Crafting to connect

Issue: Volume 93, Number 4

Posted: 10 March 2014
Reference #: 1H9cth

Using bush ‘craft’ as part of outdoor educational experiences can do wonders for student engagement, learning, and connection.

The New Zealand Curriculum takes as its starting point “a vision of our young people as lifelong learners who are confident and creative, connected, and actively involved”. ‘Connected’ is then expanded upon: “to the land and environment” and to each other. If connection is what we want to encourage, then look no further than crafting, says Mark Jones, senior lecturer and outdoor education major coordinator at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

“As a medium to connect students to each other and to their environment, I believe crafting to be unsurpassed,” says Mark. “Crafting, in this context, means making an article of use or a piece of art primarily using our natural surroundings.”

Time spent in natural settings is vital for the healthy development of children and adults alike. Many aspects of The New Zealand Curriculum are arguably best learned in these holistic spaces. Mark explains that crafting presents a rich medium with which to engage students in such places and supports a number of educationally valuable aims, such as: promoting an affinity and respect for nature, developing fine motor skills, fostering positive character traits, and aiding the transfer and retention of learning.

Crafting and the curriculum

The New Zealand Curriculum states that students will be encouraged to value “ecological sustainability, which includes ‘care for the environment’.” Hands-on crafting is a natural fit for supporting this goal. Respectful interactions with nature are best fostered through direct experiences, and Clifford (2003) contends that working with natural materials using traditional technologies is a powerful way to bond with nature.

Mark points out that ‘relating to others’ is a key competency of The New Zealand Curriculum. “Crafting often requires students to help one another, as well as share knowledge and skills. Inevitably, crafting creates a medium through which students can get to know and understand others. Crafting also presents the opportunity to coach others, to assist them, to gift a crafted object to someone else, and simply to engage with others in a common task.”

A crafted item can also assist in the transfer and retention of learning, by becoming a cherished article associated with the participant’s memories of place, experience, and personal learning. It becomes a physical presence in the participant’s life that serves to invoke memories of the educational event.

Character and skill development

Crafting is a powerful medium for developing attributes that are associated with resilience: patience, persistence, attention to detail, the ability to focus and to problem solve are all important traits that crafting can help to nurture. Many projects, small and large, provide a rich medium in which creativity can flourish.

Activities such as knitting, whittling, and weaving can help develop dexterity. At the same time, they produce something tangible that has a touch of their creator in them – an ideal keepsake or gift. Crafting can’t help but develop practical skills and creativity in students. As long as the project is a match for their abilities, both hands and head, they will engage, learn, and develop their psychomotor skills.

Crafting projects

Mark talks us through some simple crafting activities that can be incorporated into an outdoor experience.

Flax projects

Harakeke was and still is the most important plant to Māori, because of characteristics such as its versatility. Māori traditionally have a number of protocols pertaining to harvesting and working with the flax plant. Pendergast (1987) details 50 flax-craft projects garnered from around the pacific, each with its own story and creative potential.

A woven mat can become transformed into a storied tapestry of a group’s experience, serving as a background canvas for the addition of other crafts and treasures that depict the events of a week. The cultural importance of flax to Māori make working with it an ideal opportunity to explore associated Māori values and protocols.

The raupō doll

These are simple figurines constructed from raupō (bullrush) leaves and stems and can be basic or sophisticated in design. A typical construction will involve a number of skills such as: knife work, whipping, cordage making, plaiting, and even weaving and sewing. Creativity is fostered as students individualise and accessorise their creations. Raupō is a resilient native rush and grows abundantly in wetlands and on roadsides. Harvesting the dead leaves with care will have no adverse effect on the plant. The best time to collect the dead leaves is in the autumn.

Cordage making

I never cease to be intrigued by the fascination and satisfaction a student displays when they fashion their own piece of simple cordage for the first time. It’s an easy process no more difficult than plaiting but is a far less common skill. The cordage process can be used to create necklaces, bracelets, or in any place one might normally use string or rope. Suitable materials are flax fibres, the shredded dead leaves of cabbage tree, certain barks, and even sinew.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:54 AM, 10 March 2014

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