strictest definition, where the parent is basically feeling the pressure to recreate school in the home.

    What you described, a sort of loose unit study, correlates closely with my DecemberTerm, or even the way that I self-educate in my spare time.

    I do find it a challenge to balance planning with non-planning. For instace, though I admire a family I know that pulls off unschooling fabulously, I do not have the personality to do it. I find that the planning is mostly for me: to keep me on track and make sure we are actually going somewhere. And then there is the planning where I give myself suggestions so that I don’t get stuck. I try to balance all of this planning with what Sallie called “wait time”–where I don’t begin to chatter just because I spent time on it, but I let the student(s) make the connections themselves.

    All of that is to say that planning is an aid, but I have to be careful personally not to use all of my plans to force-feed other persons…

  • Reply Rachel R. December 7, 2009 at 3:12 am

    Aw, thanks for the link.

    And thank you even more for this series of posts. I love the way you think through these things! I think you have hit the nail on the head with your conclusion about “becoming a man” in the area of crafting.

    And on the tangent of lesson plans, etc….I think you have hit on what makes the difference between my view of unit studies and your own. In our house, a unit study is not, for the most part, planned out by mama. I usually have to have a bit of an idea so I know what books to snag from the library and that sort of thing. But, overall, the extent of my planning is to choose the topic and have the materials available. The connections made and the directions we go are dictated by what my daughter learns. This is actually much trickier where lesson planning is concerned, because it’s day-by-day! But I think that, as a general rule, a “prepackaged” lesson plan is pretty useless.

  • Reply Sallie @ a quiet simple life December 6, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Ah, yes. Wait time. I was fortunate to learn about that during my college training. And it isn’t just in teaching a child. A lot of Bible study leaders don’t understand the concept of wait time. It can feel very uncomfortable to wait and not jump in. But a perceptive teacher or leader who is in tune with the group members and that particular group’s dynamics learns to be comfortable with the silences.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 6, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Another thing I recently learned goes along with this: waiting for children to think something through. CiRCE lectures taught me this. (Sorry I am going on and on here.) I thought before that when I asked a question and the children didn’t answer within a short amount of time, that I must have been at fault, asking the wrong questions, or questions that were too difficult or something. What I learned was that sometimes big thoughts take a while.

    So, the other day I asked my five-year-old student a question, and her immediate reply was, “I don’t know.” Normally, I would have…spoon-fed the answer and berated myself for the question later. Instead, I said, “Well, you think about it and I will wait while you figure it out.” And then I repeated the question in a little bit different wording to get her thinking again. We sat there and at least two minutes went by, but after that, she began to pour forth all of these thoughts. I wondered how many times I had squelched her learning by thinking that 30-seconds was all that was needed to form a real thought.

    So my new resolve is to replace spoon-feeding with…silence…space for the child to think it through.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 6, 2009 at 6:00 pm


    I have always taught in one-on-one type environments, so I haven’t experienced the teacher pressure, but I have seen it. Most teachers I know have so much pressure on them in so many areas, and the student has so little responsibility in the process.

    I had a show-down with my son last year. He was in a spirit of rebellion an was resisting so many different facets of his education. I read something over on Cindy’s blog that changed my life. In response to what I read, I sat him down and told him that this is his education. Yes, it is my job to offer things to him, but from now on I am not going to try and make him grasp them. He will determine what sort of education he gets. If he wants a great one, he shall have it, and if he was a sloppy one, he shall have that instead.

    He was horrified. He accused me: “You mean you don’t care if I learn anything?” I told him that of course I care. But I care that he care, that he learn to love these things, and so he must make the choices here.

    That changed my life with him forever. I could have disciplined him into doing what I said, I think (maybe), but I really wanted his heart to be in it. Now that I see what a difference it makes to have the student pursuing the education for himself–even though we teachers do so much, and I do not want to understate that for I am not in favor, as a general rule, of this excessive self-schooling that goes on in some curriculi–I would heartily encourage teachers to require more of their students rather than less.

    Okay that was sort of a tangent. The connection was supposed to be: it seems to me that real education has to start with the child’s teachable heart and then grow through the child’s self-motivated pursuit. Sure, we teach, but we do not dictate on the one hand or spoon-feed on the other.

    The more I realize this, the more I realize I need to pray. 🙂

  • Reply Sallie @ a quiet simple life December 6, 2009 at 2:42 am

    Brandy –

    I think it was a God thing you wrote this post. I’ve read some of your recent craft posts and need to catch up on the rest. But I was thinking about them this morning (in the shower!) and was reflecting on how I am loathe to meticulously plan out every aspect of Caroline’s education.

    One of the advantages of having only one child to educate is I can do much of it on the fly as things arise. And that is also what I love about home education. The teachable moments are everywhere every day and if I am watching and praying, the Lord will present me with many opportunities.

    That isn’t to say I won’t have any plan at all. But as a former teacher I know exactly what lindafay is talking about and she is absolutely right. You can see it in the shift in school-based education right now. Everything is supposed to be individualized and meticulously planned by the teacher to meet the needs of individual students. But while it sounds student-centered, it isn’t. It is very teacher dependent. And that is not what I want for Caroline.

    Hmmm… Lots to think about! 🙂

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