St. Michael's
A Resource for Orthodox Elementary Education
Santa Rosa, CA

Crafts Should Be More Than an "Elective"
     Modern culture exalts intellectual achievements, but does not give much regard to the ability to work with one’s hands. Yet the Scriptures reveal a different perspective. They tell us that when God created us, He did not simply say, “Let there be man.” They give us a picture of God carefully forming us with His Divine Hands. He took raw material, created something of beauty, and breathed His Spirit into it. Being in the image of God, the Supreme Artist, man has the capability and yearning to make things.

     When King David exclaims, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name” (Ps. 102), he is referring to the capabilities of the soul, including this creative ability. These capabilities are some of the talents God has given to all of us. He wants us to develop them and use them to His glory. When God told Moses how to design the tabernacle, He named a particular man to do the work and to teach others to do so. “The Lord hath called Bezaleel...and hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and to devise skilled work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, the carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work.” (Ex. 35:30-35). It is also significant that Christ spent His pre-ministry years as a craftsman, a carpenter.

     People of pre-modern cultures had a more Biblical perspective on the value of handwork and knew how to make many of the items needed in a household. They could not simply go to the store and purchase something made in a factory. In the last hundred years, we have become increasingly more dependent on “conveniences,” and now even the art of cooking is being pushed aside. Frozen, prepared meals are becoming so popular and available that it is easy to avoid preparing a meal from scratch.

     It is very possible to go through life purchasing everything and making nothing. But it would be a great loss to do so. If we no longer need to work with our hands for material reasons, we still need to for spiritual reasons. Working with one’s hands and creating beautiful beautiful and useful things from raw materials provides many opportunities to enrich the soul and strengthen its powers. The very activity of creating can inspire the soul, giving it wings as it discovers new ways to express and produce a worthy idea, feeling or image. This process of learning new skills can also be challenging and difficult. Dealing with these difficulties, however, has its own reward. Greater patience, perseverance, and attention to detail are gained in the process.

     Even in terms of intellectual development, learning and practicing skills with the hands is important. A young child’s developing mind is strongly influenced by bodily activities. Working with the hands not only helps develop manual co-ordination but also helps develop communication between the two brain hemispheres. This communication is crucial for higher-level thinking. A child who has experienced, through crafts, that physical material has to be shaped and fitted correctly to form a meaningful product, learns that ideas must be related correctly. In this way, working with his hands gives the child non-verbal experience in reason and logic. In our day and age, when many children spend so much time in front of an electronic screen, this is all the more crucial.

     At St. Michael’s, arts and crafts activities hold a very important place in the curriculum. Painting and drawing are often included in Old Testament, history and science classes. Traditional crafts such as knitting, woodworking, origami, mosaics, basket weaving, paper quilling, wool felting and cooking are also taught. The children may refer to their experience with crafts as “fun,” but the delight and joy that accompanies these endeavors reveal that something much deeper is happening.

     Since many of us have little exposure to the useful crafts, the idea may seem intimidating. Start with a simple project, be it sewing, baking or carving. Let us know if you would like some suggestions. Learning how to do something new is always uplifting and gives new confidence and inspiration. Last year, when shopping for plants for a new garden, one of the girls noticed a wooden trellis, checked the price and exclaimed, “We could make that!” So we went to the lumberyard, bought the wood and made our own!