Snapshot One: Rebekah sitting in a highchair with crayons in fist and a piece of paper taped to the tray.
Snapshot Two: Rebekah holding up the Mariner’s Compass quilt block she just figured out how to piece together, on the table in front of her are the other blocks in the quilt she’s designed and sewn.
Now between those two snapshots insert a time lapse of about fourteen years, a truckload of raw materials, and hundreds of hours of free time.
Children have an innate sense of creativity. Unfortunately, that creativity is often squeezed out of them as they grow. Their time often becomes increasingly structured into a tight schedule, and their thought processes become conformed and dependent on direction because of participating in so many organized classes and scheduled events. We need to give our children large quantities of unhurried time and lots of raw materials to feed their creativity.
Real creating is hard work. It includes observation skills, designing, problem solving, science, mathematics, trial and error, perseverance, cooperation, and more. If you want to nurture that creativity, provide an assortment of materials and get out of the way. Let the child experiment and create. Don’t buy those expensive activity kits that tell the child what to do. Give her scraps and extras and let her design how to use them. Yes, you will find paper and cardboard scraps on the floor and little pieces of tape stuck to the bottom of your shoe. Yes, chances are your desk will be covered with all kinds of doodads, lovingly made and given with an explanation of how they work. But what an easy way to nurture creativity and resourcefulness!
Here are a couple of tips for fostering in your family the enjoyable pastime of handcrafts.
- Encourage meaningful and useful projects that can be done safely according to the child’s skill level. Children of all ages can gain satisfaction and enjoyment from learning to build and create useful items from fabric, yarn, wood, or brick. As they get older they can expand to using metal, stone, glass, or wire. Of course, not every project will be serviceable right from the start. Play-Doh isn’t exactly an heirloom. When children are young, simply encourage them to work with their hands and celebrate their accomplishments. You will be setting the tone for how they view their future ideas and creations. Be gracious! Then as they grow, begin to nudge them toward useful projects. But don’t underestimate what young children can do.
- Don’t limit handcrafts based on the gender of your child. Boys can learn to sew or knit; girls can learn carpentry or welding.
- Help your children discover the great ministry potential that handcrafts can bring. Involve your children in serving others through the work of their hands. Make an afghan or wall hanging for an elderly person; knit or sew your next baby shower gift; learn woodworking skills in order to offer repair help to those who need it in your neighborhood and church. Children know when their contribution is substantial and useable. Help them develop a servant’s heart and skilled hands.
- Value the impact handcraft skills can make at home. Imagine being able to look through the house as a teenager and to identify several items that your family members use daily that you made with your own hands. Talk about a sense of belonging!
Teach this enjoyable pastime by encouraging a wide array of handcraft skills and providing the materials, resources, and lots of free time in order to learn and enjoy them.
Q & A
Q: What if I don’t know how to sew, build, (fill in the blank)?
A: My children do a lot of handcrafts that I don’t know how to do; for example, cake decorating, oil painting, knitting, and using a scroll saw. They have learned these skills in several ways. Sometimes the Lord brings people into our lives who have the desired skill and can teach the children one-on-one; these people might be grandparents, neighbors, or friends from church. The learning process gives a great opportunity to develop a relationship with an older person. I can even learn the skill along with them if I want to. Other times the children borrow books from the library that explain how to begin or to improve certain skills. Once in a while they see a handcraft presented at a workshop or conference exhibit and learn it that way.
See, if they’re used to experimenting with raw materials and their imaginations, they tend to pick up an idea and run with it. They don’t wait for someone to tell them what they should learn next; they’re walking down the path of being self-educated. So don’t worry if you don’t know how to do a handcraft that your child is interested in. Look around for resources, provide the materials, and encourage him or her to give it a try.
Q: How can I contain the mess that comes with handcrafts?
A: Ah, those little scraps of paper that get spread all over the house. Those half-finished paintings that cover the dining room table when supper is ready. Yes, giving your children raw materials and lots of time in which to use them can be messy. The ideal, of course, is to have a craft room or workshop that is set aside to hold all the raw materials and projects in progress. But not every house or family can accommodate the ideal. Perhaps a small area can be dedicated to handcrafts, like a card table set up in a corner or placed in front of a spare closet that can also serve for storage. If you can’t find even that much room in your house, you might consider keeping all your raw materials in a box or crate and giving each child a box or crate in which to store his or her projects. The child can use the kitchen table between meals, then you can put the crafts and supplies into the boxes and whisk away the mess.
Bottom line: craft supplies and children can be a messy combination, but I want to remind you of two things. One, teach the children from a young age to clean up their messes. And, two, the mess is worth the creativity, learning, and progress you’ll see in your children. Remember, many of their projects can be used for ministry as they are given with little notes to encourage people.