So, I recently read Ed Snapshot’s post about Summertime planning, ‘5 Steps to a Fabulous Summer Plan‘ and I was inspired to follow her advice and imitate her form. I printed off the free planning sheets and went to work planning out our summer. Everything was going along smoothly until I got to the “I’m Bored List.” Don’t get me wrong, I totally feel the need for this list, but I felt a sense of doom. After reflecting on why I reacted this way, I realized it was for two reasons. First, I went straight to the ideal and was envisioning a handicrafts and fine arts type list. Second, it reminded me of every time I have made a list like this in the past and it ended up being a failure. Now, at this point I could have been smart and imitated Pam more precisely and made the I’m bored list” the things they already know how to do and are independent in doing– and I still may do that– but I still felt a need to deal with failure I keep experiencing when I try to approach more fine arts and handicrafts kind of things. The truth is I want them to want to do all those wonderful handicraft kinds of things and I want them to be good at them.
The first problem that comes up is that the children love the lists I make and want to do everything on it, but as they begin, the messes begin, and then so do the frustrations. There seems to be a breakdown in how they envision it in their minds and what they actually have the skill and knowledge to do. Brandy Vencel expresses it well in her article ‘The Non-Crafty Mom’s Guide to Handicrafts‘.
“Well, I shouldn’t ask them to do things they aren’t able to do. I should be able to teach them slowly and carefully — so no rushing, and using incremental steps as necessary. I should expect them and help them to do a good job — an honestly good job.”
So, the heart of the first solution is to give my children a clear guide and something to imitate. If I am the one guiding them, then I need to think through the milestones for the particular thing they are learning. I need to identify what step-by-step skills and knowledge they need in order to be successful in what they are doing. Notice I did not say, master everything, be epic, be DaVinci, be a child prodigy, or any other word meaning something similar. It is not perfection we are after. “It is the inventive faculty in children we all wish to encourage and cultivate” (“Our Work“, Volume 8, no. 3, 1897, pg. 196). If this, inventive faculty, is to become a reality, then I need to be able to answer yes to the question “Is my child aware of the forms that govern this step, for this art, and can he move freely in it?” If he can’t then I can’t expect anything except a mess and frustration. Let this happen too often and they lose the belief that they can learn these kinds of things.
If you are not the one who is going to guide them, then look for a resource, book, youtube video, or instructor who expresses reason at work. Take the following video for example. Pay attention to how he explains the shading process. He uses metaphors and similes, he tries to express what it feels like to the hand to make certain pencil strokes. He takes you step-by-step. He takes you through principles that govern the art of shading. These principles make up the form of shading. He also compares different masterworks in reference to shading. He loves his art and he moves freely in it. All of these things are indicators that we are seeing reason at work.
The second problem usually arises with my older child, who does not want to do anything on the list. At first I was frustrated because I thought he just did not like anything that he was supposed to like according to many voices in the homeschooling world. This made me feel like I was a failure as a homeschooling mom, that somehow I had not exposed him to enough things, had given him a bad example, or was participating in some other failure I was completely unaware of. While any of the things may be true, it is not the whole story. Remember, “It is the inventive faculty in children we all wish to encourage and cultivate.” This inventive faculty can be expressed in all our domains and should be expressed in as many domains as we have capacity for. I have read a few things recently about work that seem to shed light on this idea. Matthew Crawford’s book ‘Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Nature of Work‘ and an article over at Ambleside online entitled ‘The Value of Art Training and Manual Work‘ both discuss work as a way one can express the inventive faculty in a communal way. This means work has the capacity to be exceptionally fulfilling. As I thought about this I realized that my son did not need to make a book, paint a picture, or make a leather bag in order to reap the benefits Miss Mason describes in her discussion about handicrafts. In fact, I think she actually had the idea of work, the way Matthew Crawford describes it, in mind. We know this because she uses the term useful, to describe what handicrafts ought to be, but not useful in a utilitarian sense, useful in a communal way. In a way that unites the individual to the community and the community to the individual. I believe that is the essence of the practice of handicrafts. An act that unites. In that way, we are being like our Creator, like the Church, and like Christ.
If this perspective is accurate then the possibilities open up. Any act that reflects the good, true, and beautiful and has that real-life communal element meets the criteria. My son can volunteer at a basketball camp and teach little kids how to dribble. He can also be the recipient of this sort of thing. In fact, the other day, he was. We went to the YMCA and he got to play basketball with a group of college basketball players. They challenged him and set a vision before him of what could be. They helped him increase his skill as well. One day he will extend this act to someone else. In this way, he unites himself to the community. It is useful because it unites. It ties knowledge to action. It is virtue- and in the end- is this not what we are after?
I am ready to lay down the expectation that my son needs to love crafts and painting. If he can appreciate a masterwork of art, then I am happy. I am also committing to offer real help and guidance for the work they are interested in. Whether it be me or some other guide.
What I will expect, is that they act. Act on behalf of their community, for the good of others, and in so doing being united with them. The cool thing is, they are happy to do it. It was never a matter of whether they wanted to do something useful and unifying, of course they want to, they long to. After all they are made in the very image of God.
Expanding wisdom, extending grace,
A Great List of Handicrafts by Simply Charlotte Mason (she includes several non-craft ideas as well)
The Non-crafty Mom’s Guide to Handicrafts by Brandy Vencel at AfterthoughtsBlog
The Value of Art Training and Manual Work. (Condensed Report.), by Mrs. Steinthall, Volume 8, no. 7, 1897, pg. 414
Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Nature of Work by Matthew Crawford
(An Article on the transcendent power of unity) The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think by The Huffington Post