The Teaching Value of Craftsmanship
A child with any aptitude for learning craft skills, and who has a quiet place to work, a few necesssary tools and materials, and a little sympathetic, patient coaching when needed, is a fortunate child indeed.
A successful and emotionally healthy adult has acquired a few critical skills:
1. to prepare for a task by gathering necessary information before starting, and controlling the impulsive desire to jump in head first.
2. to follow directions. This often means acknowledging the expertise of others, and realizing that he or she needs instructional help with a task, even if it seems easy and obvious at a casual glance.
3. to tolerate frustration. A difficult, new, lengthy, complex project will always go wrong in small ways. A mature individual sees these obstacles as temporary, as problems to be solved, and as natural, normal, and expected; not as tragedies or failures.
4. to know when to shift focus away from a compelling task. Inherent in any significant undertaking is the necessity of letting it go temporarily, whether to rest and regain a fresh enthusiasm for a difficult problem or just to let the glue dry. Avoiding a compulsive pounding at a project that is, for the moment, resisting progress, is a valuable emotional skill.
5. to finish a project completely. It seems to happen so often, that the attention to detail demonstrated at the start of a project is abandoned near the end, after the novelty of the task has worn off and is replaced by a desire to move on to something else.
Real craft skills, those that are not casually or easily learned, can provide a child with instruction in all of these, and offers one thing more: pride in a true accomplishment. A child who has built a real stick and tissue model airplane, one that really flies and flies well, will feel pride not only in ownership and use of the new toy, but also pride in the ownership of a new, larger self. These are lasting experiences, the basis of genuine self esteem.
Toys that build these skills, as we suggest in the first of the two esssays on this page, are not really toys. They do not offer a play experience in the pure sense, but rather a task with a clearly defined outcome. Our balsa model-building kits are an ideal example of such a product. The desired outcome is clear and obvious, and although the finished airplanes lend themselves to real play when they are successfully finished and can fly, even here, the difference between good and bad outcomes is pretty clear. What makes these kits suitable for children is the carefully graded levels of difficulty built into the series, starting from quick (dry) assembly and easy flying, to complex glue-up using a variety of materials, and following plans with precision.