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Using Handwork in Church Education

“As a person learns by doing,” says Katherine Tobey in Learning and Teaching Through the Senses (mentioned earlier), “to tie a knot, set up a tent, paddle a canoe, use a typewriter, milk a cow, he actually has to set about doing it many times in order to learn or achieve. Hearing lectures, seeing pictures, reading books, watching demonstrations, all help, but he has not learned until he himself does it.”

Too often we think of handwork only as funtime or a way of keeping the children active during the times we are not teaching them. Because children have a short attention span, we vary the approaches to learning which we use in the classroom, and handwork helps to break the monotony of the hour.

But this is a very inadequate view. The Christian teacher must justify everything that be does during this teaching time, because any activity which does not lend to the accomplishing of his educational objectives is not worthy of his time. The principle of involvement can mean many things, such as intellectual, verbal, or visual participation. It can also mean tacit participation as learning takes place through use of genuinely educational handcraft procedures.

The human hand is a wonderful instrument. It is a mobile extension of the human brain and has never been satisfactorily duplicated by technology. Since I the hand and brain are so closely linked in function, we ought to utilize students’ hands in their learning procedures. Students may forget Bibles, manuals, and other resource materials, but they will always bring their hands to class. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee” (1 Cor. 12:21).

Values of Handwork Teaching

Interesting handwork helps a student to intelligently apply some of the concepts he has heard in class. Even when the handwork project is simple, such as connecting related numbers to form a picture of a shepherd, or coloring a picture of David and Goliath, it is a further means of input into the mind and life of that child., In this capacity, handwork serves as a support activity to learning. As a matter of fact, it would rarely be a dominant classroom procedure since by its very nature it assumes some degree of previous understanding of the subject.

Another significant factor in the use of handwork is the element of creativity which it engenders. Making something with one’s hands is one of the basic elements of creativity from earliest childhood right through adulthood. It is helpful to remember then, that the wise teacher will not preempt this creativity by always specifying what kind of product he or she wants to receive from the students.

Another value of handwork teaching is the sheer pleasure which it brings to the students. To be sure, education does not exist to produce pleasure, but if fun can serve us as a means to the end of learning, then let us use it.

Problems in Using Handwork

Surely the major problem here is to avoid offering “busy work” as a part of the teaching process. Over 30 years ago James Berkeley warned us, “When the work of their hands helps the pupils form clearer mental pictures of that which they are hearing about, reading and studying, so that they understand it better, then, and then only is such activity a way of useful learning. When such work requires thinking, planning, carefulness, cooperation with others, thoughtfulness for others, service for others, it is a Christian method” (You Can Teach, Judson, Valley Forge, Pa.). Another common problem is offering students handwork that is below their intellectual level. Perhaps the most common example of this is in many commercially published Junior High level Vacation Bible School curriculums. Challenged by space technology and mass media education for nine months of the year, young teens are not going to sit in a hot room during the summer and paste noodles on a board to make a plaque.

Other less significant objections sometimes raised to the use of handwork are that it is both costly and time-consuming. As a matter of fact, both of these are true to a certain extent. The investment of time in handwork makes it even more necessary that the results obtained in the process genuinely contribute to the learning experiences of the student. The cost can be overlooked by applying two general rules of education. First, it is essential to invest something if we expect to obtain satisfactory results. Second, the creative teacher will find ways and materials to make useful handwork projects available without having to spend an inordinate amount of money. Check your local bookstore for helps.

Principles for Effective Use of Handwork

As a teacher, make sure you are not only concerned with the product, but also with the process. The perfectionist teacher robs both herself and the children of the joy handwork can produce. She also destroys the creativity.’ So what if Johnny draws a church that looks like a dilapidated barn! We are not teaching art: we are teaching concepts of biblical truth.

Do not ask your students to do anything which they are physically or mentally incapable of achieving. For example, three-year-olds have trouble with scissors and could not cut out intricate patterns in a handwork project. Forcing children beyond their capability results in frustration rather than learning.

Do not force children to participate in the handwork sessions. Perhaps you can discover a reason for their reticence and reinforce whatever confidence they might have so that throughout the course of the year with you, they may learn to participate by their own choice.

Use variety in your selection of handwork projects. Do not be like the teacher who read a story for the first half hour and passed out the crayons for the second half hour every Sunday morning. The book Creative Teaching in the Church by Eleanor Morrison and Virgil Foster (mentioned earlier) offers a wealth of ideas for different kinds of handwork projects including the following list of creative activities for preschool children:

  • Play dough or clay modeling
  • Pasting
  • Stringing
  • Painting
  • Finger painting
  • Stamping or sponge painting
  • Drawing with crayons and chalk
  • Caring for growing things
  • Building with blocks

But usefulness of handwork. education is not limited to preschool children. Teens and adults can profit measurably if we construct for them the kind of significant activities which deliberately leads to our learning goals.

Think through a long-range plan for the inclusion of handwork teaching in your classroom. If there is to be coherence in our approach to this kind of teaching, it will be brought about by our balanced approach to course planning. We dare not let handwork become a last-minute substitute for other teaching procedures.

Related Topics: Teaching the Bible