One of my favorite educators, Charlotte Mason, believed that children should not “be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like.” In other words, she didn’t approve of what we usually speak of when we speak of arts and crafts. She thought that a child’s boundless energy should be spent learning to make something useful. At first, this sounds joyless and old-fashioned, right? I mean, what would childhood be without macaroni art?! But I am starting to see the wisdom in her words.
(For more about Charlotte Mason’s views on arts and crafts, read here.)
I know so many adults who covet the skills other people acquired as children. I know so many adults who don’t realize how fortunate they are to have certain skills till someone points out how nice it is that they have them. I often hear or take part in conversations that go something like this: “I sewed this blanket for my baby nephew’s birth.” “That’s so nice! Where did you learn to sew like that?!” “Oh, It’s like I’ve always known. My grandmother taught me when I was a child.” “Oh. I wish my grandmother had taught me to sew…” I bet you’ve heard conversations like that. I bet you’ve been a part of conversations like that, too!
I think Charlotte Mason realized that childhood is a precious, God-given time to pick-up those useful skills like sewing, cooking, etc. When else will it be any easier for a person to have the energy, time and inclination to acquire them? Once a person is an adult, their lives will be too full of responsibility to learn new skills easily. All they will have then is opportunity after opportunity to use the skills they have, whatever they are, to bless themselves or bless others. If they don’t have many skills, well, then they will be left to express the same kinds of regrets that I shared above when they see someone using a skill to their advantage or to bless someone else. “I wish my mom had taught me to cook. I could save so much money if I knew how to cook.”
With this in mind, I’ve decided to start taking the time, effort and expense required to teach my oldest daughter how to do some useful “handicrafts.” That’s what Charlotte Mason called them. We started with cross stitching because it’s something I already know how to do, sort of. I learned how to cross stitch from my older sister who learned it from my aunt.
To make the materials assessable to her, we’ve collected all the supplies she needs in a zippered bag that she keeps under her bed. She has a piece of fabric edged with masking tape to prevent it from unraveling, a book of patterns, colored thread of her choice, scissors, a needle, (Just one. She’s eight, so one is all she can keep up with right now. She’s already lost this one twice and boy does it take forever to find it again.)
She’s started working on an old-fashioned sampler. Charlotte Mason would be proud. I require her to do at least one letter a day. That way, if she isn’t in the mood to cross-stitch, it isn’t too much for her to do. If she is in the mood, she can decide to do more if she wants. After she finishes the alphabet, she plans to do numbers 0-9, her name, a Bible verse about sparrows, her current favorite. In all this, she will follow the pattern of the old, traditional samplers I’ve shown her in photographs or that we’ve seen in museums.
She does her best but she still makes a lot of mistakes. But she learns from them. “I can’t start with too long of a thread or it knots,” she said to me the other day. She’s also very proud and excited about her new skills. Like any creative eight year old girl, she’s already dreaming big about the things she will stitch and put on her wall, the gifts she can make for her friends at church, the illustrations she will put on the very bottom of her sampler when she gets to it. “What will my picture at the bottom be? I think I will stitch a horse! By the time I get done with everything else, I think I’ll be good enough to stitch a horse if I wanted to, don’t you think, Mom?”
“Yes I do.”
My plan is to teach all my daughters how to cross stitch and how to do several other useful handicrafts, as well. But for the other skills, I will need a little help (maybe a lot) since I don’t know how to do other things as well (or at all). Simply Charlotte Mason has a DVD series called Handicrafts Made Simple that has several tutorials for basic skills. I plan to purchase one or more of those to help me teach my daughters when the time comes to learn something else.
What a far superior way to fill childrens’ free time and use up their boundless energy! With God’s blessing and some persistent effort on our part, my girls be well-equipped, capable adults who have lots of skills at their disposal to use to bless themselves and to bless others. That’s the goal, anyway!