Our children are in the middle of what is well and truthfully known as the “formative years.” This is the time in their lives when it is still hard to tell the difference between nature and nurture. They are learning all the important lessons about God, love, family, life, purpose, joy , and sacrifice right now – and they will carry these things with them for life. We know this to be true! How many of us spend years trying to unlearn things that were taught to us incidentally when we were children?
Even though we know this, we think that our children will hear what we say and learn from that – and never think through what kind of belief system we are acting out for them. They learn far more from our behavior than they do from our words – and ideally those two things act as one.
At our house, we provide our children with a lot of opportunities to make messes, and at least as many opportunities to clean them up. My kids have access to a lot of craft supplies. I have a yarn room, and my girls all knit, crochet, sew random things, cut up felt, make potholders, beg me to teach them to embroider while I am trying to make dinner, make messes with beads, etc. I buy them books on how to do things – and I let them do them. I am aware that rainbow loom loops vacuum well. We have a pottery wheel in the garage, and all of my kids love to mess with clay – but it is Titus who really loves it the most, taking after his Daddy there. All of my kids color like crazy maniacs. We give the children largely unsupervised access to scissors, sharpies, duct tape, cardboard boxes, and generally whatever else they can find, rummage, or dream up.
Why would we do this thing that is clearly shooting ourselves in the minimalistic foot? Lots of reasons, but here are a few.
First of all, I think that it is incredible easy to get messed up in our home priorities. Is this going to make a mess?! Then not in this house! Is this ultimately saving us money?! No? Then it is not worth the trouble! Is this contributing towards making our house quiet and orderly? If not, I have a legitimate reason to shoot it down! No! We will not have Perler beads if people spill them! Did you see that mess?! We simply cannot afford the mental noise of you trying to do a paper mache project……. I will not go buy Aida cloth when you and I both know you seldom finish any projects of value….. I don’t want to bother with your idea….. I do not think that sounds like what I want to do….. Why would I let you have a marker when we all know what happens next…… You have to be sixteen before you can own glitter….. etc. etc.
At our house, we want to invest in our children being unafraid to try things – and this area as a great place for us to make that investment. We want them to have ideas, give it a whirl, and then sit around in a big mess of plastic canvas pieces wondering why they did that. We want them to learn to use their hands, use their minds, and get the two to act together for the occasional wild success. We want them to not be afraid to work – and to learn about the rewards that can only come through making messes.
This may sound like a giant leap here – but I promise it isn’t! We want children who are not afraid to deal with messes – and not just because I want them to all be artsy. Switch this away from crafts and into the future – we want our children to be the kind of church members who are not afraid of things that they may have to clean up. I want them to understand the kind of beauty that comes out of mud, out of big tangles of yarn, out of confusion and frustration and reading the directions 15 times before you finally understand what it meant. The lessons that your children learn here, nestled in the midst of a failed cardboard camera, or a wild success of a duct tape wallet -are the kinds of lessons that stay with you for life. I know this, because I still remember many of these moments in my life. I know that not every single experience results in this kind lesson or a breakthrough. But without the freedom to try things , you cannot learn the unexpected.
Once, back in the day, I decided to make bagels. They turned out terrible. I wrote the recipe off in my mind as a dumb one. Later, I know not why, I felt convicted about this. I realized that maybe, by some crazy fluke, this was actually user error. What if the recipe was brilliant and I was lame?! So I made it again. And again the next day. And for the rest of the week, possibly two (it was a lot of bagels), I made bagels every day. And in the course of that journey I learned several very important lessons. First of all, my mother has the patience of Job. Not once did she express concern or displeasure with the amount of mess that was being made in her kitchen every day. No one asked me what was wrong with me and my weird bagels. No one tabulated the expense of the experiment. I just pursued the bagels until the bagels were worth the time. Now not only did I know how to make decent bagels (a life skill I assure you) – I learned something really valuable about how to learn.
Later in life, I have applied that method to other things . Just because something does not work out the first time does not mean that it won’t work out with a lot more working! This is not only a lesson in the kitchen – there are so many places in life that this is relevant. Let’s say you try to apply some kind of Biblical principle in your life – like hospitality. And lets say it doesn’t go super well the first time. Do we stop trying? Do we count our one effort as the ultimate test of whether or not this is a good idea? Or do we give ourselves over to figuring it out?
I have met many women who say things like, “I have always wanted to know how to knit (or whatever), but…….. well……… no one taught me. No one bought me the stuff, sat beside me, held my hand, coached me all along the way. No one made that happen for me, and it would have been great, and I would have really liked to be a person who could do that, but alas.”
Clearly I exaggerated that. But seriously. I want my children to have the ability to look around for themselves, gather the materials, read a book, ask a friend if they need to. I want them to be the kind of people who are not afraid to follow through on an idea. I want them to do the work, not just imagine a result. This is why it makes me smile when one of my children turns up with a shopping list of things they need to complete a project. They are thinking of something, and beginning the long work of following through on that. And yes, it interrupts my house cleaning. But it makes my house an awful lot more productive at the same time.
One of the biggest obstacles is when we start trying to judge whether this investment was worth it based on what item got turned out first. That first saggy scarf that is made in the wrong yarn with big holes was not worth the investment in itself. However, that little girl who tried something and loved it and thinks she is going to wear this all winter even though it can barely fit around her neck – that little person is completely worth the investment. Because it won’t always be fruit of no value! There will come a time when their abilities will catch up with that heart.
I do not think that handcrafts are the end all. They aren’t. But they are a wonderful training ground (and there are certainly others). When our children are old enough to be rolling up their sleeves and really working for the Gospel with us – I know what kind of workers we need. The kind who see a need, desire to fill it, and begin the messy, hard, creative task of trying to do that. We want children who have the heart to try. This is why we invest in the kinds of things that shape our children in this way. In our house, that is why the the arts and crafts sometimes run us over like a freight train – a freight train that we pray will not slow down, but rather grow in speed and strength as it gains focus and purpose. As they mature, so will their mediums. I pray that these skills translate into other things as our children begin throwing their abilities into needs they see – and I am confident that they will. When they are serving God to the best of their abilities, they will find out what those abilities really were – and I know it won’t be limited to crafting projects. As for now, I know (because I experience it everyday) that these children are an incredible force! I don’t ever want that to change that, I just want to pray it into maturity, and survive the mess joyfully until then!