Friday, August 23, 2013

Arts and Crafts, P.U.S. style

by Anne White

St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, (Dirk Bouts, 1465)

Homeschoolers love to integrate lessons.  It seems to go with the territory.  Whole "curriculums" have been designed around activities that extend and amplify children's literature, history, science books, and sometimes mix them up all together like an Everything Pudding.

However, assigning integrated work in subjects such as art and handicrafts is not integral (pun intended) to CM.  It's not forbidden, maybe, but it's not required either, except for a few exceptions which I'll note below.  I drew this conclusion mostly from the old P.U.S. term programmes, but I can't find any other "evidence to the contrary" in Charlotte Mason's books or elsewhere.  Holiday gift giving and card making was integrated into the year's craft work, but the themes or periods being studied in school were not.  I realize I'm going against the usual homeschool grain here, as well as current school practices of having students make clay castles during medieval studies and foam-ball solar systems during astronomy.  But Charlotte Mason education was never all about fitting in with everybody else.

So what did they do?  Here are some outlines based on Form III programmes (so that would be for twelve- and thirteen-year-olds).  CM homeschoolers will already be familiar with a lot of this, but bear with me.

First off, the simplest, most unchanging part of Charlotte Mason's art curriculum was Picture Study, sometimes called Picture Talks.  Out of a number of programmes from the 1920's, I have this list of artists:  Matthew Maris, Millet, Watts, Steen and Dou, Corot, Durer, Raphael, Goya and José de Ribera, Holbein, da Vinci, Pintorrichio, Millais, Holman Hunt, Dirk Bouts, Turner, Carpaccio, Botticelli, Vermeer, Filippino Lippi, Mantegna.  A lot of "big names" and a few lesser-known ones; heavy on the Renaissance with a side of landscapes.

Middle schoolers were expected to learn and practice drawing skills (watercolouring seemed to count as "drawing"), using books such as the "Art of Drawing" series published by Philip and Tacey; Drawing, Design and Craftwork, by F.J. Glass; and Drawing For Children and Others, by Vernon Blake.  (The Glass book was also used for craftwork.)   There were specific subject suggestions given in most terms, such as "objects in the home," "tree studies," "objects out of doors," "kitchen utensils," "figures in action."  Glass's book got a bit more creative with assignments, suggesting that the students paint fruits on tiles or draw what they would see through doorways.

"Illustrations of scenes from Literature" was an every-term assignment along with the other drawing work. "Simple memory drawings" or "Memory drawings of out-door scenes and places" were often included as well.  Sometimes there were seasonal projects such as "Design Christmas cards or calendars, using beautiful lettering."  There was also the request that students join the "P.U.S. Portfolio," a sort of art club like Harmony Art Mom's online Sketch Tuesdays, where they submitted work by mail and added to it in a sort of round-robin.  (According to this article, they had to set a rule that "the Portfolio only remains one day with each family. There are so many members that the unfortunate artists whose names begin with letters at the end of the alphabet cannot see it during the month unless this rule is kept"). Here's an article with notes for one season's "portfolio," and I love the suggested illustration from George MacDonald!

And that's it for "art class."  Clay and cardboard modelling, and anything else of that sort, came under "Work," a.k.a Handicrafts, Shop, and Home Economics.  The study of architecture was listed under General Science.  "Beautiful lettering" went under Sunday Occupations.
Ox-Cart Man illustration by Barbara Cooney

Handicrafts  included lots of needlework, sewing and knitting, darning and mending, cooking, helping in house and garden.  Occasionally there was something special included such as "Frame your pictures with glass and passé-partout," "Make a design for an Empire medal" (in clay).  What I notice about the "Work" section of the programmes is that it got longer and a bit more diverse in the years after Charlotte Mason's death.   (Although I found one more unusual suggestion back in Programme 44, "Dress a doll in Tudor style.")  Both boys and girls were to make papier-mache bowls as gifts, make plaster casts from linoleum blocks, reseat chairs with rushes, carve toys (from a Dryad Leaflet), "make rugs" (using a design book by Ann Macbeth) and help with laundry. Girls were to knit or crochet baby clothes, and sew and embroider an "overall" (what North Americans would call a smock).  Boys were given books such as Light Woodwork for the Classroom, by W.J. Warren, and 101 Things for a Boy to Make, by A.C. Horth (a book that went through many updates and reprints).  They were also assigned stenciling (why the girls couldn't do that too, I'm not sure).

Not everything was stuffed into every term, of course.  Cardboard modelling, which I can't imagine anyone getting that excited over (sorry!), was one of the usual repeats from term to term, and of course all the household skills and charitable work were repeated as well.  Most term programmes had one or two things that were special or different, such as carving toys.
Ox-Cart Man illustration by Barbara Cooney

What does all this say to a homeschool parent or other educator planning a term's work now?

First, if the P.U.S. could stretch its view of crafts from "reseat chairs" to "make a design for an Empire medal" to printmaking and carving, it seems to me that almost any good craft (or art class technique, like lino block casting) might be fair game for a term's work.  All this work didn't seem to be timetabled into the school schedules, though.  There are footnotes in the term programmes that the work given includes "hobbies," and I think that's one way of saying that some of this should be self-directed on the students' part. Obviously some of the more involved crafts would take instruction and supervision, but there would be some things that they could do on their own.

Second, the P.U.S. made use of books by some of the best art teachers and designers out there.  Ann Macbeth, for one, is a fascinating person to look up online; I just wish [more of ] her actual books were scanned in (see comments for a link to one of them). So that says to me that we can find ideas in mainstream (not just educational) craft resources; also in ideas given for groups such as Scouts (the P.U.S. programmes recommended doing work for Guide or Scout badges).

Third, it's instructive to see what does not appear on the list:  for instance, crafts made from specifically kid-marketed materials, such as fluorescent-coloured modelling material; and those just copied from someone else's exact pattern.  There is a goal of developing an independent sense of design and taste, of learning each craft well enough to be able to make some of your own design decisions, and not just connect the dots.

Something that does not seem to be discussed or encouraged much, at least at this age, is the kind of undirected art or crafts, smushing stuff around, that is mostly process but with no real product in mind.  This may have been because craft materials were expensive; but taking that further, I think the students were to develop a "relationship" with the paints, wool and clay.  That is, learning and respecting the properties of whatever material you were working with, in the same sense that a cabinetmaker seems to enter into the spirit of the wood he uses.  If you have good coloured pencils, you try to get the most out of them, learn what you can do with them, as well as treat them carefully.

And, as I said at the beginning, there are few crafts listed that seem made to fit (usually) with a particular lesson or historical period.  The exceptions would be illustrating scenes from literature, or occasionally something like dressing dolls in historical costume.  Even the art-class projects were not directly inspired by the term's artist or the historical period, in contrast to much of today's educational thinking. Papier-mâché bowls for gifts, yes; papier-mâché gargoyles, no.

Does that mean you should never make sunbonnets when you read Little House on the Prairie, or that you can't make earth-strata art during a geology unit?  (If I had all the stuff, I'd love to do that one.)  No, I don't think so...nobody wants to take all the fun out of homeschooling.  But perhaps this takes some of the stress out of it.

If you're a CMer and you're going to do crafts, and don't worry about how well they fit.  If you're going to draw, then draw.  If the relationships (to the materials, or to the landscape or natural inspiration or just to general ideas of beauty and design) are being formed, then the real learning is happening--with or without gargoyles.


  1. Great post! This seems to be all or most of her book, Educational Needlecraft:

    The book isn't scanned, it looks to be typed, with illustrations scanned.
    You may have already found this but if not, I thought I'd share. Looks lovely!

  2. Thanks for the reminder! It's also available in page-image format at, here: . I read that this was quite a ground-breaking book when it was published in 1911, because of its emphasis on teaching even young children to think more like dressmakers or dress designers than to give them a lot of dull sewing exercises. Sounds something like CM's approach to arithmetic there, doesn't it?

  3. "
    Something that does not seem to be discussed or encouraged much, at least at this age, is the kind of undirected art or crafts, smushing stuff around, that is mostly process but with no real product in mind."

    This article was so timely for me as I am trying to guide my children in their selection of a handicraft. Pinterest is full of cute, fun stuff to DO, but most is not "useful", which is my requirement in their choosing of a handicraft. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. I am convinced that there was more to Sloyd than just 'Cardboard Modelling', though. I think the reason it was repeated term to term was because of the value inherent in the process itself.

    We did some sloyd at the recent LER. The measuring work, the accuracy, the mathematics involved were very CM. I'm certain that this was more than just a handcraft.

  5. Jeanne, I'm not sure what you mean by "more than just a handcraft." That it's super-important, not optional, or that it should be filed under something else? I see the value in learning the accuracy required; but I'm having trouble seeing the point of going to all that work just to make some cardboard geometric solids. What happened to useful, beautiful, all that? Am I missing something entirely here?

  6. This article gives you some idea of the benefits of sloyd:

  7. I've read it...also looked through Everett Schwartz's sloyd book online, . You have to click on his Series II to see the photos of the cardboard models, and then here to see all the drawings for the same. But I'm still not exactly overwhelmed by excitement at the idea of looking at a button box, figuring out what the "web" would be (as our geometry book would put it), cutting out the pattern from scratch, and then making ANOTHER button box. That might just be a personal thing, though, since I was horrid at drafting in middle-school shop class, and I'm not that great with sewing patterns either. (There, I admit all.)

    Let me put it this way--is this something you'd be doing with Jemimah?

  8. No, but if she were an obsessive compulsive child - which she's not, in case you haven't noticed - I think it would have great benefits. She does love visual spatial web geometry stuff, though, and enjoyed the sloyd she did at the LER. I am no good with sewing patterns either.

  9. maybe, to think about it in a CM-philosophy kind of way, we can't rule out the fact that for some children this kind of activity might have unforeseen benefits--for instance, maybe the child is more visual-spatial than the parent, and would just enjoy that sort of thing; or maybe he/she needs to develop more in that area, could use the opportunity to think in a new direction.

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