Craft forms a key part of most children’s work on a Sunday morning. Late on Saturday night, children’s workers around the country can be found cutting out templates, gluing lolly sticks together or frantically cramming Pringles into their mouth so that they can have enough tubes for the next morning.
But have you ever asked yourself why we’re so obsessed with craft? Youth work isn’t littered with Easter gardens made from corner yogurt pots or creation collages, so why does it play such a big part in children’s work? Well, it’s fun, but there are lots of things that are fun that we don’t do in children’s work. So why craft?
Craft for craft's sake
We work hard to come up with ideas that link in with the Bible story that we’re exploring, but often we do a craft because that’s what we’ve always done. We play a game, tell the story, do a craft and go back into the service. The vicar asks a child what they’ve done in their group and we desperately hope they don’t say anything about the fact that paint got spilt all over the polished church hall floor. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, most of these craft items will get thrown away by parents and carers within a few days, if they ever make it out of the church building.
Some of these craft ideas may be brilliant, many of them the children will enjoy doing. And there is some value in doing something that’s fun and we can enjoy doing together. But there is more to craft than just fun, and we should think critically about why we do it. Craft can provide spaces for faith to grow, but we need to be intentional when we include it in our planning.
The means not the end
The practice of Godly Play includes craft as part of its response time. However, unlike much of the craft that traditionally forms part of a children’s session, there is no end result for children to get to. Children are free to choose what they create: some might paint a picture, others might do a collage, still others might play with building blocks and not come out with any end product.
In Godly Play, it’s the process that’s important, not the end result. God speaks to everyone differently, and so everyone needs their own way to respond. As children work on whatever they are doing, they’re thinking about what God is saying to them and processing that.
This lack of an end result might seem scary to us as children’s workers (what will the children show the vicar?!), but it some ways, it frees us up. We don’t have to think up a craft idea for everyone (and spend all night preparing it.) All we need to do is provide a range of resources that children might use and allow them to choose what is most appropriate for them.
The space for conversation
We all know that when hands are busy, the brain can get to work, and this is where craft can assist with faith formation. Children often ask the most profound questions when they have found the space to think (in the car, after doing homework or playing); when we do craft, we’re giving the hands something to do, so the brain and soul can get to work.
It doesn’t really matter what the craft activity is; as leaders we need to be ready to chat while doing the activity. That’s the important thing here. Our Together sessions this month are all about people who met Jesus – a great starting question might be: “What would you say to Jesus if he came to your house?”
Our fabulous craft page, written by Mina Munns, has plenty of ideas that lay the foundation for some great conversation. Mina also has a blog which is crammed full of activities you can try out.
The tyranny of craft
So, let’s free ourselves from the tyranny of having a perfectly formed craft idea each session, and the disappointment when the children in our groups don’t manage to perfectly recreate our idea. Let’s be more intentional about what we do and why we do it. Craft is a great way to help faith to grow!
Alex Taylor is resources editor for Premier Youth and Children’s Work.