giving the gift of hand skills

design, experiences, general crafts, inspiration, just a thought

My favorite advice columnist Amy Dickinson, of Ask Amy, is asking families to leave a book — new or used — on the bed of every child in America on Christmas Eve so that each child will have the first present they find be a book. I’m in. All four of the kids who will be sleeping in our home on Christmas Eve will be waking up with books in their beds. New tradition — done.

So now here’s my idea for another tradition that I’m hoping will catch on. I’d like for people with some kind of hand skill to share that skill with a child or young adult sometime over the holiday season. True, I’d love to see some new blood in the handcraft movement but it’s really more important than that. I’m really getting concerned about the lack of fine motor skills in the some of the young people I know. I’ve seen it in interns in our studio, workshops I’ve taught, our daughter’s school and in various orbits of my life.

I see it in kids who can’t use scissors or grasp a pencil correctly. I see it in children who can’t write in cursive and in young adults whose handwriting looks like mine did in 7th grade. I’ve seen it in interns who can’t cut fabric accurately or use pins very easily because they aren’t used to grabbing anything smaller than a computer mouse. They are texting whizzes but they struggle with activities that use more than just their thumbs. Our daughter wasn’t even taught cursive in school and teachers are encouraging students to do all of their presentations in PowerPoint so they don’t even get a chance to use block handwriting for presentations. Even a young surgeon I know admitted that the women in his residency program who did handwork as young girls have better hand skills than he does. I have these images of our species losing millions of years of evolutionary progress because our fine motor skills are succumbing to atrophy. I’m all for teaching and knowing technology but developing fine motor skills can’t be totally thrown out the window.

So I’m calling on those of you who can quilt, knit, bead, crochet, tat, draw, paint, needlepoint, cook, make furniture, ceramics or anything that requires hand control to share that skill with someone for a few hours between now and New Year’s Day. Invite a young person to help you with a project or better yet, share your materials and skill to help them make one of their own. We’ve had sewing playdates on days off where we invite one of our daughter’s friends to spend the day in our studio with a pile of scraps, scissors, pins, needles, thread and a spare sewing machine. We offer guidance but let them sew whatever they want as long as they are respecting the equipment. Even if they use the sewing machine, they have to pin and cut so they develop some new hand skills. What I’ve found is that pretty much all you need to do is provide the time and materials and they will figure out what they want to do pretty quickly. The photo above is our daughter and her friend who made dozens of tiny pillows that they strung together in a garland. This was for a school art project but they routinely sew sleeping bags for stuffed animals, cloth napkins and miscellaneous sewing projects. We’ll be working on knitting projects and constructing and decorating gingerbread houses over the holidays as well. I figure that as long as they’re using their brains and their hands in new ways, it’s all good.


13 thoughts on “giving the gift of hand skills

  1. thanks for a great post! I’ve recently taught a younger friend to knit, and I always wish my crafty 7-year old niece lived close enough that I could “snare” her with the sewing bug!

  2. Wow, what a sobering thought. I feel inspired to have a sewing playdate for my daughter and a friend of hers. I’ve never thought of that, but it’s a great idea. Thank you for this blog, which I read often for inspiration.

  3. Love the idea of the pillow book. My mother-in-laws tradition is a book for each person at the breakfast table, I had a great time this year in the bargain aisle at half-price books since there are to be 10 at the table.
    And my daughter is knitting again!

  4. It’s too late for this Christmas to put books on the beds of my grandkids who were visiting, but they did get books for Christmas. We’ve sewn things in the past, but this Christmas we cooked together. My daughter gave me a book she bought in Spain. I think it’s written in Catalan, which I can’t read, but it’s all about weaving and has some great photographs! She knew I’d love it!

  5. I so agree! It is important we pass down these fine motor skills, and instill the patience and preciseness of creating hand crafts; otherwise, the younger generations will be “all thumbs” and we will lose the beauty of ornamental detail and fine craftsmanship.

  6. Hello,

    I love your blog. I thoroughly enjoy reading it and love all the wonderful ideas and thoughts it encourages. I wanted to share a new very inexpensive activity that we had introduced to our kids over the Christmas break.

    Since our kids are 7 and 9 we thought that they had enough dexterity to try out Origami. We introduced some of the simpler shapes first and then they diverged and followed their own interests. My daughter likes making flowers, my son makes paper planes. They make them for friends at school and just for fun. There are lots of YouTube videos and we liked origami-club ( for simple clear instructions. They think it is neat to make something out of nothing but a flat sheet of paper and their two hands.

  7. @Marianna–I am SO with you about origami. Having both lived in Japan, my husband and I love to do origami with our daughter. Our daughter’s Chinese instructor also does it with the kids. During our big blizzard here in Chicago the kids were out of school for 2 days. Our daughter invited a friend over and they did it for hours. We have a great friend who does the super complex origami and she really inspires us.

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