The first week of two two-hour classes was challenging. Pamela did not care for thoroughly messy hands. She tolerated a little bit of smudge for a little while, which made it hard for her to learn the technique of making a coil clay pot like the Native Americans did. She found decorating less intimidating. She especially loved making different kinds of impressions with the edges and sides of sea shells and snail shells.
Her teacher, who worked with autistic children as a paraprofessional many moons ago, was quite ingenious. The next day, he showed Pamela how to roll out slabs like a pie crust and cut them into squares to make a box container. The next week, I played a variation on his theme and brought in our geometric panels from RightStart. Pamela and I explored shapes until she decided to make a prism container with a triangular base and lid with a knob. You can see the joy and feeling of accomplishment on her face because exploring shapes and spending more time rolling and cutting rather than pinching and smoothing was more in her comfort zone. I just love when God puts kindred spirits in Pamela's path because some art teachers can be rather rigid.
Making pottery is an example of what Charlotte Mason called handwork, another way for children to form relationships with people and materials and to learn how to use their hands to make an object of beauty and value. She wrote,
We are so made that every dynamic relation, be it leap-frog or high-flying, which we establish with Mother Earth, is a cause of joy; we begin to see this and are encouraging swimming, dancing, hockey, and so on, all instruments of present joy and permanent health. Again, we know that the human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handicrafts (Page 329).
Mason had quite a long list of possibilities for handwork best fitted for children under nine in her day: chair-caning, carton-work, basket-work, Smyrna rugs, Japanese curtains, carving in cork, samplers on coarse canvas showing a variety of stitches, easy needlework, knitting (big needles and wool), etc. Fellow mother of an autism spectrum daughter Sonya has compiled a long list of handwork for children today.
Unfortunately, our fast-food mentality has caused us to embrace twaddle in the world of crafts. To avoid stepping on any toes, consider the criteria Charlotte made for what passed as handwork (Pages 316-317):
- They should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like.
- They should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do.
- Slipshod work should not allowed.
- Therefore, the children's work should be kept well within their compass.
In addition to taking advantage of classes offered at the local art guild, Pamela and I are working on three areas of handwork this year: sewing with real wool felt to make things like a pincushion (except we will sew on button to attach the flower), a knitting needle case, a sewing needle case, and, time permitting, a doll pillow, i-Pod Touch cozy, or other interesting projects. Later in the year, we will try our hand at finger knitting (cute scarves for the winter), making wooden knitting needles, dyeing wool yarn, and learning the garter stitch to sew together easy projects out of squares and rectangles. I have to credit my friend Jeanette Tulis who inspired us with these ideas, and more, at her handwork presentation at the ChildLightUSA conference last June.
I will close with another inspiring quote in this era in which college graduates with large student loans cannot find work.
Some day, perhaps, we shall see apprenticeship to trades revived, and good and beautiful work enforced. In so far, we are laying ourselves out to secure that each shall "live his life"; and that, not at his neighbour's expense; because, so wonderful is the economy of the world that when a man really lives his life he benefits his neighbour as well as himself (Page 329).