Why should crafts be in a home schooled curriculum?
One of the goals of home schooling our children is to educate the whole child, not just the intellectual mind. We can all relate to anecdotal stories of children who are very bright, ahead in their studies, but who lack common sense, emotional equanimity, or the ability to adjust smoothly to life experiences. Recent studies about “E.Q.”, or emotional intelligence, suggest that E.Q. ability may influence happiness and achievement in life more than the more traditional I.Q.
More than just E.Q. and I.Q., my experiences with life and with children confirm that there are many different kinds of intelligence. There is logical intelligence, typified in the scientific process and mathematical analysis. There is artistic and perceptual intelligence, or being able to see and reproduce shapes and colors. There is an instinctive body intelligence, which signals us when our bodies need more care or nutrition. There is emotional intelligence, being able to understand feelings, both of ourselves and of others, and to treat other people in compassionate and harmonious ways. There is musical intelligence, being able to create and express oneself through sound. And there is hand/eye intelligence, the ability to create with your hands an image you have in your mind. It can be exemplified by the learning of skills ranging from riding a bicycle to delicate surgery, painting a picture or fine carpentry. Each kind may be called a center of learning or intelligence.
The Waldorf model has long confirmed that there are many different centers of intelligence. A child who may have trouble spelling may be a gifted handworker. The child who writes beyond their years may not focus as well on math. The child who draws and has artistic promise may not be graceful in movement. Traditional school models have often focused on the intellectual center alone to the detriment of other centers of learning. Thus children who may be extremely gifted, but in an unaddressed center of intelligence, may feel they are underachievers and have low self esteem. Our job as educators is to find the strengths of our children and allow them to blossom fully. To do this we must expose them to and help them explore as many different centers of learning and ability as possible.
We also must address the learning weaknesses of our children. One of the most effective ways to do this is to combine a strong center with a weaker center in a single activity. When we can combine two or more different centers this way, the stronger or more developed center can induce the weaker one into new understanding. Seymour Pappert, in his book “The Children’s Machine”, talks about ‘kitchen math’. He observed that a person who could not reason out a fraction problem on paper was able to solve it simply by measuring out the fractions using flour and a measuring cup. Thus a practical, hands on experience overcame a difficulty in abstract reasoning. When we combine a new subject with something a child already knows and enjoys, we enhance learning. Another example is of a child who was artistically able but had trouble with creative writing. By drawing a picture first, making the image of a story in her mind, she was then able to find the words to express it on paper. Understanding and using the different centers of intelligence helps to connect different kinds of knowing to solve problems and remove roadblocks to education.
When we use learning techniques that combine different kinds of knowing, the learning experience also goes deeper, being patterned in more than one area of the brain. Waldorf education is a model of this kind of ‘relational’ learning. Thus, in the Waldorf models, instead of sitting at a desk and memorizing multiplication tables, children move their bodies and limbs in rhythm games to combine body and intellectual centers at the same time. Thus kids ‘know’ multiplication numbers as rhythms as well as just stored facts. When my oldest son was in second or third grade, he learned about primary numbers by making a beautiful multi pointed drawing showing a non-factorable number as a picture. By combining his artistic sense and his logical senses, he ‘got’ the concept in a way that goes deeply within.
In teaching our children, then, first, we have to address as many different kinds of intelligent development as possible to find their areas of strength and passion. We also can put different centers together to so that the stronger abilities can help develop the weaker areas. We want to find more than one level to engage our children in when learning so they learn more deeply, and in doing so, develop more fully as human beings.
HOW DOES HANDWORK FIT INTO THIS?
First, there is the need to explore hand skills as a center of knowledge in its own right. Your children’s life/work destinies may include developing their hand/eye intelligence to expertness. Your child may be drawn to building, working with machinery, or other physical skills. Even making art or playing a musical instrument requires great dexterity and control in the hand/eye center. On a practical level, being able to work with tools or mend clothing is a basic life skill which a child’s education should address,as those of us not able in these areas can attest to!
Secondly, learning is also more fun and exciting when we can connect different interests and abilities. The child who resists numbers measures and adds eagerly in order to build a woodworking project. The child who does not like informational reading will pore over directions to a craft project. The child who is careless with possessions may come have valuation and care for objects he or she has spent hours in making.
Thirdly, being skillful in manipulating materials and creating gives a child the feeling of mastery and control in their environment. Knowing how to make and change things to suit ones needs and ideas fosters in the child the idea that they can change their world. There is nothing as frustrating as knowing what you want to make and not knowing to do it. Conversely, it gives great satisfaction and esteem to be able to take an idea in the mind and turn it into an actual physical manifestation. For example, our children have been exposed to a lot of hands-on nature lore. I remember the time our son’s class had to build a fire to cook lunch, and the empowerment it gave to my son, who knew how to and was able to set up and start a fire. Handwork builds self-reliance into lives. Children are more confident knowing that they have the skills to make or mend the things they need or want to play or work with.
There is also a great hunger in children (and in all of us) to have tactile connection in our lives. We love and are nourished by the feeling of touching and experiencing the world through our fingers. Some years ago, I was invited to come to an ‘art night’ at a local public elementary school with my dolls and handworking. I set up a table in the corner of the gym, surrounded by a plethora of other tables and activities for the children to do. Despite the many other displays, I had a large crowd of children around my table, kids who stayed there the entire evening doing a simple handwork project. The yearning in these children to work with their hands and make something, and the satisfaction of doing so, was palpable. I believe the desire to work and create with our hands is one of the most basic human tendencies.
Handwork is also a great therapy in life when times are tough. One of my friends knitted an afghan each year during medical school finals. My father found comfort and solace in his workshop. Knitting has helped me through difficult hours in hospital waiting rooms. Any yarn or craft store owner can tell you that people turn to their hands to help them stay centered, busy, and productive during any number of circumstances.
Finally, I believe that the materials themselves have healing and nurturing properties when selected with care, and can help in esthetic training of the senses. Rudolf Steiner felt that natural materials, which have been alive, actually strengthen our etheric energy bodies, unlike synthetics, which cause the etheric energy to diminish. Selecting high quality wools, cottons, and other natural fibers are important to your child’s sensitive touch. In your conference packet are many sources for fine quality handworking materials.
I wish you joy in the time you spend with your children. May handwork add many happy hours together.