Ok, I admit it. Charlotte may not have approved. After all she encouraged us to inspire with admiration, hope and love. I do not see subterfuge and baiting on that list. But one does what one must do.
For many years I have led or helped to lead workshops on handicrafts at the ChildlightUSA Conference (now known as the Charlotte Mason Institute Conference). And now, another confession is in order. I was quite faithful to include handicrafts in my daughter’s lessons. But my track record was less than stellar with my three younger children, all boys. My daughter took to handicrafts like a duck to water. To encourage her I even started a little club of girls near her age. We called it Hearts and Hands and combined teaching a serious handicraft with a Bible study on Christian character. It was a lovely group which met for several years and my daughter and many of her friends learned how to embroider, knit, crochet, quilt, hand sew—all skills which have stood her in good stead in her young life. She is now 21 and has surpassed me in her abilities.
With my two older boys, I made a few valiant attempts at handicrafts. But nothing really consistent resulted. With my youngest son, I was determined to do better. I felt like such a fraud teaching all those handcraft workshops. Reformation was needed. I knew I could not do what I had done with my daughter. Boys just do not naturally gravitate to the same type of activities. I had to use a hook to get them to come. And so the Handy Boys Lego Club was born. I sent an invite to all the moms of boys near my son’s age, 9 years old at the time, explaining that this would be a once a week meeting in which the boys would come to my house for a morning’s worth of activities.
Our club meetings consisted of a group of about 6-9 boys, all around 9 years old, gathering in my living room. It was not total subterfuge. The boys did get to play in our lego room but first we sang a hymn, recited poetry that they had memorized earlier with their co-conspirator moms, and then I taught them how to do a particular handicraft. The first month we learned how to tie knots and each boy made a paracord bracelet. After a snack, it was Lego time. In subsequent months I taught the boys how to form leaf bowls out of clay, create felt bookmarks with simple hand sewing, fingerknit a scarf, weave yarn around a form to make a cup, sew buttons to make a felt ornament, cover hangers with yarn, carve soap and hammer leaves to make leaf printed napkins.
My goal for this club was to show these boys that they could make something worthwhile and beautiful with their hands and simple natural materials. I also wanted them to have the opportunity to sing together and recite poetry. I was more than just a little amused to see the boys occasionally get so caught up in their crafting, that they forgot their lego time. Of course we did not always, ok, hardly ever, have time to actually finish the month’s project during our club time. But my heart soared when the mom of one boy posted a picture of his grandma wearing her new fingerknitted scarf that he had made for her. Another boy was determined to fill his mom’s closet with colorful yarn wrapped hangers.
I have found that if I really want to do something with my own children, one sure way is to start a club in which I am committed to do that activity with them as well as with other children. No slacking off when others are depending on you and you are obligated to actually do it. Perhaps you all do not need that type of motivational pressure but I sadly do.
If you try something like this, here are some practical tips.
1. Be sure you have some moms willing to stay and help. You will need an assistant or two depending on the size of your group. It is especially helpful if the assistant moms are proficient in the craft already.
2. Do as much pre-prep for the planned craft as possible. Measure, cut, bag up the pieces, thread the needles, etc. You will need all your time for instruction.
3. Teach your child before the meeting the planned craft. That way, you will have one less child to teach and one more potential helper.
4. Choose crafts that really teach a skill and result in a project that is useful, and beautiful. This was probably my biggest challenge. I started a pinterest page on handicrafts for boys to have a place to put potential craft ideas.
5. I gave moms the option of dropping off their sons for the meeting or staying and helping. At that age (9-11) most moms chose to drop off which was fine with me but be sure you have enough help.
6. A week or two before the meeting, I would let each mom know what the plan was for that meeting. I sent a link for the hymn to practice and print out, a reminder to have their son choose a poem to memorize, and would give them a very specific list of materials they needed to bring. This kept the cost way down to just a dollar or two for the additional materials I provided.
There is much gratification in this cyber age in seeing young men working with their hands to create objects of lasting beauty that hopefully can be a blessing to others. Charlotte knew the value of this and we would do well to not neglect this worthy lesson with our children.
“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.” — Vol 6 p. 31
© Jeannette Tulis 2013