One, two, scissors and glue! Three, four, arts galore!

March 14, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

You don't sew? Oh no.

Can't knit? Unfit.

Don't crochet? Touche.

Can't quilt? More guilt!

Enough, already. It's no time for parent-bashing. You may not knit, weave, quilt, whittle, sculpt or throw pots -- clay, at least -- but that doesn't mean your children can't or won't.

Kids and crafts are natural partners, and though being a crafts-conscious mother or father is one way to foster crafty youngsters, it isn't the only way. There are even those who say that learning a craft -- like learning to drive -- is better taught by strangers than parents.

What's more important than a mother who knits her way through soccer games and cross-stitches during prime-time is a mother who includes pieces of yarn, swatches of cloth and hunks of clay amid her kids' playthings, who acquaints her youngsters with traditional crafts and who encourages them to try their hand at handwork.

"Having a mother around who's doing it -- is that important? Well, I don't think so," says Jane Hoblitzell, a Baltimore fiber artist, who designs and creates quilts used more often for wall hangings than for bed coverings.

Though it must have affected her life.

Ms. Hoblitzell, who remembers her own mother and grandmother doing handwork, has been knitting and doing needlepoint and cross-stitch since she was 5 or 6 years old.

She recently shared her quilting and cross-stitching skills with youngsters in a workshop at the Cloister's Children's Museum. Out of those workshops came a quilt that is the centerpiece of the museum's new craft exhibit, "Stitch and Stamp."

That exhibit, using the sampler as its theme, lets youngsters not only see crafts, including some typical children's samplers from the early part of the century, but also experiment with them. Young children can make sampler-like designs with plastic magnets on a magnetic easel; the older ones can stitch red thread into burlap or stamp patterns onto paper for a sort of contemporary sampler.

"One of the ways you are going to get kids interested in crafts is to show them how easy it is," says Faith Revell, the museum's director of exhibitions, who put together "Stitch and Stamp." That's why the exhibit, geared to children from 2 to 8 years, offers a variety of materials that adapt to different skill levels, she adds.

Ms. Revell, a painter who has also been doing crafts since she was a youngster, hopes this exhibit will be an example to parents of how to introduce crafts into their families.

"Most crafts are not hard," adds Ms. Hoblitzell. "With a little creativity and a little guts, you can go."

Most youngsters have both. It's their parents who must muster fortitude before undertaking crafts projects.

Start simple.

"Use what you have around the house," advises Wanda Holland, a teacher for Playkeepers, a before- and after-school program in Baltimore County. "Arts and crafts are not expensive."

Dry pasta, in different shapes and colors, can easily become necklaces or bracelets, when strung on yarn or pipe cleaners; a button collection can yield plenty of raw material for collages or for homemade greeting cards.

Ms. Holland says there is no need to reinvent the wheel to expose children to crafts. There are many how-to books, classes and even kits for beginners. Commercial kits get mixed reviews from teachers, many of whom say it's better to give children materials and freedom instead of lines to follow.

To keep youngsters interested, activities must match their age and developmental levels. If a project is too simple, it will easily bore a child -- and a parent will know it. If a project is too sophisticated, it will frustrate him, and a parent will know that, too.

At 2, a child can string beads or perhaps even large pasta, but more serious crafts, such as knitting and cross-stitch have to wait a few years.

Crafts teachers and aficionados say children need to be at least 6 years old to learn these more sophisticated crafts successfully. Even then, parents can expect a child to work only in spurts that match his attention span.

At the Waldorf School of Baltimore, where handwork is part of the elementary school curriculum, first-graders learn to knit -- after they make their own knitting needles -- and second-graders tackle crochet, says Cathy Kingsbury, the school's handwork teacher.

"It's something they really love to do. It's a balancing element for their more intellectual activities," says Ms. Kingsbury, who teaches two 45-minute classes a week for each grade.

Ms. Hoblitzell agrees that crafts add balance to children's lives -- by slowing their pace, reducing stimulation and perhaps showing them that gratification isn't always instant. "There's something to be said for [spending] 20 minutes a day or 30 minutes a day and watching something grow. There's visual progress. I think it's real good," she says.

Crafts also foster eye-hand coordination, develop fine motor skills in young children and teach patience, persistence and concentration.

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