Are handicrafts the same as arts and crafts?

After reading Charlotte Mason's reference to handicrafts in her first volume I began to understand that she meant something totally different. Learning a handicraft is learning a life skill. In my own words, CM wrote that handicrafts is not time spent making what she referred to as futilities (she gave pea and stick figures and paper mats as an example of futilities); but a handicraft should be a skill that is taught slowly and carefully. And since sloppy work should not be accepted, we are to be careful in choosing the appropriate handicrafts for our children.

Charlotte Mason offered a list of what she considered handicrafts appropriate for children under 9. Some are more realistic for me than others :). They are chair caning, carton-work, basket work, rug making, Japanese curtains, carving in cork, samplers on coarse canvas showing a variety of stitches, easy needlework, and knitting.

This year I decided to do away with pre-fab crafts and learn a craft in the true sense of the word. In our local homeschool group we have a mother who is an expert knitter. She graciously taught me and my 7 year old to knit and my 4 year old to spool knit. I've enjoyed it so much that I took an evening knitting class with my mother at our local knitting store. It has been such a wonderful thing both personally and for our school. We're learning a skill that can be used for a lifetime and have discovered the pleasure and satisfaction of working on something and creating something. This handicraft has extended far beyond the limits of our "school time." In fact my 7 year old woke me up this morning by plopping on my bed with her knitting needles and yarn in hand saying, "Mommy, I dropped a stitch and need you to find it for me."

Katherine in TX

In one of our CM support group meetings, we took on the topic of handicrafts. There were two sections in particular in the series which I found helpful.

The points to be borne in children's handicrafts are:(a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such a 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. Volume 1, Home Education pp 315, 316.

Again we know that the human hand 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. Volume 6, Philosophy of Education p. 328

I really like the idea of teaching our children skills that can bless and benefit others. If your children become skilled in handicrafts, just imagine what lovely gifts they can make for people all their life long.

One idea we discussed at the meeting was that it was very important for some of the projects chosen to be ones that required some time. There is great value in a child learning that a handicraft can be worked on for a period of time with an end result of producing something of beauty that is really worthwhile and useful. Other points made were that handicrafts teach hand-eye coordination, keep young hands busy with industry, help children to see progression in skill and perhaps most important the spiritual implications of creating-as created beings we are called to be creative. Handicrafts give an outlet to this calling.

Here is the list I came up with for ideas for handicrafts.

The ones with an asterisk are perhaps more boy friendly although I must say kudos to the AO mom who has her boys doing cross stitch!

rug hooking*
plastic canvas needlework*
cross stitch
felt projects*
clay sculpting*
carving-soap or wood*
weaving-paper, yarn etc.*
braiding/knotting floss e.g. friendship bracelets
wax modeling*
basket weaving*
paper cutting*
doll making
spool knitting
wire sculpting*

This is a topic dear to my heart although I must admit that I do not emphasize it nearly enough in my own family's life. I am however greatly encouraged to see some of the beautiful things my 10 yo dd has produced. How grateful I am for our home education lifestyle which allows our children free time to explore their creative gifts!

Jeannette in TN

Wow. I really hesitate to add to Jeanette's excellent post on handiwork, and in fact, I only do so because I finished writing mine before I saw hers and I hate to just delete it.=) But really, what Jeanette said.=) And here's what I just finished:What follows is an updated and revised compilation of previous things I've said about handiwork.

Regarding handwork:With any topic, it helps me figure out how to apply CM to my homeschool by taking Some initial steps. The first step I personally need to take is to figure out what Charlotte actually said or did. That's where I do the quote search.

So what did CM say about handwork? In that infamous 'somewhere' I think that Charlotte writes that children under nine can be doing chair caning, basket work, rug making, and knitting for handwork. I'm pretty sure she also includes things like mending. Whoa.

The second step I need to take (this is how I personally figure things out) is to figure out what was she trying to accomplish, what was the principle? Charlotte talks a lot about educating children for the future lives as adults and she talks about them feeling comfortable with materials, with doing and making things.

After I've figured out what she actually said, and what other principles from her works apply to this topic and what it was she intended to accomplish, then I figure out what it might mean for my homeschool. My understanding, based on the previous steps is that the right sort of 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 juicecan pencil holders.=)

So that's what I avoid in our handwork periods. I try to look for skills that will carry over into adult projects.

Over the years we've done some of the following:

6 y.o.- paint, play dough, stringing beads, hammering scrap bits of wood together, making bread dough teddy bears (and eating them), making Christmas ornaments, pressing flowers.

origami is a good option, and there are origami things that children 6-9 can make with just enough trouble to feel proud of themselves. We dip some origami projects in melted wax to make Christmas tree ornaments.

I've helped them at about age six sew buttons, they usually enjoy that and feel so important. Crochet a chain and make a dollhouse rug. Corking is another project they might enjoy (you know, that little spool thing with four spokes up top, you wrap yarn around it to make a sort of knitted chain), Rubber stamping is another option.

We also have a dollhouse and a book of dollhouse things to make for the younger set. I think our girls started with this when they were around 7 or 8, but they've continued and gotten better and better. I gave them polymer clay for Christmas and they've enjoyed making doll dishes and food as well as little animals for the dollhouse. Now 11 and 13 these two girls have gotten better and better at dollhouse miniatures, a hobby many adults still have.

One child at 8 y.o. made a very cute little gingerbread man out of felt scraps. She used a cookie cutter to trace two gingerbread man shapes. Then she made eyes by sewing french knots with blue embroidery floss. She made a smiling mouth with red embroidery floss, and she took it out four times before she felt she had it right. Then she put the two sides together and sewed them together with an overcast stitch. She's going to put a fabric paint heart on it later. We got the idea for this project from a Current catalog. They were selling four felt Christmas ornaments, and they looked very simple to make, so I helped her figure out what she needed to do for each step and made suggestions for floss color.

One child at 9y.o. attempted stamped cross stitch. This 9 y.o. was not successful with it, but her 10 y.o. sister was.

The same 10 y.o. sewed a sock doll all on her own, with no help from me at all, except to show her a particular stitch from a diagram in another book. We got two books from the library, one on sock dolls, one called something like "Dolls Kids Can Make," and she used the second one to make her doll.

At 12 one of ours liked latch-hook rug and pillow kits (we get ours at the thrift shop).

And I don't know if this counts as a handicraft, but I've taught my girls how to make handkerchief dolls- a type that doesn't require sewing. You just fold, roll, and knot in a certain way and get a little doll. I've taught them to do this when they were as young as four. They've whiled away many a quiet hour at Grandma's house doing this. They've even amused themselves making them with paper napkins in restaurants. I figure this simple, cheap, quiet skill will help them amuse younger siblings, nephews, nieces, and their own children when they grow up. So I count it as a handicraft;-) I found one description online: http://hcsv.org/hcsvkids/handkerchief.htm

In the same way, they can also make little boats out of magazine pages. They learned to do this very young, and we learned the proper folds from a Curious George book. Curious George used newspaper, but we like magazines because they are brighter, float longer, and fun to figure out where the most color will be as we fold them. A more complicated paper boat is here: http://www.highhopes.com/maverickboats.html Another page of instructions with instructions like those we use, along with lots of extras is here: http://www.mathematische-basteleien.de/paper_ship.htm

Another handwork project we did was to sew short lengths of elastic along the center, ourside edge of each of our towels. This was to make it easier to hang the towels on hooks. Two of the girls did this when they were around 9 and 10.


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