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Friday, October 18, 2013

Why We Don’t Do Much Cutting and Pasting (or other “crafty” schooling)

We started studying Ancient Egypt this week.  I’ve always tried to put together a well-rounded, multi-disciplined program with lots of hands-on activities to keep the kids engaged. 

This year I’ve been focusing a lot more on notebooking and less on making stuff.  The very idea of putting together a lapbook makes me want to throw a tantrum. 

1 lapbook would be one thing…but with 3 kids plus a 4-year-old who would insist on “doing her own?”  The bits and pieces and glue and all that….Oi! 

And then all the crafty things.   Em used a whole glue stick on one picture the other day.  I’m still trying to get the rest of the glue off my table.  There has been a decided downturn in crafty things this year.

I was feeling guilty about that…I mean, can the kids really “get” what we’re learning from just pictures and books and words and discussion?

So today…

David (age 13):  “Remember when we built those pyramids out of sugar cubes?”

Everybody (rolling their eyes and snorting):  “Yeah!”

David:  “That was a total waste of time.”

What I’ve learned over the past 6 years is that most projects like lapbooks, paper models, sugar cube models and other such things end up being either a whole lot of extra work for mama or a source of big frustration for little hands and add little actual value to what we are trying to learn.

Don’t get me wrong:  they look great in the portfolios and they are something tangible to show grandparents and other folks who want to see evidence of learning for themselves.

Not a Paper Craft Queen?  It's OK!  Your kids will learn!

David’s Model Coliseum from 6 years ago


But honestly?  Constructing a paper model of the coliseum does more to demonstrate manual dexterity than it proves academic learning.  And unless your child is very competent, it demonstrates your patience more than his ability.

And then it sits on a shelf somewhere collecting dust.  And can never be thrown away. (I’ll add, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing---why should we ask our kids to invest their time, energy, and mental prowess on things that we intend to throw away?  But that’s a topic for another post).

So I’ve given up on models.  And lapbooks.  They can be fun to look back on, yes. 

But I found that more time and energy was spent on the actual cutting and pasting than on retaining the information contained within those tiny booklets.

Kids eventually learn to cut on straight lines.  And they eventually learn not to use a whole glue stick on one project. 

And they do this whether they cut and paste every other day or only once a week (or even once a month) or so…because a large part of it comes down to developmental maturity.  My 13-year didn’t cut any better than his 4-year-old sister does now when he was 4. 

He grew into it and he didn’t have to practice it every day.  In fact, he learned to do it on his own.  

It’s too much to expect them to spend 5-10 minutes cutting something out to record one answer.  And then cut out another bit and so on.  It’s silly, really.

This is not to say that there’s no value at all in hands-on activities.

When they create from their own minds rather than assembling together something conceived for them….that’s when something extra special happens.

They begin to truly explore and make connections instead of just following directions.

They own it.  It belongs to them.  It’s not an “insert tab b into slot b” type of thing.

They can show you what they’ve really got going on inside. 

It’s more valuable for them to construct on the fly than to have carefully laid out instructions that tell them exactly what to do---it builds their problem-solving skills.

cutting pasting-002

Peter solves the problem of creating a 3D model on his own.


Maybe you are not the “crafty” mom.  That’s ok. 

We’ve relegated our cutting and pasting to arts & crafts and free time.  And the kids are learning.  And they still become proficient cutter/pasters. Winking smile 

What’s something you don’t do in your homeschool?


  1. I love this post. We don't do a lot of crafty "projects" either because I find that it distracts them from leaning the real things. We do painting once a week, and we listen and practice music, but beyond that no crafty things. I had to get rid of way to many craft projects due to space constraints. And I didn't like the fact that we were making items that just went into trash and that was not very environmentally friendly. So we decided not to do these either. Great job on writing about downside to "crafting for school"

  2. Thank you, Niki. A couple of years ago I got disgusted with a history curriculum we were using because of the silliness of some of the crafty things---my kids felt the same way.

    Now, we do value crafting around here, but it's more for the sake of crafting. My son has spend hours making bows from tree branches and fletching handmade arrows with blades of grass. It was a learning experience, but I doubt it would have taught him much history. And he did it on his own.

  3. I'm still in the contemplating homeschooling camp (my oldest isn't quite 4), but when I think about reasons to avoid public school, one major thing that turns me away is my memory of making diorama after diorama and doing various role plays instead of actually learning anything.

  4. Good point, Theresa. I think there's this idea that to make learning fun we need to dress it up somehow or make it look pretty. I disagree with that notion---learning is worthwhile for it's own sake. It's deeper than "fun." I see my kids light up when they make connections and talk about stuff. And honestly, they don't think the dioramas and things are fun anyway. ;)


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