Arts and Crafts Explained: Series Introduction, by Apryl

by Apryl

For many homeschoolers, one of the more intimidating subjects to teach can be hands-on art. The plethora of subjects, methods and supplies can be overwhelming to someone who doesn’t consider themselves artistic or crafty.  This series will be covering the how-to and why of some basic art techniques, with some hands-on projects laid out for you to get your feet wet.  I will start with a discussion of the basic supplies and tools, what they are typically used for, and why some types work better than others.

While my formal art training consists of one college art class that I dropped out of, I have been creating art for as long as I can remember.  I attribute my love of arts and crafts and the abilities I’ve developed to my family who encouraged me as a child and who never balked at letting me loose with art supplies.  My family gave me real paints, genuine calligraphy pens, artist grade pencils, actual oil paints and pastels, and more.  I was allowed to keep them in my room and use them at my whim.  For the most part, I’ve done the same with my children, and they have also embraced a creative life.  I believe that true art comes not from formal instruction, but through an understanding of your tools and materials and the freedom to explore.

So I encourage you to follow along as we embark on this artistic journey, and to always remember:  there isn’t a right or a wrong way to create art.

Liberal Arts Light, by Lynne


When my oldest child was a toddler, my sister handed me a book and told me to read it. “I think you’ll really like it,” said she. This book was The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. My sister, you see, had already decided to leave her job as a school teacher and become a homeschooling parent to her two children. She had read The Well-Trained Mind and it had influenced her thinking on how exactly she wanted to approach the education process for her children.

I had never given a thought to homeschooling my kids. We moved into a community with top rated schools. My intention was to send my kids to the public school and work outside the home.

Nonetheless, I thought I’d give this book a look. ‘A Guide to Classical Education at Home,’ it said on the cover. Classical Education. Hmmm. Frankly, it sounded a little boring. I began reading the introduction, blissfully unaware of how this book would change the course of my life. By the time I had finished the introduction, my world was turned upside down. Where had this book been all my life? I had been so bored at school. I was so unprepared for the small liberal arts college I attended. I would have killed for an education like one described in this book. I felt truly and deeply cheated.

At my small, private liberal arts college, I immediately discovered that I didn’t know anything about anything. I soaked up my college experience, because I had a desire to learn and be part of the world’s knowledge base. My professors stirred up a passion for learning and discovery. I later attended a large state university for my graduate degree, and came to appreciate my liberal arts background. It made me into a whole person, a thinking person, an integrated person. Until I read The Well-Trained Mind, it didn’t dawn on me that this process could be started much earlier in a child’s education. Why wait for college to learn how to learn?

I was so excited to share with my husband my discovery of this incredible way to teach our kids at home. The ensuing arguments are definitely a topic for another article. The bottom line is that he did not agree with me that homeschooling in a classical manner was the best idea for our kids. Many frustrating arguments later, we enrolled the children in the local public school. I was determined to afterschool them in the best way I could, using advice offered in the book and with support from the Well-Trained Mind online forums. After two years of mostly negative school experiences, my husband agreed that we couldn’t leave them there, and grudgingly agreed to let me try homeschooling for a year.

We spent the next three years learning at home. When I say we, I mean that I learned right along with them. We grabbed the grammar stage by the horns and did memory work, narrations and dictations, and lots and lots of reading of literature, history and science books. My older son has some challenges that were not handled effectively at school, and this new method of schooling was a definite advantage for him. Family and friends could see him calming and blossoming before their eyes. My younger son stepped up to the challenge of doing the same work as his older brother. They both made tremendous strides and accomplished fantastic things. Their enthusiasm and curiosity continue to amaze me.

We’ve had some changes in our family life, so my kids returned to public school this fall. It only took us a month and a half to recognize that it wasn’t going to work out for our older son at all. We brought him home. We will be bringing our other son home, soon, because we don’t want to completely lose the momentum we had built with our classical education at home. My boys have such a solid base. In my opinion, it would be a shame not to continue to cement that base into their hearts and minds even further by progressing into the Logic Stage. My younger son would survive and do fairly well if we left him in the public school, but I really think he could do so much more by being at home and persevering in the classical education model.

I am so excited for both of my kids to go to college and not be at the huge disadvantage that my husband and I were, because on that my husband did agree. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Our children will already be a part of the “Great Conversation” and beyond. They will get so much more out of their college experience by being completely prepared for it. That’s what a classical education means to me- liberal arts learning as a lifetime endeavor.


Longer Books to Read Aloud to Younger Children, by Jane-Emily


As a new mom, I couldn’t wait to start reading to my baby.  You know how it is; you’re just so excited about everything!  We read picture books together all the time, but by the time she was 3 or so I was just dying to read her longer books too, a chapter at a time.  Of course I was jumping the gun; she was not ready yet!  I had to wait a little while.  As my girls got bigger, though, I read to them quite a lot, and eventually made a list of my favorite read-alouds for ages 3-6 to share with my friends.

Most children will probably not be ready to listen to chapter stories until age 3.5 – 4.  It might be longer than that.  And, although most parents seem to immediately think of Winnie-the-Pooh, I found through personal experience that some other books with simpler storylines and larger illustrations should come first.  So, in order from simplest to more complex, here is my list of favorites:

  • My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett  This is a wonderful book to start with, featuring Elmer Elevator’s adventures with a baby dragon.  There are 3 books.  The first one has an odd habit of calling the protagonist “my father” instead of Elmer, but you can edit as you read if you wish.  My daughter promptly made Elmer Elevator her first imaginary friend, and we took him everywhere for a month or so.
  • 6a00cdf3ac0c23cb8f00cdf7f2f741094f-500piJenny and the Cat Club by Ester Averill Jenny is a shy black cat who longs to join the Cat Club.  She has several books of adventures and they are wonderful. (Don’t miss her friend, Pickles the Fire Cat.  He has his own easy reader.)
  • All About Sam by Lois Lowry  Funny stories about life from a baby-to-preschooler perspective.  There are four Sam books and the first two are the best, but they’re all fun.
  • The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley This sweet and very English book has stories of everyday life in a village.  Milly-Molly-Mandy has many gentle adventures that show how much a little girl can do.
  • Tales from Grimm  Most ‘real’ fairy tales are too intense and complex for little ones, but this selection from the author of Millions of Cats is an excellent first book of fairy tales.
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder The rest of these classics should wait a while, but this first title is perfect for a 4-5 year-old child.
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary My favorite ‘first Beverly Cleary’ book, in which Ralph the mouse meets a boy–and they bond over their mutual love of toy cars.  Ralph is just the right size to ride the motorcycle…follow Ralph through 3 books.
  • Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken Arabel is a sweet little girl; Mortimer is her horrible and beloved pet raven.   There are 3 books, and they are so funny.   Mortimer destroys everything in sight, but Arabel can’t live without him.
  • The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon One of my favorite books ever, this is a  collection of fairy tales by one of my favorite authors.  Some are too long for younger children, and some are perfect.  Try “The Lady’s Room” first.
  • Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson Moomintroll and his motley collection of friends have adventures in the forest.  There are several strange and wonderful books in this series.
  • All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor A warm and classic story about a Jewish family of 5 sisters in 1912 New York on the Lower East Side.  Very popular with girls, probably not so much for boys, but there ARE boys so give it a try.
  • Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers If you’ve never read these before, you’ll discover that Mary is impatient, cross, vain, and always denies everything, but is nevertheless beloved by her often-naughty charges.  Lots of fun.  (If you have a pre-1981 edition, just edit the chapter about the compass adventure as you read.)
  • Nurse Matilda: The Collected Tales by Christianna Brand Speaking of nanny stories, here’s a very funny one.  You might know this book as the inspiration for the film Nanny McPhee.
  • The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne  Of course.  Just not for the first read-aloud. 🙂

By the time your child is old enough to enjoy the last few books on this list, the possibilities will widen out considerably.  There are so many wonderful books out there to read to your child!  I could go on listing titles for a long time, but my aim here is to provide a list of excellent books to ease into reading aloud a chapter at a time.

All of these books will also come in handy later on as your child learns to read independently.  My Father’s Dragon, Jenny and the Cat Club, and the others may be enjoyed for years to come.  Be sure to have your child read aloud a bit to you every so often!

Jane-Emily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves tojane-emily quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.

Perfection in Handicrafts and the Dignity of Work, by Briana Elizabeth

“Take your needle, my child, and work at your pattern; it will come out a
rose by and by. Life is like that – one stitch at a time taken patiently
and the pattern will come out all right like the embroidery.”
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes.

(There is the possibility of me coming off as a cranky knuckle slapper in this post. That is not my intention in the least, though I acknowledge it still might happen.)

This post is a conflagration of many readings and ponderings of late, concerning the topics of Charlotte Masondistributisimguilds, and the question of how we develop a good work ethic in our children. How subjects like that shake up and come together in my brain normally centers around my life as a wife and mother as I consider homeschooling and how these things apply to us. Homemaking and homeschooling are my life as it is right now, this is my vocation.

When I first started reading Charlotte Mason’s writings on handicrafts for children, I was almost…insulted by them. What did she mean that crafts should not be futile, or that slipshod work should not be allowed?

My mind immediately returned to the memory of being eight years old, of having rows and rows of knitting ripped out because I had dropped a stitch. I was reminded that I put my knitting down, never to pick it back up until the age of forty! The well-meaning teacher ripped it all out in hopes of teaching me not to do slipshod work, but instead she frustrated me to the point of not knitting for years.

Knowing what I know about Charlotte Mason, I cannot believe that method and outcome were her intent.

Instead, what I have come to learn through her readings, and through teaching my own children, is that anything less than the best effort given is laziness, and a habit of laziness can become a devastating character flaw.

First, let me offer a disclaimer. I know that you know that to give a child something so far above their ability is cruel. That is not what we are talking about. We also need to know that in this day and age we far underestimate the abilities of our children, which in turn is an insult to them.

Could I have knit well at eight? Absolutely. I have seen pictures of little girls knitting at three. But the woman teaching me didn’t realize that at the beginning she needed to sit by me and watch over every stitch. Then, when I had well mastered a row of single stitches with her at my side, then she could have let me attempt one row by myself. Not because I wasn’t capable of more, but to catch my mistakes before a single wrong stitch caused eight inches of rows to be ripped out.

How often do we do the same? Show the child something quickly, because we have a task we think more important, then leave them alone with it and yell when they finish incorrectly. But the true lesson that was lost was the opportunity to make something beautiful, to do something perfectly, to build on that success with more work done well, to learn perseverance of doing the work correctly through struggle, and, in the end, to cultivate the habit of a good work ethic with the prize of something beautiful to be offered to society.

So because we don’t have the time to sit by the child and teach them with patience to do the work correctly and perfectly, we shop the plastic self-stick aisle of the art center, and later in the week throw out the clutter we have just created. Instead of creating habits of attention, perseverance, perfection and pride of work, we teach them that what they make is useless, to be thrown out, and (I think most sad of all) not a thing of beauty. We throw trash in the trash, so therefore their work is not worthy to be kept. Even if we throw it out with stealth while they’re asleep or out of the house, the lesson is still the same.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. ~ Dickinson

By now you might be thinking, “So what does she want me to do, keep every little thing that all of these kids make?” Not at all. You don’t want a room filled with everything they made. They might think they are special little snowflakes and that every item is so precious and twee. By keeping everything, we then make little idols out of our children, and altars out of their work. No, no, no. In the middle lies sanity, as usual.

If we teach perfection of work and the perseverance which grows into a good work ethic, we will also be teaching beauty of craft, pride of work, and high expectations of craftsmanship. We will teach pride of belonging, because if the child’s work is useful to the family, there is a pride of community and the joy of having something to offer. This dignifies the child, and that is so much more than making an idol out of them.

So now that I have built my case for perfection of work, how do we go about building this habit in our family?

We do as Charlotte so wisely taught us.

Four succinct points should be kept in mind when selecting handicrafts and life skills.

  1. The end product should be useful. The children should not “be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like.”
  1. Teach the children “slowly and carefully what they are to do.”
  1. Emphasize the habit of best effort. “Slipshod work should not be allowed.”
  1. Carefully select handicrafts and life skills to challenge but not frustrate. “The children’s work should be kept well within their compass.”

(taken from ‘Home Education,’ p. 315)

If a person were a member of a guild, would slipshod work be allowed? Who would want to purchase it? Would you want a sofa that fell down when you sat on it? A table that was lopsided? Gems that were cloudy, jewelry with solder bubbles, ill-constructed clothes, bread that tasted horrible?

Welcome to the consumer society that purchases those things all day long and twice on Sunday and all in the name of economy.

This is all the more reason why we teach our children the relationship between hard work and quality of product. They will not only become craftsmen, but will gain an honorable work ethic and become wise consumers who understand the value of a thing well-made.

This is not only a post for you, but for me. To remind myself that handicrafts should not be relegated to the place of worksheets. It’s not something to fill up time; it has a far nobler task. Handicrafts are so important that time should be made for them.

Handicrafts lessons overflow into every other area of schoolwork. The same structure is something to be emulated throughout our homeschool. The habit of attention, to persevere, to not allow laziness, to work to the best of our abilities, to immediately fix a problem with a lesson instead of waiting until days of mistakes have gone by, to take pride in work well done, and to perceive beauty and rejoice in it — these are the school lessons taught through learning a skill. I could even go on to write an article on grading, and how it shouldn’t be necessary when work is assessed with these principals in mind. That paper will wait for another day, though.

Don’t think that handiwork is only for girls, either. If you search and think about it, there are many things your young men can do. Each year for Christmas, I insist that my children make each other gifts. Yes, that sounds mean, for what if they are talentless? Aren’t I just putting pressure on them? Well, sometimes, yes, I do. Not that they are unable to do quality work, but, sometimes they need help thinking about what they would be able to do. For instance, this year, I bought my boys wood burning kits, an art otherwise known as pyrography. Three are all kinds of books to help, also. Then, I went to the craft store aisle where they sell the little wooden hinged boxes and they chose what they wanted for their siblings. For patterns we used the Dover coloring books we had accumulated over the years. My youngest son who is ten chose the wedding of Thumbelina for his little sister’s box, and it is amazing. I made sure he knew that he was not to rush. I spent a few hours with him teaching him how to make the tracing,  how to wisely choose what part of the picture he wanted to use, and to know that this was something he was to do to the best of his ability. He rose to my expectations, and your sons can do the same. My oldest son, who’d never heard of woodburning before, took such a liking to it that he is now wanting to design his own custom art guitars.

There are a number of other things that would be wonderful for boys, such as soap making, whittling, (think of Jonathan Toomey or the art of decoys!) or if you have the means, to give them time in a carpenter’s shop learning how to make birdhouses and simple frames. Of course there is painting, and drawing, and many men now knit and sew.   I think for boys in particular, starting off with knitting a scarf can seem too easy, but scarves are the best for learning the basic knitting stitch. My boys love knitted hats, and are proud to wear them, so a basic man’s hat pattern on Ravelry would also be a good start. Don’t forget to check YouT ube for tutorials! For sewing, I would begin with a flannel pant pattern. JoAnn’s has pattern sales where you can buy them for 99 cents, so wait for the sales. Next year I think I am going to have the boys learn stained glass. My Papa was a tool and dye maker, an avid hunter and fisherman, and in the evening he would disappear down into the basement to make the most beautiful stained glass works: window panels, lampshades, and even little bugs for window sill decorations.

For girls there are now wonderful kits available, also. There are knitting, crochet, and of course they may also like their own woodburning kits! There is embroidery, felt ornaments, softie sewing kits, cross stitch, more embroidery, wool felting kits , old arts such as flower pressing,  and of course, painting and drawing. For girls who would like to sew, there are very simple 4 piece shirts that would be easy to teach, quick to work up, and they would get to wear them for a long time.

For small children who are still perfecting their motor skills, I would suggest some felt and larger needles. They can make sweet Valentine’s hearts, felt birds, even working themselves up to more creative pieces. And don’t forget ornaments, easy for beginners, but with much room to grow in difficulty.

If you have any other ideas  please leave them in the comments. And now I’m off to knit.

Audiobook Giveaway!

To celebrate the solstice, we have something to give away!  One of us has spent many long hours downloading many, many free audiobooks from Librivox.  These audiobooks are all out of copyright and free to use, and we have TWO 15-gig USB sticks filled with hundreds of books to give away to TWO lucky winners.

Balance300ppi“Balance” by Sue Wookey of Galley Hill Art.
Used with permission.

This is a fun grab bag of audio books! We don’t have room to list all the titles, but included are:

Aesop’s Fables
The Belgian Twins
Book of Dragons
Dot and the Kangaroo
Little Lord Fauntleroy
The Little Princess
Hans Brinker
Just So Stories
Flower Fables
Old Peter’s Russian Tales
Prince and the Pauper
The Magic Pudding
The Blue Fairy Book
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility

…and so much more!

(Disclaimer: StS does not uniformly endorse the archaic or outdated information, ideals, and philosophies often found in classic works such as these but does trust all parents to make informed decisions about the concepts to which they expose their children.)

Now, if you have wonderful Internet access and can stream Librivox with no problem, you may not need this particular item, but we know that many folks out there with less-than-stellar access would be happy to get all these books.  Therefore, we ask that those who do not have a real use for this would wait until our next giveaway.

The rules:

  1. This giveaway is open internationally.
  2. In order to enter for the drawing, leave a comment here telling us what you would like to see discussed on our blog.  Do you want to hear about how we taught our children to read?  Or what we do with a perfectionist child? Do you want to hear from veteran teachers of Latin or Greek, or are you looking for fun winter science projects?
  3. In your comment, make sure also to include your email address in the format “mizsocrates at roadq dot com” so that we can contact you if you win!
  4. On the solstice–Saturday, December 21st–I will pick two winning comments by using to choose two random numbers.  Rose-Marie will then mail out the prize.

So start commenting, and happy solstice!