Closer Look: Art and Craft Projects

Few art projects are so satisfying as messing about with clay. It can be enjoyed by kids of almost all ages, from tots to teens; you can do practically anything with it; and it just plain feels good. It won’t poison you if you eat it. It’s relatively easy to clean up (unless stomped heavily into the carpet). And generally it doesn’t cost much. Our kids – clay fans from the word go – have used it to make everything from chess sets to Navajo pots to mobiles to models of the Parthenon, as well as a perfectly beautiful bright-blue wizard and an entire set of Christmas ornaments based on the characters in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. – Rebecca Rupp, Good Stuff – Pots, Bowls, and Mudpies: Clay for Kids, Home Education Magazine March-April 1999

Just reading Becky’s description of clay inspires me to get out our box of sculpey , pasta maker and our clay tools to see what type of ornaments, gifts and treasures we might make for the holidays. It also reminds me of the many hands-on opportunities our home educated children have to work with a variety of mediums whenever the urge hits them.

When my children were little, they almost always wanted to paint, create, carve, draw, sculpt, or make things with their hands. There was always a variety of easy to use resources around the house, in addition to kits that had been purchased at the local craft store. This time of year we might share those creations with others, but we also like to make things simply because we love to. Whether your are making gifts or following a passion, I hope you enjoy these arts and crafts articles and resources.


A Visit with Mary Hood – Janine Calsbeek

Back to our subject: learning centers.

“There’s what could be done, and what I really do,” says Mary. One area where she has a state-of-the-art learning center is, what else? Art. It’s the best way to approach art, she says. But remember that accessibility is crucial. When the Hoods moved into their home two years ago, Mary had an idea: put art supplies in the pantry! Things could be arranged neatly behind the pantry door and keep the kitchen presentable. Unfortunately, the plan failed. No one did art.

“It never got used. Out of sight, out of mind.” So the art center is back in the kitchen. There’s a counter top and shelving with pastels, paint, charcoal, a calligraphy set. There’s a bulletin board. There are library books about painters – Mary’s art appreciation curriculum. She also keeps a few how-to books in the art area too. The kids work on the kitchen table or floor. The easel is set up in another “washable” room, where there’s additional space to exhibit art by Hood kids.

NO PARROTS HERE – Laura Weldon

Homeschooling would be easier if my children wanted to learn about the same things that I happen to love. Long ago I had the naive assumption that they would naturally develop my passion for environmentalism, muckraking journalism, anthropology, applied ethics, messy art, alternative medicine and satire. I knew these passions weren’t genetic, my parents were into playing bridge and visiting historical sites. But I figured my children would absorb my fascination by osmosis. Nope. More like reverse osmosis. They seem to feel that just living with me is exposure enough to those topics. More than enough.

Letter Writing -Rebecca Rupp

And don’t overlook the art potential of the envelope. If you need a few ideas, the Envelope and Letter Folding Web site at describes more ways to make and fold envelopes than you ever dreamed existed, with detailed diagrams and instructions.

Hanging On To What Makes Homeschooling Distinctive – Larry and Susan Kaseman

* In the midst of all this, homeschooled children learn the basics that conventional schools try to teach. They learn to read, write, and do math. They come to understand how the physical world works (which conventional schools call science), how people behave and why (also known as social science), and how the past influences the present (a.k.a. history). They develop ideas about beauty (art) and learn to make things and mend things that are broken (home economics and industrial arts).

Beyond Names, Dates, and Places – Cafi Cohen

Another popular activity along these lines is the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an international organization dedicated to, according to their website, “The study and recreation of the European Middle Ages, its crafts, sciences, arts, traditions, literature, and so on. The SCA ‘period’ is defined to be Western civilization before 1600 AD, concentrating on the Western European High Middle Ages. Under the aegis of the SCA we study dance, calligraphy, martial arts, cooking, metalwork, stained glass, costuming, literature… well, if they did it, somebody in the SCA does it (except die of the Plague!).”

Early American Paper Quilling – Kathy Ceceri

Back in Colonial America, hobbies were serious business. Whether they were taught at home or at school, girls were expected to learn their own kind of three “R’s”: refinements, recreations, and reading novels. As author Felice Hodges writes in her interesting book Period Pastimes: A Practical Guide to Four Centuries of Decorative Crafts, the well-bred daughters of New England’s wealthiest families didn’t cook and clean; they had servants to do that. And they certainly didn’t go out and get jobs – attracting a husband was supposed to be their main occupation. Instead, these ladies of leisure filled their days dabbling in “the pretty arts,” such as needlework, music, dancing and watercolor painting. One of the most popular hobbies of the time was “quilling,” the art of making designs using curled-up strips of paper.

A Birthday a Day – Becky Rupp

Our kids’ learning styles seem to mesh better with what are popularly called “unit studies:” assorted projects, activities, and readings centered around a topic of kid-chosen interest. Here again, we’ve always invented our own, accumulating craft and science kits, and turning out piles of homemade activity books on such subjects as the Civil War, whales, stars, frogs, the heart, the eye, trees, bees, and map-making.

World History Crafts – Kathy Ceceri

It can take three years for a monk to memorize the different mandalas, learn about meaning of their symbols, and master the technical skill needed to create them. Up to eight feet in diameter or larger, a mandala can take several weeks to complete. Grain by grain the sand is poured onto the design base using a pair of thin metal funnels called chakpus. Holding one sand-filled chakpu in position, the monk rasps its mate across the top, creating vibrations which can be adjusted to shake the sand out in a stream or a trickle. When finished, the mandala is ceremoniously swept up and deposited into the nearest body of flowing water — a reflection of the fact that nothing in life is permanent. In the 1950s, China took control of Tibet, and the country’s spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, was forced to flee. Happily, the thousands of Tibetans now living in exile in India are preserving the art, religion and culture of their ancient land.

Making a sand mandala takes patience and a steady hand, but the results are worth it. And unlike real sand mandalas, our small-scale version is permanent, ready to be displayed on a shelf or hung on a wall. You can use actual mandalas as your inspiration or create your own design. Try to keep in mind the symmetry, interlocking patterns, and contrasting colors Tibetan monks use to express the Buddhist philosophy of wisdom, compassion and peace.

Pots, Bowls, and Mudpies: Clay for Kids – Becky Rupp

The boys’ potting careers began in toddlerhood with play dough, the recipe for which – now liberally splotted with food coloring – was given to me by a friend around the corner the year Joshua, our oldest son, was two. A play dough recipe, in my opinion, is a homeschool staple; for those of you who haven’t already acquired one, try this:

Mix 3 cups of flour, 1 1/2 cups salt, and 2 tablespoons cream of tartar. Add 6 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 3 cups of water, and a few drops of food coloring. Mix thoroughly; then cook over low heat until the dough feels like mashed potatoes. Store in plastic bags.

As art dough recipes go, however, this is just the tip of the iceberg. MaryAnn Kohl’s Mudworks: Creative Clay, Dough and Modeling Experiences (Bright Ring, 1989) contains over 100 different recipes for various kinds of doughs, clays, and modeling compounds, among them bread clay, stained-glass dough, and toothpaste putty, along with descriptions of innovative projects to go with them.

From Boring To Board Games: Math Really Can Be Fun! -Elise Griffith

Look for a book about quilting (or quilt designs) in the adult nonfiction section of your public library. Have your child pick a favorite pattern and help him draw the “quilt block” on a square piece of poster board. Assign numbers to each color shown in the photograph of the quilt block, and have your child number his drawing. Give him watercolors, markers or acrylic craft paints, and let him paint his “block”. When the painting is dry, cut out each “patchwork” piece for a personalized, homemade puzzle. See how many ways he can arrange the patchwork pieces to create different block designs.

Design a sampler quilt without ever sewing a stitch-you’ll make it with craft felt. Calculate your foundation piece of fabric by multiplying the number of people in your family by 10 (or have your children make these calculations). Next, have each person pick a favorite patchwork pattern, draw it out on a 10 x 10 inch piece of paper, and cut it out. Using various pieces (or scraps) of craft felt, each family member uses the pattern pieces as templates and cuts pieces out of felt to match. The patchwork pieces are then reassembled and glued to the foundation fabric. When the glue has dried, a two inch strip of fabric or felt can be glued to a wooden dowel for hanging.

Make beaded jewelry by purchasing packages of inexpensive (but large) plastic or wooden beads. Have your child calculate how many beads will be required to make a necklace of about 20 inches and a bracelet of about 7 inches. Purchase vinyl string, cut it to size, and let the assembly begin. Have your child double-check her efforts by counting the beads as she strings them, making sure her necklace contains the pre-calculated number. Finally, tie the ends securely.


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