The Value of Handwork

In our homeschools, we often focus on the academic side of things. Math? Check. Reading? Done. Writing? Complete. We incorporate science and history and various life skills. Yet, handwork is often left for last, if it is included at all. This is understandable. We live in a world that values math and literacy and STEM careers. There are only so many hours in the homeschool day. We have so much on our personal plates. Does it really matter if our children know how to sew or knit or craft, considering that we can now purchase all of the items that people used to have to make by hand, such as clothing, blankets, curtains, and furniture?

Some children are naturally drawn to arts and crafts. They are the makers, eager to take what they have imagined and bring it to life in fabric or wood or any other material they can get their hands on. Others are much more reluctant. They may struggle with fine motor skills. Trying to make anything becomes a source of frustration.

Yet, there are many reasons to encourage all children to learn how to make something with their hands. Those who have read Charlotte Mason know that she was a big proponent of handwork. It was an integral part of her curriculum. She wrote:

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. (Volume 6) 

Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) lived in a different era, but while we may no longer need handcrafts to live a functional life in society, there are still many benefits to learning how to do them.

Develop Dexterity

Using tools of various types to create helps build dexterity and fine motor skills. Temple Grandin in Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions speaks to that need:

“I had a disturbing discussion with a doctor who was training interns. Some of them had great difficulty learning how to sew up cuts because they had never used scissors. Dr. Maria Siemionow, a transplant surgeon at the University of Illinois, has trained many surgeons. She credits their dexterity to hands-on activities in their early years. But lots of kids no longer have experience working with their hands. Dr. Siemionow crocheted as a child. She also used scissors to create elaborate collages from pictures cut out of magazines.”

Teaches How to Follow Directions

When first learning how to sew, knit, woodwork, bake, etc., one must learn how to use the tools safely and correctly. Learning how to follow a pattern, to follow directions to obtain the desired result, is an important skill. Following patterns also increases mathematical understanding as items must often be measured.

Allows for Creativity

Once basic skills are developed, there is a great deal of opportunity for creativity. Children can come up with their own plans and patterns. They can experiment with different stitches, different materials, different designs, etc. While it is valuable in itself, creative thinking is also highly valued in many workplaces today.

Cultivates Patience and Persistence

Making something by hand takes time. It can be frustrating to learn the skills needed to create an item. Sticking with it cultivates both patience and persistence. Children can also learn the value of working on something a little bit at a time. A short session of 15 minutes every day will eventually lead to a finished product.

Builds Self-Esteem

There is something to be said for creating something that is both beautiful and useful. We all enjoy the thrill of saying, “I made that!” Handcrafts create something tangible that serves a functional purpose. Unlike some other forms of art which exist to simply be viewed and appreciated (I am in no way opposed to these types of visual art – they serve the purpose of beauty which is a treasure), handcrafted goods are meant to be used. There is great pleasure in using an item one has made with one’s own hands.

Provides Stress Relief

While first learning a new skill takes time and effort and may not be soothing at all, children often gravitate to a type of handwork that appeals to them. Embroidery and knitting are activities that can be carried and worked on almost anywhere. One can do them while watching television or listening to an audio book. Others enjoy woodworking or baking. Methodical handwork can be a great stress reliever and a break from our technologically driven world.

With all these benefits, it is easy to see that learning handwork is a valuable activity. You can start by teaching your children something you enjoyed as a child or a type of handwork you do today. If you don’t currently do any sort of handwork, then you and your child can learn together. Ask a friend to teach you or watch videos online. It will do your child good to see you working at learning something new as well! Handwork can be a positive addition to your homeschooling life!

Author: Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, editor of "Today's Catholic Homeschooling", is the mother of two biological sons and one adopted daughter. She is in her fifteenth year of homeschooling. She has a B.A. in History and Fine Art and a Master's Degree in Applied Theology. She is the author of "The Crash Course Guide to Catholic Homeschooling" and "The Fruits of the Mysteries of the Rosary". She blogs at