Category Archives: Handicrafts

Woodworking with Hand Tools

The very first type of Woodworking I introduced my kids to was Woodworking with Hand Tools. This is a skill that is truly accessible at every age! By now you probably know from previous posts that I do not care for most childrens craft kits. However, I am a big fan of quality children’s toy tool sets! Oftentimes people do not realize the full extent of educational value that can lie in toy tools, but if you purchase a good set, like My First Craftsman, this can be a great way to introduce your tiniest family members to the names of different tools and how they are used! My First Craftsman toolsets usually include a wide variety of tools not included in other sets and can be found inexpensively at Sears and Kmart. They also occasionally offer things like toy engines that even a toddler could take apart! Often the tools in a given set are named on the box, but if you don’t know what a particular tool is or how it is used, ask someone! And if you don’t know someone knowledgeable about tools, ask someone at your local hardware store! On rainy days my kids used to love to go exploring in Lowes…opening all of the doors and cabinets, fingering all of the knobs/nuts/bolts, pretending to drive the riding lawn mower, etc!

The tools my son is playing with are not as good of quality as the My First Craftsman my daughter playing with; however, he also wasn’t very secure in sitting unassisted yet either.

Now, as soon as they are able to follow instructions and have a reasonable amount of fine motor control, I prefer to give them real tools to use, first with guidance but eventually on their own. (We gave our daughter her first real tools at 3 years old. Our son wasn’t ready till later.) This is a lot easier if you yourself already know how to use hand tools correctly. While many people think they know how to use a hammer and saw correctly, most people are actually using them incorrectly. Because of this, I highly recommend these two books: Daddy Can We Play in the Workshop and Woodshop 101 for Kids

Daddy Can We Play in the Workshop is a sweet little picture book that introduces you to a few hand tools and might give some parents that are uncomfortable with woodworking a few ideas of where to start. My only complaint about this book is that it doesn’t introduce more tools. While there are several other tools in the photographs, the hammer and hand drill are the only two really covered. However, it does a very nice job of showing kids and parents that exploring woodworking can be accessible for even very small children  before they are ready for actual projects. For small children, you might consider getting some child sized tools for them to use. Lowes used to carry an entire set of real tools for kids. Currently I believe they only carry the hammer and screwdrivers. (Other companies do make child sized real tools though that you can find by doing an internet search.) Saws come in a variety of shapes and sizes. My daughter currently has a Gent’s Saw that my husband found at a flea market. Lowes also carries kids’ craft kits. While these kits might be fun, they will learn more from just exploring with the tools themselves and making their own “creations.” 

My daughter busy building one of her own “creations” at about 4 years old I believe. We still have a small “table” she built…though it isn’t terribly sturdy or beautiful…

Woodshop 101 for Kids is a fantastic series of lessons and projects!! It includes 21 lessons that will tell you about wood, what kinds of tools are best for children to start with, and how to use those tools correctly! Interspersed throughout the lessons are 14 different projects using only the tools you have currently learned about so far, and they aren’t junk projects either! Some of the projects in the book include: a peg game, birdhouse, toolbox/art caddy, stool, doll cradle, marshmallow catapult, and workbench! The author Craig Stevens recommends this book for kids ages 7 and up but also states that some kids may be ready as young as 5 or 6. 

Now, once your child has learned to use all of the tools and made the projects in Woodshop 101 for Kids, you can let them continue to explore Woodworking through Woodworking shows on PBS (The Woodwrights Shop with Roy Underhill), Woodworking magazines/books/dvd/blogs (Christopher Schwartz is one of THE names in Woodworking with hand tools though there are others as well), and if you are lucky enough to live near a Woodcraft or Rockler store they may even have some classes offered that might be appropriate (if not still check out their websites for articles and links to other great Woodworking sites)! The possibilities are endless!

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Cooking

Oftentimes, I have heard people argue about whether cooking is a handicraft or a life skill, or even science or math. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a handicraft as “an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands.” Google (there was no entry for “life skill” in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary) defines a life skill as “a skill that is necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life.” Obviously, there is some overlap between handicrafts and life skills. Brushing your teeth does not involve “making something” so I would consider that a life skill. However, Knitting is widely considered a handicraft as it does involve “making something in a skillful way by using your hands.” However, I would argue that knitting can also be a life skill, especially if due to health, finances, location, etc. you are unable to purchase warm clothing for yourself. There is also an element of both science and math involved in all handicrafts. Base materials we use to make things are found in our world and thus have certain properties that affect their utility (science). We describe the attributes and properties of these materials as well as our method of creation using the most precise language available to us (math). To become truly talented at any handicraft, you really have to develop a relationship with the materials of your craft, and in order to be able to share that craft with others, you really need to be able to explain it with precision. With these thoughts in mind, Cooking is the third topic we are going to cover in my Handicrafts Series.

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Years ago baking cookies with my little girl!

There are countless ways to prepare food: Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw, Whole Foods, Microwave Dinners, Indian, French, Lebanese, Chinese, Mexican, Fermentation, Dehydration, Baking, etc etc etc!! Now, personally I don’t count Microwave Dinners in the category of handicrafts because you aren’t creating; you are reheating something someone else created. But there are some basic skills that you must know before attempting any type of cooking. You need to have some cooking tools, and you need to know how to use those tools safely. This can start at a very basic level with very small children with things like “This is the stove. It gets very hot. Do not touch the stove, or it might hurt!”

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Introducing a small child to cooking can start as simply as giving them a small bit of dough to make their own pie with!

Beyond these very basic beginnings of talking about  and providing tactile experience with cooking, we often start by following patterns or “recipes” that someone else created. But eventually, if you want to become really skilled at a handicraft, you want to be able to create your own creations! Your senses of touch, smell, taste, and sight all come into play here with regards to determining necessary consistency, a pleasant aroma and flavor, as well as presentation. In many cultures it is just as important (if not more important) how the dish is presented and smells as it is how it actually tastes! Sushi is just one great example of the importance of presentation! As an Allergy Mom, I have focused primarily on presentation with regards to desserts, but the possibilities are truly endless!

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A cake I created for one of my kids in the early days of our allergies. Everything on the cake is edible. The “flower” is a thin slice of pineapple that I dried in a muffin cup in the oven!

To get started with cooking, for both children and adults, you will need tools and then something or someone to provide instruction in how to use those tools safely. There are countless options available from cooking shows to entire books on how to properly use and sharpen a knife! Instead of giving you specific recipes and techniques to use with your children (because each family’s dietary needs and skill sets are so different), I am going to suggest a few of my favorite resources. Hands down, one of my favorite resources for small children just getting started in the kitchen is The Toddler Cookbook and Mom and Me Cookbook both by Annabel Karmel of the UK.

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I like how she spends time at the beginning explaining the different tools you will need, how she encourages even small children to get in the kitchen and truly learn skills, how there are plenty of good quality pictures throughout for those that aren’t reading yet, and how her recipes are always generally healthy and emphasize presentation! Many times children can just go ahead and use the tools that you already have in your kitchen. However, if they are particularly young/small, then you may want to check out some of the real, child-sized cooking tools available from Curious Chef.

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Note: I will also mention here that there IS value in learning to use different types of tools within the same category such as stainless pans vs nonstick vs anodized aluminum vs ceramic pans… But this is not something that is necessary to explore in the beginning.

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Helping Mom make applesauce in a crockpot! There is nothing as artful or unique as your own home canned items. Each artist puts his or her own special touch to his or her final product!

Beyond those first steps, you can let your interest guide you in finding other recipes to copy and experiment with making your own adaptations. However, it is really best if you can find books that explain some of the relationships and interactions between ingredients. Your choices will vary depending on how your family chooses to eat. However, two of my personal favorites are books that explore how food has traditionally been prepared. Forgotten Skills of Cooking is an absolutely beautiful coffee table quality cookbook that is just as much fun to read as it is to use! It is written by Darina Allen, or “The Julia Child of Ireland,” runs the Ballymaloe Cooking School in Ireland that she owns with her husband.

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The pictures and stories she includes in her Forgotten Skills of Cooking are absolutely fantastic at helping you form a relationship with the many ingredients and processes used to produce a beautiful and tasty “kitchen craft!” Another excellent book at explaining traditional food preparation, but not nearly as beautiful, is Nourishing Traditions. It is written by Sally Fallon, and she does an excellent job of breaking down and explaining the use of fermentation in traditional cooking (which is also a necessary aspect of baking)!

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I will also take a moment to recommend a book with regards to gluten free baking as that was primarily outside the scope of Nourishing Traditions and is so popular right now. There are many, many books out there on gluten free cooking; however, the best I have seen at explaining the different attributes and properties of various grains and how they interact with other ingredients is The Healthy Gluten-Free Life by Tammy Credicott. It also includes 200 recipes to get you started! Truly there are countless other books out there on cooking, but I have tried to focus on books that emphasize the development of skills necessary for cooking and the relationships that exist between ingredients. These are the things that will help you learn the handicraft of cooking!

Beyond that there are specialty areas you can delve into such as The Art of Fermentation, Foraging, a wide variety of Cultural Dishes, specific categories of dishes such as Dessert or Baking, Food Presentation, Substitutions especially with regards to Allergies, etc. to add a unique quality to the practice of your “kitchen art!” This is where you start to see the variations between different artists, or chefs, develop! Again, everyone won’t choose to become a famous chef or even enjoy cooking as a handicraft, but it is a handicraft worth exploring, not only for the practicality of it but also for the enjoyment and beauty of it!!

Leatherworking

Leatherworking is the second topic we are going to cover in my Handicrafts series. There is really no skill required to begin Leatherworking, outside of having a responsible adult to monitor and potentially assist younger children. In many ways Leatherworking is a lot like sewing, just with a different medium! One of the best resources for all things Leatherworking is Tandy Leather. They have a great online store that ships all over the world as well as articles and how-to videos, but if you are fortunate enough to be close to one of their stores, they also offer classes! While most of their stores are in the United States, there are also stores in Canada, Australia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. If you don’t live near a store and have questions, call one of their stores and don’t worry that you will embarrass yourself! Their sales representatives are great about answering Leatherworking questions! But, before you go shopping, let’s go over the different types of materials available so you will be more knowledgeable.

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First of all, Tandy does sell kits that will actually teach you a skill! (As mentioned in my Introduction to Handicrafts post I am not a big fan of most craft kits.) They range from very very simple to challenging. My first Leatherworking project was actually a moccasin kit. After assembling my first pair, I was able to purchase and download the pattern from Tandy online. Then I purchased bags of Tandy Leather Scraps from local craft stores that carry their products (I have personally seen them in Hobby Lobby and JoAnn), and cut out my own moccasins. Later on I was able to adjust the adult sized pattern down to a smaller size for my children and even embellish them, so as you can see these kits DO teach you skills that you can generalize to other projects and even allow you to create your own projects!

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My first pair of child-sized moccasins!

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A pair of shoes I designed for my son from pictures I saw online.

With my own kids, I have given them some of my own simple project ideas to start with. I will share 3 of those ideas with you as we go through the different types of leather. There are several different types of leather remnant bags available at Tandy, online, and at some local craft stores that carry Tandy products. We are primarily going to look at those because they are MUCH cheaper and perfect for letting kids explore with leather working!

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Upholstery Remnant Bag

The Upholstery Remnants Bag is perfect for making moccasins and other projects where you want the leather to be able to bend but also be relatively durable.

Project Idea 1: A very simple project you can do with kids using Upholstery Remnants is to make a large drawstring marble bag. I got this idea when I was a kid out of a children’s biography on a Native American Indian. All you have to do is cut out a large circle, cut/punch holes all the way around, lace some type of lacing through the holes, and then pull the strings. Now you have a nice leather bag!

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My son’s marble bag. I cut out the circle and punched out the holes. He stitched it. Who needs sewing cards when you have real projects this simple?!?

If you want to use leather as your lacing, I usually get Calf Lace. The Sueded Lace does not appear to be quite as durable. Of course you could use almost any kind of lacing you wanted so long as it will hold up to a bit of chaffing.

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Calf Lace

Note: On cutting/punching holes, there are several different ways to go about this, and it really depends on the individual’s abilities. I have placed the leather on a piece of wood and drilled the holes. (This really works best for very stiff pieces of leather.) However, the better option is one of these two tools which can also often be found at local craft stores that carry Tandy products. The Economy Rotary Punch is really too big for a child’s hands.

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Economy Rotary Punch

With the Mini Leather Punch Set, you place the leather on a piece of wood, set the tool where you want the hole, and then hit it with a hammer until it cuts through. With a thin piece of leather this would not be too difficult for some children. Thicker pieces though would definitely be a challenge (and definitely watch those fingers)!

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Mini Leather Punch Set

Another type of remnant bag found commonly at craft stores is Tandy’s Suede Remnants Bag. It really depends on how thick the Suede is as to what you can use it for (I’ve seen bags of thick suede and bags of thin suede).

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Suede Remnants Bag

The thicker Suede can be used for more durable projects like making shoes. The thinner Suede though really doesn’t hold up very well for things like shoes unless you are looking for something like a fitted Martial Arts or Dance shoe. This thinner suede is not pictured in the Suede Remnant Bag, but it looks like Tandy’s Pigskin Suede Splits. This is basically garment grade suede, meaning that you can actually sew it on a sewing machine to wear! This is a picture of a “Calamity Jane outfit” my mother made for my daughter.

Project Idea 2: My daughter used some of this leather to make a small mouse toy for our cat. She cut out two ovals, stitched most of the way around, turned the leather inside out, stuffed it with filling, attached a yarn tail, and stitched it closed.

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My little Doris Day as Calamity Jane!

I’ve also often found a Latigo Remnants Bag at local craft stores. This type of leather is pretty tough! You do not want to use this as the main piece for making a moccasin. It will not bend enough.

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Latigo Remnants Bag

This is the type of leather you might use to make the sole of a shoe, a cover for an ax head, knife sheath, etc.

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The knife sheath my husband made…he made the knife too!

One last type of leather I have commonly seen in local craft stores is the Veg Remnant Bag, commonly called Tooling Leather. This is typically the leather used when making “leather art” (Google it! There are some gorgeous pieces pictured online!)

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Veg Remnant Bag

There are many different kinds of ways you can make beautiful belts, straps, bookmarks, pictures, keychains, and all kinds of things! Some of the different options are things you might already have in your home such as Sharpie Markers, Paints, or even a Woodburning kit. Important Note: If you decided to try using a Woodburning kit on leather, I would only use it on vegetable tanned leather that is pretty thick like the Veg Remnant Bag for example. Burning chemically tanned leather could release carcinogens into the air.

You might also at some point want to get into Leather Stamping. It produces beautiful designs and also allows you to personalize a project; however, there are TONS of different stamps. So if you decide to get into this at some point in time, you might just want to buy them individually as you need them.

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Project Idea 3: Cut out a bookmark, wall hanging, or ornament of some kind for small children to embellish with developmentally appropriate materials.

And that is more than enough to get you started in leather working! The rest is up to you!

Woodcarving

Woodcarving is the first topic we are going to discuss in my Handicrafts series. Woodcarving is a type of Woodworking. The two skills required before considering starting your child on learning to woodcarve are: being able to follow instructions like “Don’t run with a knife in your hand!” and having enough fine motor control to manipulate and control the tools….that’s it! Everyone starts somewhere when learning a new skill, but any skill that involves sharp metal tools should not be started until the child has those two basic skills!

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My daughter working on her first relief carving project.

Other than those prerequisites, the most important thing is making sure you provide the opportunity to learn proper technique and choose quality tools. These are the things that will keep you and your child from getting hurt. Nothing is more dangerous than using improper technique or the wrong tool for the job! My favorite resource for teaching/learning proper woodcarving technique is Ellenwood Arts’ Beginning Woodcarving DVD. My husband and I rented this DVD at least twice before deciding to just go ahead and purchase it through Ellenwood Arts.

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Ellenwood Beginning Woodcarving DVD

When I started teaching my daughter to woodcarve, I had her sit down and watch this DVD. She is 8 years old and sat glued to the TV for at least the first 2 hours absorbing all of the information he shared about tools, proper technique, and how to make two beginning, yet impressive, woodcarving projects! It’s a simple DVD, not a flashy kids’ video, but it still fascinated her because it made a real skill accessible! Some of clips of Everett Ellenwood’s Beginning Woodcarving DVD can be found on YouTube. However, I would encourage you to purchase the DVD. Not only do all the proceeds go to a fantastic small business that provides above and beyond great customer service, but you will also get the patterns for the two projects and be able to watch it again and again (and you will because each time you will notice something you didn’t see before)!

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The first woodcarving I ever did was the bird carving from the Ellenwood dvd (still looks pretty good despite the fact that it has been dropped, chewed, and scratched by my daughter when she was small...)

There are of course other options for teaching/learning woodcarving technique including a book put out by Everette Ellenwood specifically for kids. However, I still recommend starting with the DVD because it is so helpful to be able to watch someone else when learning a new skill. Once you’ve had a basic introduction, books, blogs, magazines, and other videos and tv shows will help you take your woodcarving to the next level!

Now once you learn the basic techniques involved in woodcarving, you are going to want to purchase some wood. For a beginning woodcarver, you really want a wood that is easy to carve without a lot of knots and sap. That will not only make it easier to carve but also help keep you from dulling and gumming up your tools. The most popular choice is Basswood. Which project you want to do and whether or not you want to modify the project will determine which size wood you should choose. Keep in mind that if you choose to purchase a large piece of wood, it may need to be cut down to the size of your project. (Don’t worry, one of the upcoming posts will be about hand tools!) You may have a local woodworking store such as Woodcraft or Rockler (NOT Lowe’s or Home Depot….that’s home improvement, not woodworking), but if not, you can order Basswood online from Woodcraft’s Online Store.

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Basswood

Seriously though, if at all possible, “Get thee to to a woodworking store!!!” They are absolutely awesome!!! They all have very knowledgeable sales reps and often offer classes and all kinds of great resources! (We have actually planned routes for trips based on where there are woodworking stores…) If you can’t “Get thee to a woodworking store,” then at least check out the blogs, videos, and other resources they have posted on their websites! And don’t be afraid to just call one of these stores up!! No one is going to get annoyed that you don’t know what a 5/16″ gauge is. Everyone started somewhere, and generally Woodworkers are excited to be able to pass on their love of Woodworking to others!

Now on to tools! The first thing you need to know about woodcarving tools is that the sharpest tool is the safest tool! There is nothing more dangerous than a dull blade. The second thing you need to know about woodcarving tools is that quality is also really important. The last thing you want to happen while you are holding a sharp tool is for it to break!The nice thing is that if you purchase your kids quality tools, they will have those same tools when they leave home, have families of their own…your grandchildren and great-grandchildren may use them some day! My husband actually uses a tool that belonged to my great-grandfather! The DVD has projects for Relief Carving and Carving in the Round. Different types of carving call for different types of tools so we will discuss those two types separately.

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The flower in the background is the Relief Carving project in the video.

We started my daughter with Relief Carving. (The necessary tools for Carving in the Round are cheaper, but I felt like Relief Carving would be a little easier for her, perhaps slightly safer, and let her experience some success with woodcarving quickly.) The only things you will need aside from a work surface, good lighting, and wood are: a good set of carving tools and some clamps. We have a cheaper set of tools that my husband sharpened for us because they were really really really dull. This is why I recommend buying quality carving tools because remember, the safest tool is the sharpest tool! We are actually getting ready to purchase this set now that our daughter is carving too. It’s actually pretty inexpensive as far as carving sets go, has all the basic tools she would need for Relief Carving, and the handles are shaped well for a child’s hands. (Because tools are generally designed for adults, I try to pay attention to which designs would be more easily manipulated by a child…or adult with small hands like me!)

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The last thing you will need for Relief Carving is something to hold your piece of wood down so it doesn’t slip. This is VERY important!! Do NOT skip this step!! There are many different kinds of clamps, and these can easily be found at your local home improvement store. You will need at least two. This is my favorite style. They are lightweight and user friendly enough for a young child to use, but really just about any kind will work. You squeeze the handle to clamp it down and pull the release trigger to release it. Not hard. 🙂

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Next up we have Carving in the Round. For this type of carving all you will need to get started is a knife and a safety glove. Again, when I am looking at tools, I try to look for quality tools that would be user-friendly to someone with a small hand. My personal preference is the Flexcut Cutting Knife.

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As for a glove, I use the XS Whizard Safety Glove. They also make an XXS Whizard Safety Glove. This glove goes on the hand holding the wood (so you only need one). It is made with Kevlar to make the glove cut resistant (it is not stab proof). Some use just a thumb guard, but for children, I prefer a full glove. Other options would be a real leather glove or potentially wrapping the hand in medical wrap tape (but this might reduce maneuverability which could be dangerous).

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And really that is all you need to get started in Woodcarving!

Introduction to Handicrafts

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines handicraft as: an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands. I think a synonym for handicraft might be my family’s last name because we LOVE handicrafts at our house! Handicrafts not only enable you to make “cool stuff,” but they also teach you skills that can be used and generalized to other types of projects.

I often have people tell me that they would like to learn how to do ___ or ask how they can get their kids started doing ___. Usually people will automatically turn to a kid’s craft kit, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with a craft kit, kid’s craft kits are often a different matter entirely. Often but not always they will come in brightly colored packaging with cheap, “kid safe” tools that either won’t work or will break, and odds are they won’t teach you any skill or technique that you can generalize to other projects. So instead of getting your kid excited and invested in learning a new skill, they loose interest because either they were unable to produce something they can be proud of or they stalled out after using up the kit because it didn’t teach them any sort of skill that they could generalize to other projects. Therefore, I generally recommend that you let your kids start with the same kinds of projects that are geared for beginner adults. Kids are often a lot smarter than we give them credit for, and with the help of a responsible, but not necessarily knowledgeable adult, they are usually more than capable!

You might be wondering at this point how you instill a love of handicrafts in your kids when you know nothing about them yourself. The best thing you can do is to spread a rich and varied feast of opportunities. I say rich because of what I mentioned earlier about kid’s craft kits. They won’t be able to develop a love of handicrafts without proper tools and instruction. I say varied because many times people feel like you can’t move on to another handicraft until you have mastered the first one. I disagree. Anything you manage to learn about one handicraft will have skills that you are able to generalize to other handicrafts, and kids especially have a need to explore! Besides, how will your kids (or you even) know what they may or may not enjoy without sampling the many different options available?

Another thing you might be wondering is what kinds of handicrafts I am talking about when I suggest starting kids out with beginner adult projects. So, I will tell you what I have already done with my kids (8 year old daughter and 6 year old son). Understand though that it will vary from child to child as to how many handicrafts they want to try and how skilled they choose to get at a given handicraft. The point is to continue to spread a rich and varied feast of handicrafts!

So far we have tried:
Potholder loom weaving
Crocheting
Loom knitting
Embroidery
Woodburning
Woodcarving
Leatherworking
Woodworking with hand tools
Perfume making
Cooking (yes that is a handicraft)
Machine sewing
Hand sewing
Origami

I have plans to let them try some beginning metal working projects as well as basket weaving soon. Technically artistic skills like painting, sculpting, drawing, etc are also handicrafts, and they are often very useful for embellishing a project. However, I am not going to focus on those here at this point.

In order to make some of these handicrafts more accessible, I am going to do a series of posts on individual handicrafts with some suggested resources to get you started. Most of the questions I get come from moms of boys, probably because their sons are often drawn to handicrafts that they did not grow up doing themselves. So with that in mind, I will be starting this series with some of the handicrafts that I find moms are most intimidated by!

First up will be:

Woodcarving

Leatherworking

Cooking

Woodworking with Hand Tools
more coming soon…