Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Relevance of Handicrafts in Today's World

A discussion came up at our monthly meeting about handicrafts and their relevance today and I thought I'd post a continuation here to add my thoughts and also for anyone else to do the same.

In today's technologically driven world, are handicrafts, like wood-working or knitting, still relevant? Wouldn't it serve our children better to learn how to type and use a computer? Or what about HTML, CSS or PHP for that matter? Aren't these things more important to know than knitting or wood working? I think it's an excellent and valid question.

In our home, since I am proficient in typing, blogging, web design, etc., I am holding off on teaching them any of those things because I know that, by default, they will learn them as we work on projects together in the future. I also think they are a hugely distracting and I'm just not willing to open up that kind of distraction to them until they have a foundation of worthy knowledge and the ability to govern their own selves in the face of such distractions. Every technology seems to me to open up added streams of things I just prefer not to have to filter out and monitor at this point.

I think it's good to look at what value Charlotte Mason saw in handcrafts. In regards to curriculum, she advised against utilitarian ends. In Vol. 3, p.241 she wrote:

"I should be inclined to say of education ... To educate children for any immediate end––towards commercial or manufacturing aptitude, for example––is to put a premium upon general ignorance with a view to such special aptitude. ... Excellent work of whatever kind is produced by a person of character and intelligence, and we who teach cannot do better for the nation than to prepare such persons for its uses. He who has intelligent relations with life will produce good work."

In a Parent's Review Article titled, Notes of Lessons, we find the outline of a handicraft lesson and it's purpose:

IV. Subject: Clay-modelling.

Group: Handicrafts. Class II. Time: half-hour.

By B. M. Dismoor.


I. To introduce the children to a new handicraft, and to show them how to deal with a new material by modelling a plant pot and saucer.

II. To increase observation and appreciation of beauty in form.

III. To give the children the pleasure of creating.

IV. To concentrate the children's attention and to increase their patience and perseverance.

This seems to coincide with what Ambleside Online claims in their FAQ section: First and foremost, Charlotte Mason is a 12-year Christian Character Building curriculum.

Here is another Parent's Review article, this one titled "Our Work", points to developing their inventive faculty:

With regard to sloyd work, the fact that it encourages children to invent and carry out models of their own speaks greatly in its favor. It is the inventive faculty in children we all wish to encourage and cultivate. The same may be said of Basket-making. Children soon begin to invent their own patterns, and if along with pretty designs we get careful and accurate work the educational value of these employments soon shows itself.

So I guess the question then becomes: couldn't character be taught just as easily through technological craft? Or, why is knitting or wood-working a better option in building character than typing or HTML?

Another good point CM made about handicrafts is that:

"...intellectual occupation seems to make for chastity in thought and life."

"The children I am speaking of are much occupied with things as well as with books ... He practises various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials.
But, always, it is the book, the knowledge, the clay, the bird or blossom, he thinks of, not his own place or his own progress. "

What do you think?

I also posted this discussion on the ning here: http://charlottemasoneducation.ning.com/forum/topics/are-handicrafts-still-relevant-in-today-s-technologically-driven-?xg_source=activity


  1. I would have given my left ARM to have been taught sewing, knitting, etc as a child! As an adult, you really value these skills! I LOVE the first quote by Miss Mason!

  2. Thanks for this post, Naomi. We are very much into teaching our children handicrafts - even before we started using the CM method of education. You would be amazed at how many people wonder why in the world we would teach our children such things in this technological world!
    Thanks for an encouraging blog. I "visit" you often. :)
    Many blessings to you,

  3. What a great question.

    I love this, from the PNEU article: "To give the children the pleasure of creating." There is something about working material with your hands that cannot be replicated through machinery. It is pure pleasure to create something. Sometimes what I need more than anything is the chance to let my mind play, and creating something does exactly that.

    Handicraft skills also make me feel confident and competent. I enjoy sewing, baking, canning, and knitting, but I also know that if something catastrophic happened and I needed to use these skills to keep my family alive, I could.

    I still remember the day I learned to knit, nearly 6 years ago. I don't think a day goes by where I don't pick up yarn at least once. It seems old-fashioned, but it is in fact quite meditative. It gives me a chance to calm my frustrations, order my mind, let my concerns sort themselves out, and keep my hands busy (often so they aren't sticking food into my mouth). It keeps me patient when I have to wait - in fact, waiting can feel like an unexpected gift when I have my knitting with me - and makes me feel like I'm using my time productively. My biggest gripe about the computer is that after hours spent on it, I still have nothing tangible to show.

    Handicrafts also give me an outlet for being charitable. While my friend spent a month in the hospital, I knitted and crocheted a dozen tiny baby hats for the NICU. It was something tangible that I could do to thank the nurses for their care, and to encourage other parents who were in that situation. Most people love getting handmade gifts, I think because they know the time, care, and love that goes into them.

    Planning and completing a project

    I think handicrafts can help build all of these character traits. While some people may argue with the value of the skills themselves, very few people would dismiss the chance to build these characteristics in their children.


  4. So many great points here Sarah! I particularly liked the reason of not putting food in your mouth, lol!

  5. I'm really enjoying learning CSS and such right now; it does stretch my mind, and it's even a kind of creative outlet. However, it doesn't come near the relaxation and pleasure that knitting give me. Tech stuff can always be learned later on, too. I don't see any advantage to introducing them early on.

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