“Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.”
I love to do crafts. I have been knitting since age 8 and making things ever since I can remember. Working with my hands is my therapy. If I don't have at least 3 or 4 projects going on at once at home, my husband comes over to take my pulse. I'm probably the only woman who has ever asked for 50 pounds of broomcorn as a birthday present.
Why then, am I so cautious about how I bring craft work into the kindergarten? In the early years of my teaching, I felt obligated to have a different little craft for the children to do every week. We made pouches out of felt, shooting stars with ribbons attached, dolls, and many other projects. Most of them were sewn. Every time we started a project I would carefully label each one with the child’s name so they wouldn’t get lost and I had a checklist so that I could make sure that every child had made their project. In time, this became such an exhausting process that I dreaded doing any crafts with the children! It was too much. The children were not enjoying the crafts because it became almost like an assembly line.
I learned that not every child needed to make every project. And this was okay. In time, the number of projects that every child would be expected to do was narrowed down to just the gifts that were made for parents for special times. During the rest of the year, we concentrated on the practical work that was needed for the class. As I have mentioned before, when we needed rugs for the classroom, we made them. The first rug I made for the kindergarten evolved from quite a different project. I was ambitious that year and for Easter, we made baskets with coiled rope that we covered with strips of cotton cloth. The baskets were lovely but they were also a huge amount of work and it wasn’t something that was easy for the children to do. After the baskets were made, we ended up with quite a lot of fabric left over. We had cut all the fabric into strips for the baskets and so the leftover fabric was in strips and rolled into balls. What to do with the extra cloth? I crocheted a round rug – basically like crocheting a very large pot holder. The children watched and helped unroll the ball of fabric. And they were so excited to see the rug taking shape. I worked on this rug for the remainder of the school year and when it was done, it was put in the place of honor in front of the nature table. The children, during play time, would come and sit by the rug and point to the different fabrics, saying, “There’s my basket and Joey’s basket and Helen’s basket and Sophie’s basket,” etc. This was one project that belonged to the class and was “owned” by every child.
By my last years of teaching, I had come to where I was doing several very distinct types of crafts.
The individual gifts for children’s parents: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Christmas were our big holiday gift giving times. I tried to choose projects that the children could do by themselves and the finished product would be purposeful and/or very beautiful. My favorite Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts were when we dyed silk scarves for the moms and painted bandana scarves for the dads. We had also made tie dyed t-shirts for the children as an end of year gift. On the last day of school, all the parents were invited for our end of year celebration. I asked all the moms and dads to wear their scarves for the day. The children were given their t-shirts, too, and we were a very colorful kindergarten! In fact, a parent from another class told me that we looked like we were getting ready for a Grateful Dead concert! It was a lot of fun, easy to do, and the scarves really looked beautiful!
Crafts for the children that were created by the entire class: These included the Easter/Spring baskets, lanterns for lantern walk, crowns for the Harvest Festival or the May Festival, and other crafts where each child would eventually have one of the finished products to take home with them. We made felted baskets for Easter one year. As they were felted over large plastic eggs and I only had a few of these large eggs, every basket was worked on by at least two children at once. It is safe to say that every child worked on every basket. Nobody “owned” their own basket – there were no names attached. But everyone had a basket to take home before the Easter holidays. In a similar way, we created our lanterns for the lantern walk. Every child who wanted to help with the process of making lanterns would come and help. Some children did not work on the lanterns but carefully watched as we made them. Others couldn’t get enough of this work. And I realized that was okay. Not everyone needed to do everything. And they still participated in the lantern walk and took a lantern home, even if they had not helped to make one.
Practical crafts to meet the needs of the kindergarten: As I have said, many times already (it’s one of my “mantras”), I wanted to be able to create, instead of purchase, as many things as possible for our kindergarten. This meant that I was able to learn how to make many wonderful things! One of the benefits of these projects was that they all took time to make. You can’t make brooms or rugs in a day. One year we made woolen vests (or if you are in the UK, sleeveless wooly jackets) for the children out of old wool sweaters. We started around Thanksgiving and finished our last vest in March. The children watched the vests being made, played with the buttons in the button bin by my feet, and some of the older ones would help with the blanket stitching. When the vests were all finished, the children loved wearing them and so the project had another wonderful side benefit. As we told the parents about what we were doing and why, we were able to bring awareness to them about the need for warmth. The parents began sending their children to school in appropriate clothing without my needing to constantly say something to them about it. I think that as we were actually engaging our will and doing something about keeping the children warm, the parents were more able to engage their will, too. As always, we strive to provide the best model for imitation – and not only for the children!
In service to others: More and more I came to realize the importance of having the children create projects and do work that would not be given to the individual children or even to the kindergarten but would be done in service to someone else in the community. Had I stayed in the kindergarten, this is the area that I would have most liked to expand. The children need to learn, by our example, that they are not the center of the universe. For me, this meant doing things for others as often as possible. We baked cookies and made cards for the firemen before Christmas and had a couple of our families deliver them. The six year olds baked a special cake for their future first grade teacher on Valentine’s Day. And when we spent several months one year making brooms, we opened up a broom shop and invited the other kindergarten classes and the first grade to come and choose a broom for their classroom. One year we baked an extra loaf of bread every week and gave it to the first grade class. It was considered the highest privilege to be chosen to take the bread to the first graders. These projects for others were not complicated service projects as would be done with older students. They were very simple. We didn’t make a big deal over it, either. Doing for others was just an expected part of our experience in the kindergarten. We were not going out into the community to do service – except for baking cookies for the firemen – our “service” was to another class at the school. For the young children, this is going outside of their world. Delivering the Valentine’s cake to Mrs. Doyle meant walking all the way upstairs to the 8th grade classroom.
A child came to school one day wearing a shirt that boldly proclaimed: “IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT ME!” I think that as I saw this attitude become so accepted among the children and parents, it was this, more than anything else that convinced me to change the way I did the craft work. I wanted to challenge the notion that it is natural and desirable to have children think of themselves in this way. And I found that the children were never happier than when they were creating something to give away, whether it was a loaf of bread for the first grade or cookies for the firemen. They delighted in doing for others.