Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Handmade Kids

corduroy deer
corduroy deer by super*junk on flickr
My recent crayon apron project got me thinking: how do you raise kids who appreciate handmade gifts? Most birthday parties have the birthday child tearing through package after package of pink or blue plastic toys, tossing them aside in a wild fever to see what's next, and I often feel a handmade gift -- even one I would have loved as a child, like a crayon apron -- gets tossed aside the fastest.

When it comes to making gifts for adults, I'm already discriminating. I only give handmade gifts to those who will appreciate them, and happily those people prefer handmade to store-bought. Even if I don't have time to make gifts myself, I still search out thoughtful items on Etsy and at craft fairs because I like supporting artisans and there's something special about an item that's not mass produced.

vintage toys from flickr user amy_b
So how do you teach small children there's more out there than My Little Ponies and Matchbox cars (wow, I'm sure my toy references are hopelessly dated, but Mr. T's not into much besides crinkly softies and key rattles right now)? Is it just a matter of making a point to teach gratitude in general, or is it more complicated? I'm hoping Mr. T grows up to like making, and have halcyon daydreams of warm afternoons spent crafting together in a haze of mess- and tear-free creativity, and while I know that's slightly ridiculous, I think it would help him appreciate others' creative efforts.

Lots of craft blogs feature toys and gifts for children, with photos of ecstatic kids playing with handmade paper dolls and knitted toys, but I wonder sometimes if even Made by Joel's kids beg him for Handy Manny toolboxes when they're at the store (maybe he doesn't take them to Target -- could that be the key?).

What's your experience with handmade gifts for children, and how do you compete with bright plastic? Thoughts?


  1. I have no idea, but it's a good question and I'll come back to see what other, wiser people say...

  2. I have found that it's the parents expressions and enthusiasms that lead the children towards either appreciation or lack-luster thank yous. I love making handknitted items for my neice. Her and her mother both exclaim wildly over them (and then Sheryl begs for the same thing in her size, which is hilarious). :)

  3. rose, you're totally right. and i didn't want to imply the kid didn't like the crayon apron -- she's like most children, and was in just as much of a rush to see what was next after each present. i think opening the packages is more fun! but it did start me wondering.

    i was actually thinking about you and your niece when i wrote this, since i know she loves when you make stuff for (and with) her.

    someone commented on twitter that her kids see her make stuff for other people so often, they get excited when it's finally for them!

  4. I just found your blog via Forever Young Adult (by accidentally clicking your name while scrolling - serendipity!) So far, with kids at 6 and 2, we have been very fortunate that our children really love getting handmade gifts. In fact, this Christmas was a handmade by either me or my husband Christmas plus a pair of converse sneakers and two new books each! I think it works for us for a number of reasons: 1) PBS or Qubo is the only tv my kids watch. They watch all the usual movies and such as well, but they don't get bombarded with all those action-packed commercials telling them how cool specific toys are and why they will be cool if they own them. 2) We talk about wants and needs with the kids and watch trends in what they like before we make things. I know that sounds so easy, but I think a lot of people make what they know how to make rather than learning to make (or finding on etsy) what their kids are interested in. This year I learned how to knit a sweatband in slip-stitch on 0 circulars for my obsessed-with-the-eighties boy. I also did some serious image searching on google for some made at home t-shirts. And, yes, he got the yearly hat and socks, but they were in colors he loves. I think when something is made specifically for them, with their interests and preferences being taken into account, there is no competition because what they get is perfect for them! His t-shirts say or show things that he wants them to say or show. His sweatband matches his favorite jacket precisely. The wooden and cloth foods our daughter plays with in her kitchen are her favorite fruits and vegies that she eats every day and loves, not some random selection of cardboard boxed foods she can't identify from Target. and 3)as you already pointed out, when they see all the work, time, love you put into making things for other people, they understand what went into what they made for them (when they are older) and are so happy that it is finally for them (at any age)! (My daughter actually assumes everything I make is for her now!)
    Sorry for the really long and perhaps overly passionate comment, but we have been putting a lot of thought into this subject as a family recently as well! :-)

  5. that's fantastic, michelle. also, i'd love to get handmade stuff, converse sneakers and two books as a christmas present -- sounds perfect to me!
    i have a friend whose 9yo son sounds like a perfect bff match for your 6yo, by the way. incidentally, they have a rule in their house where any request springing from a television ad is almost always denied (of course, they talk about why the kids want X, what they think it'll be like, the nature of the tv ad, etc., and can change the ruling accordingly). that's a pretty interesting practice.

    these are all such good things to think about! mr. t's obvs too young to notice any of this, but i'll definitely be filing it all away for future use. and for now, i follow the same rules for kids i do for adults -- i'm not spending the time to do handmade if they won't appreciate it. luckily, my friends' kids usually do.


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