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Mrs Jones, Crafty Maven

Crafty kids

This week Mrs Jones has invited her mum to be guest blogger and talk about crafting with kids.

As an early childhood teacher, grandmother and great grandmother, much of my time for many years has been spent with the under eight year olds. These little people are creative, curious, very capable and ready to learn crafting skills along with other more traditional ‘school’ skills when these skills are meaningful to them.

My interest in crafting began when I was quite young, as my mother spent a great deal of her time making and mending. We lived in a tiny English village and each year she would make knitted toys for the village fete I remember being fascinated as tiny scraps of knitting were sewn together and stuffed until a cute little duck or dog emerged. She also made her own clothes and mine, sewed curtains and cushion covers, she darned and patched. She taught me to knit, embroider and to use her hand-operated Singer sewing machine so that I could make clothes for dolls and teddies. One of my enduring memories of childhood is of dad’s dressing gown that mum had made during the war from a grey army blanket. On many cold winter’s nights that dressing gown was put on my bed to keep me warm. Much of what I remember of my childhood home was hand-made. Consequently, I still look at expensive clothes or household items in shops and think, I could make that! Unfortunately I rarely do!

When I married I made curtains, cushion covers and clothes for the family, including natty seventies shirt and tie combos for my husband! When my two daughters arrived I made their clothes too. I hope they forgive me for dressing them in matching outfits! A cheap remnant from the market would make a dress for my two year old and a tiny version for her baby sister. As they grew older I taught them to knit, crochet and sew. They both continue to knit and sew and despite having their own families and busy careers, each will have a crafty project to show me when I visit.

Crafting is not only for girls. My eldest daughter taught her stepson to crochet when he was young and he spent many hours producing wonderful crochet ‘sculptures’. I treasure a beautiful model of a humming bird hovering over a flower.

Crocheted hummingbird Crocheted hummingbird on a flower

Coming late to my career as an early childhood teacher I brought with me the experience of learning crafting skills as a child and teaching my own children to knit and sew. In my preschool classrooms (4 and 5 year olds) bodkins and yarn were added to the other resources and equipment for children’s use in the art area. These were used as a means of joining materials together when making costumes for dramatic play or when other methods of joining such as glue or staples didn’t work! Sometimes children drew on hessian then embroidered around these drawings to make presents for their families.

Another craft that was introduced, usually before stitching, was weaving. We began by practicing to weave with strips of coloured paper. This activity incorporated the use of scissors when cutting out the strips and pattern making as children decided which colours to use. It was also a good introduction to the concept of ‘over and under’ that they would need when sewing a running stitch. Later we would make large woven hangings incorporating natural materials that were found by the children such as leaves, grasses and strips of bark. These art works were often enhanced with strips of fabric and stapled on scraps of paper or foil. Such projects were often instigated by me but they became the children’s own work as they sourced materials and decided how to incorporate their ideas.

Again, these crafting skills were not only used by the girls. I remember some boys sewing together big pieces of hessian to make a ‘house’, and using stitching when making other props for their dramatic play.

Many years ago one of my fellow teachers, a great crafter herself, brought her spinning wheel to preschool and children were able to see the process of fleece being turned into yarn. They also got to practice using the spinning wheel, not an easy skill! An excursion to see sheep being shorn gave the children an understanding of the production of woollen yarn.

This same teacher later moved to a small country primary school where she continued to teach her year one and two students crafting skills. Sadly she contracted cancer in her late thirties. When I visited her in the hospice, a week before she died, there was a huge hanging at the end of her bed made by her young students. Each child had drawn a picture on hessian then stitched around their drawings. These beautiful pieces of work were stitched together to form a patchwork; a fitting tribute to a great and much loved teacher.

Another friend and fellow preschool teacher was a spinner and weaver. She was experimenting with natural dyes and introduced this idea to her class. The children experimented with leaves, onion skins, berries and soil to see what colours were produced. This led them on to experimenting with natural materials to make paint and an interest in the use of ochres for body and rock painting.

Over the past years there has been a push to better teach STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) in our schools. I would like to see this acronym changed to STEAM with the addition of the arts. Crafting is considered an art subject yet it can encompass all the STEM subjects – think about it!

My message to all the parents, grandparents and teachers out there is to teach children to use tools, materials and equipment to create new things. Because we don’t know what the future holds for the four, five, six, seven and eight year olds of today. But what we do know is that they will need the skills to use the ‘tools’ of our culture be they computers or needles.

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