So I’ve never been particularly strong at handicrafts, and some years I’ve been a downright Failure (yes, with a capital F). Part of it is because I don’t really know how to do anything. I know a couple crochet stitches (or whatever they are called), but I would never say that I know how to crochet. I do make dinner, so that’s something. I decorate cakes, and I have been thinking about having the children help with that more often, but the reality is that if we could separate handicrafts from sugar highs, that would be best.
And I can only teach knot tying for so long, which is why it was nice to transition into ornament making for the holidays.
But it’s been a dud ever since.
The question for us non-crafty types is always: what to do? (Followed shortly by where to buy supplies and how to teach it when you don’t know what you’re doing.)
Before I tell you what I’m doing now, I will tell you what we’ve done before. We’ve done nothing (and we’re always successful with that plan thankyouverymuch). We’ve used only cooking (admirable, successful, but not enough, I don’t think). We’ve depended on others (which has been sometimes great and sometimes resulted in piles of unfinished projects). And, of course, the there was the aforementioned knot tying.
None of these has resulted in the consistency nor the variety that I think Charlotte Mason was offering to her students.
Towards a Philosophy of Handicrafts
As someone who isn’t really crafty — who doesn’t spend much time doing those sorts of things (and doesn’t want to) — I found I needed a guiding philosophy, something to help me make decisions about this part of the curriculum. This quote from Charlotte Mason has helped me with what this year is going to look like for us:
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.Home Education, p. 315
So I started to think. Perhaps her first point is most appealing to me: these crafts should be useful. I shouldn’t need to worry about nick-nacks building up and cluttering my house all over because these are things that we should like having in our environment.
What else? Well, I shouldn’t ask them to do things they aren’t able to do. I should be able to teach them slowly and carefully — so no rushing, and using incremental steps as necessary. I should expect them and help them to do a good job — an honestly good job.
This is the what and how we’re looking for: children’s handicraft projects produce something useful and beautiful as they are taught well and executed well.
What I’ve decided is that, for the non-crafty mom, looking at real events on the calendar, and real needs in everyday life, and choosing handicrafts fitting for those events and needs is the best way to tackle handicrafts.
So let me explain.
Step 1: Explore the Calendar
Start with birthdays. Think of how many cards you give or send each year. Homemade cards are an easy thing to do and they’d work for everyone. Also, how many people could you make gifts for?
Think about holidays. We always do ornament making for Christmas. It’s our tradition, and I know a lot of you have the same tradition. What about other holidays? Could placecards be made for special family meals? What about special decorations, such as centerpieces, wreaths, garlands, and more?
Holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are usually good opportunities for making things. Each year has its own special occasions — monumental birthdays or anniversaries, graduations, etc. Try to see these things as opportunities for your children.
Step 2: Examine Needs and Wants
And think about needs. I’ve redone a lot of furniture over the years. My older children are now old enough to help with that. Sanding, primering, painting, and finishing — all are great handicraft skills that result in beautiful, useful things for our house.
What about that blank wall in that one room? You keep meaning to do something with it. Is there something that could be made with your own hands, with which your children could help?
There are also daily needs and wants. Centerpieces for the dinner table come to mind. I’m sure there are a million possibilities that would come over the years.
Step 3: Set up a Pinterest System
Pinterest is a wonderful gift to those of us who don’t know how to do things, and don’t even have ideas about what things could be done in the first place. Pinterest is a treasure trove! It’s a place you can find ideas and directions. What’s not to love?
Don’t see Pinterest as a place that puts pressure on you to have a perfect life. No. See it as a place that can teach you the things you need to know in order to offer this type of education to your children.
Now that you have explored your calendar and examined your needs and wants, you can figure out a Pinterest system.
I’ve chosen to have
- A board for almost every room in my house. Yes, even the bathroom. I get on Pinterest once or twice a week and pin whatever ideas I come across. I don’t worry about doing it all. I just store it up so that I can find it later when I need it.
- A board for DIY Christmas ornament ideas, because this is a project we do every year.
- A board for cake ideas, because making birthday cakes is my one and only crafty talent.
- A general board for handicraft ideas.
- Boards for special projects I do off and on, such as refurbishing furniture.
The important thing is to create a system that works for you — a system you can actually use. One other suggestion I have is to go through and delete projects after you do them (unless it’s an ongoing thing you need tips for) so that you don’t have to wade through old things to find new possibilities. I try to do this with our Christmas ornaments — go through and delete the ones we did so that they don’t clutter up the possibilities for the future.
Also, delete projects as you rule them out. If the directions seem too complicated, or I decide I don’t like the project after all, or they require special pricey tools we don’t own, I delete them. It’s one thing to keep a project on the list because my children need to grow into it. It’s another thing to keep a project on the list that I know we’ll never do — that’s just clutter.
Step 4: Make Decisions
What are you actually going to do this year? Remember, Pinterest is for ongoing brainstorming and tip gathering. It’s gives you options to choose from. It is not the same as having a plan.
For me, I’ve decided that homemade birthday cards are going to be a priority this year. My children make them anyhow, but they have been making them in the same, simple style for years. Why not help them improve and make truly lovely cards? Or interesting cards?
I think we’re going to start with these hand-stitched cards. We can also make some for special anniversaries.
Another thing I’ve decided is that we need to come up with a Mother’s Day craft for some of the women in our lives. Making decisions in this area means I need to choose a craft (maybe these felt coffee sleeves?) and decide who the recipients are.
Step 5: Schedule It
At our house, Enrichment Friday is a great time to throw in a project like this. Last week, we made Valentine chocolate heart shortbread cookies, for example.
What you are really scheduling is time for direct instruction. Many children will be comfortable continuing a project on their own once they know what they are doing. But they first need to be taught the skills or techniques necessary for success. That is what we’re putting on the calendar.
So, to use the cards example, I need to have all the supplies necessary for making cards, and I need to teach them how to make them. Likely, I need to walk them through making one or two. But after that, they may very well be able to continue making them on their own time, the older ones might be able to improvise their own cards using the skills and techniques they’ve learned.
In my experience, unscheduled things don’t usually happen. They remain unchecked items on a vague to-do list. This is especially true when we’re talking about things that aren’t our favorite or we don’t feel very good at.
So. Put it on the calendar. For me, this means that I need to put a couple things on the calendar. First, I need to schedule the actual day and block of time that I’m going to give the instruction. But I also need to schedule a time to go procure all of the supplies we need. Sometimes, I have also needed to schedule a time for me to practice on my own so that I can better instruct my children. It usually depends upon how complicated the project is.
Step 6: Do It
This tends to be my answer for a lot of things I don’t want to do, but know I should. All of the steps before this are leading up to the moment when we take the plunge and actually act upon our plans.
I’m not going to say you’ll ever be a crafty mom. I am still not a crafty mom. I don’t think I ever will be. And that doesn’t matter, I don’t think. The point is that I think Charlotte Mason was right that it is good for children, on so many levels, to produce things with their own hands that they can truly be proud of. As their mother, then, it is my job to make it happen.
At some point, we simply have to do it.
And the truth is, I’m always glad we did.
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