“[It] is what Fin and Rye are not expected to know that is so fascinating to me. To identify every tree in our woodlot. To butcher a hog. To wield a splitting maul and use a chop saw. To make a fire. To know when a windrow of hay is dry enough for baling. To build a cabin. To sew and knit and carve. To disappear into the woods below our home and return an hour later with a bag full of chanterelle and hedgehog mushrooms. To operate Melvin’s bale wrapper, so they can help him during the crush of summer. These skills feel important to me because they are the skills of a particular place, having arisen from their connection to this land and community. And they feel important because they are true life skills. They are instilling in my boys a degree of hands-on resourcefulness that is rapidly being lost in a society where many people do not even know how to change a tire, or hold an ax. Finally, I see how the skills and the knowledge they embody are the direct result of my sons’ innate curiosities and love of learning.“Ben Hewitt, Home Grown
“CRAFT” and “CRAFTSMAN” —then and now
1.) an occupation requiring skillful use of the hands
“She is an expert in the craft of carpentry.”
synonyms: art, handcraft, trade, skill
1.) a person who is highly skilled in a particular craft
“He is truly a skilled craftsman.”
synonyms: workman, artist, artisan, master
2.) the quality of design and work shown in something made by hand; artistry
“The vase is a piece of fine craftsmanship.”
Is it just me, or do the definitions above sound incredibly far off from our modern interpretation of “crafts”? Or, if you are more visual than verbal, try this: on Google images, type the word “craftsmanship” in the search bar. Then, type the word “crafts.” The differences in color alone are staggering. And then there is the strange absence of hands in the search results for the latter; unapologetically selling the product over (and even without) the process.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but I believe the above side-by-side comparison warrants no fewer than ten thousand in interpretation.
“ARTS AND CRAFTS” OR “ARTS AND CRAP”?
I’ll never forget a certain college lecture in a theatre arts class my freshman year in which the professor kept repeating over and over: “you must hone your craft!” She kept saying the word “craft” with such conviction, such dignity, I knew I was missing something. And the dozen or so other freshman theatre students blinking down with me from the rows of blue theater seats looked just as puzzled as I did. “Hone our . . . craft?” The only reference I had for the word “craft” was something that came in a little Ziplock baggy with a crudely cut instruction slip shoved in. My whole life I had been participating in what Sunday School teachers and club leaders referred to as “Arts and Crafts” which mostly meant that we’d be needing the class-pack of Elmer’s glue and that one of us would be vacuuming up a carpet full of glitter in the near future. And the results of “Arts and Crafts” were such that calling them “Arts and Crap” would have often been more fitting. Yup, I had a sneaky suspicion that my new college professor had a very different visual indeed for this “craft” thing she spoke of.
A few google searches later, I realized that the etymology of the word “craft” had seriously evolved in the past few decades or so. Or rather, it had devolved. Other than a few sacred weeks at summer camp, and some good-old-fashioned “work” days on the family farm (thank God for Homeschool), I hadn’t done a whole lot of honest to goodness “crafting” in my young life. Those “Arts and Crafts” windows I had participated in throughout childhood had supplied “busy bags” at best and “little ole bags o’ landfill” at worst.
But what may have been lacking most of all from the “crafts” of my 90’s childhood was that they usually required little to no skill. At all. Cut, paste, color. There was no challenge, no learning curve, no exertion, no risk; no honing of any kind. This is ironic considering that the word “skill” is supposed to be synonymous with the word “craft.” And the various art forms of “crafts” (in the original sense of the word) are supposed to be inclusive of wood, pottery, fabrics, and metal. But the “crafts” I mostly encountered growing up were entirely of the plastic variety. There was nothing sharp, nothing hazardous, nothing hot, or cold, or heavy, or rough to the touch. And from what I’ve seen, this remains the status quo. Crafts have been made so accessible, so safe, so easy, so one-size-fits-all, that they have become . . . empty, lacking, lame.
Please understand that I hold nothing against well-meaning teachers and club leaders. After all, they have tight time restraints and budgets to contend with. Not to mention, they usually have a whole freaking lot of kids to wrangle. I am only suggesting that we think up a new title for what we grossly oversell as “Arts and Crafts.” Perhaps “Cut and Paste Club” or “Glue and Glitter Gathering” would be more fitting. This way we could reserve the title of “Arts and Crafts” for those activities that truly build our children’s vocational hand skills and teach them to “hone their craft.” In addition, I think we should give our kids access to true “Arts and Crafts” at least half as often as we do “Cut and Paste Club” . . . but I’m an idealist after all. 😆
In short, I find that “crafts” —in the modern sense— shout out a very different tune from the masons, carpenters, potters, and blacksmiths of old: just follow these easy instructions! No prep required! Anyone can do it! No experience needed! Like so many other aspects of modern life and childhood in particular, crafts have been watered down in order to serve them up assembly-line style. “Crafts” have been stripped of their worth and associated expertise. “Crafts” no longer require true “craftsmanship!” Arts and Crafts have been reduced to mostly pre-packaged kits and are qualified as activities and hobbies to keep us and our kids “entertained” and “engaged.”
No child left behind.
No child left frustrated.
No child burned, or (heaven forbid!) cut.
No child permitted to fumble or fail.
No child allowed to excel over another.
No child made truly skillful or triumphant!
No child given the opportunity to become a master of a craft; to become, through sweat and struggle and callus, a craftsman.
Week 5: CRAFTSMAN CORNER
Put the glitter, pom-poms, Styrofoam, and macaroni away! We’re working with real, down to earth, quality materials (wood, leather, metal, clay) and bringing old-world craftsmanship back to little hands! If you and your kids don’t love crafting together (yet!), maybe it’s time to get real, raw, and maybe just a little bit callused. The smells alone will be worth it! But the self-confidence a child gains from “honing a craft” is entirely transformative; both for the child and the community in which she will grow up and one day offer her skills.
- Day One: BURN, BABY! BURN! Wood-burning therapy
- Day Two: HAMMER TIME! Breathe, it’ll be ok.
- Day Three: Of LOVE & LEATHERCRAFT; If you love your kid, hand him a mallet!
SKILL SUPPLY LIST:
*please note: you do NOT have to have all of these supplies to craft with us next week!
- wood burner
- safety goggles
- heat-resistant child-sized gloves
- wood disks, peg dolls, or other craft/scrap wood
- heat-resistant surface or large piece of wood to work on
- leathercraft kit
- child-sized tools
- hammer, nails, and scrap wood for kids ages 6+ OR mallet, golf tees, and Styrofoam/cardboard boxes/zucchini/watermelon for kids under 6
Need a BOOK to go with Skill School this week?
Craftsman Week pairs perfectly with:
- Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall (ages 3 to 8)
- The Little House on the Prairie Series (for kids ages 5+)
Want a perfect PLAYLIST to craft to?
Head back to a simpler, more skilled time with our: Move It! Fiddle & Folk Songs for the Family
Want MORE Skill School days? Click here: Our 🍳6 WEEK SUMMER SKILL SCHOOL🧵 ~little hands at work~
CRAFTSMAN WEEK STARTS MONDAY! SUBSCRIBE BELOW!
Thanks ever so much for reading!
Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~
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