Craft is included as a small part of the overall Guiding programme, in order to develop two specific skills.
The first is ‘fine motor skills’. In using scissors to cut out shapes accurately, or using glue spreaders to paste just up to the edge and not over, in manipulating pencil or paint brush to sketch images, the girls are learning to minutely control their arms and fingers, and develop their hand-eye coordination. So any good craft activity will give them the opportunity to do things like draw or paint freehand, sculpt or mould, or practice using tools like needles, saws, scissors or planes accurately and dextrously.
And the second is ‘artistic taste’. Learning about design, colour, shape and form, and developing personal ideas and opinions on them. To bring it down to brass tacks examples, say you were making simple calendars. Flossie chose a piece of green card to attach her picture and calendar tab onto, and now has to choose which colour of ribbon she wants for the hanging loop – a choice of dark green, navy, red or gold. So Flossie is looking at the coloured card and at the ribbon choices available, and is judging for herself which combination of colours she thinks will look best together – considering colour and design in relation to her personal taste, and making her own decisions, expressing herself and her personal tastes. Or say she is given a piece of black cardboard and some wax crayons, and asked to draw a ‘firework picture’ – so she has to think about what sort of firework shapes to have and in what position – perhaps single rockets, perhaps spinning wheels, perhaps clusters or cloudburst fireworks – maybe she might have a bonfire, or figures holding sparklers - or perhaps not, it’s up to her to imagine the scene, consider what colours she wants to use to portray it, and think about how to combine them in order to produce an effect she will find pleasing. Or say she is given a bar of soap and a penknife in order to whittle and produce a carving, she has to think about what 3-d shape she wants to portray, and then work out what needs to be pared away from the bar in order to gradually reveal the shape which she is mentally picturing. In all these examples, every girl in the group will have a slightly different vision of what she wants the outcome of her work to be, and each will achieve a different result – but one she has chosen for herself, and one which reflects her tastes and preferences. And those may be conventional tastes, or may be quite original.
There are a limited number of products available from the ‘craft kit companies’ which do support these educational aims. Most will indeed supply bulk stocks of paper and card, paint and chalks, coloured pens and crayons, and other basic/generic resources to stock your craft box. And a few of their kits also take some slight steps towards supporting the aim – those where they supply a pre-selected object to decorate, but give the individual some freedom to decide on a decoration scheme, using the 4 or 6 colours of paint provided. There is heavy restriction in that the object for decorating is in a predetermined form, and the choice of colours limited to only 4-6 which can’t necessarily be mixed in order to offer some variety of shade - but there is a little freedom.
Far too many, however, advertise large numbers of craft kits which offer no choice or scope for taste at all, they are just a form of ‘painting by numbers’. In such packs the colour scheme for every component and aspect has already been pre-chosen, and every piece has already been cut out, allowing little or no scope to deviate from the designer’s choices, and certainly no encouragement to do so. If you choose to make the blue rabbit, then you are supplied with a green bow, if you choose the pink rabbit it’s a white bow. The decision has already been made for you, you weren’t consulted. All you get to do is assemble the pieces the designer chose and cut out, in the colour scheme they chose. And as a result, almost all the potential educational benefits the craft activity could have had, are lost. The girls aren’t getting to be creative, they just assemble other people’s work. Worst of all – we invariably pay a premium for these pre-pack kits, compared to the cost of buying the component materials, despite the reduced benefits!
Of course it takes longer to make the craft if each child gets to choose options, and cut out her own components. Of course it can mean using more stuff if we buy enough to offer a choice rather than dish out a pre-selected set of parts in the colour scheme we choose. Of course it means more work and mess if we make templates and supervise the girls drawing round and cutting out, before they start assembly. And if we give the girls freedom to paint a picture of their choice, or invent and create an object from a selection of scrap - then we also have to allow time for them to think up ideas and design their creation as well as construct it. So yes, naturally that will restrict what can be achieved in an hour’s meeting. Yes, we could make it far quicker on the night if the adults did all the cutting out beforehand – the adults are quicker because we got the very practice we’re now denying the girls. Units should only do craft a couple of times a term anyway, as craft is only one among several of ‘The Arts’ and the arts but a small part of the overall programme alongside outdoors, relationships, self-development and all the rest of the topics we cover. So no reason why we couldn’t spread the activity over 2 weeks, or aim for something simpler which can be fitted into the unit’s meeting time, but which the child can honestly say is “all my own work” not “someone else’s work really, I just stuck it together for them”.
As an educational charity, shouldn’t we be focussing on drawing out the maximum educational benefits from the activities we do, and on making the time to let the girls get full advantage, rather than give in to temptation and just take that expensive, easy-way-out, the pre-packaged craft kit?