I think I might have always done some form of craft from a young age. Making gifts and cards for my Mum when I was at primary school, creating my own school bag from Army Surplus kit with painted motif although that was a thing in the late 70s early 80s that we all did , and more recently whittling wood to make spoons and other objects.
In schools I have used the idea of crafting in sessions with primary and high school-aged children in work I have done around using the Tree of Life method – a form of narrative therapy which uses the symbol of the tree to look at aspects of strengths within the child and their family and community.
When I run the sessions I have a range of creative and fun resources to help them create the tree but also the developing stories/narratives that develop.
Many of the young people who come to the sessions are from asylum/refugee situations and we use the process of developing the tree to help them share their story and also identify the rich history and culture they have which will help them in their new found situation.
During these sessions many of the young people have commented on how they like the craft aspect of the sessions. Making and creating together from tissue paper, lollipop sticks, glitter, beads, and other craft materials.
When I have asked them about this they often have told me that they like the way it takes them away from the present,that problems and stress seem to go away in that moment, and that in schools that they were pupils in they would have space to craft – make things and just have a space to do things.
Some of them felt that this was missing from our schools that being able to make and create something of your own that isn’t a lesson or homework is important to help them relax and socialise in a different sort of way.
I think they are onto something because it seems that all the recent mental health reports into the well-being of young people identifies an ever increasing number of them in crisis, having anxiety and low mood, and more often than not feeling isolated.
I think offering a space to make and create for its own sake is vital to good health and well-being. It seems as though crafting is a mindful activity which can help the brain to focus and not be distracted by other things, can help young people express something of their identity and creativity in a non-threatening way, and offers a space to be social around the shared activity.
As I look over my life I can see moments of craft that I treasure that I had the chance to do. Who can forget the joy of creating your own pom-pom from a cutout cardboard circle and wool borrowed from your mum’s knitting, protecting your school books with your family’s 70s wallpaper, making small characters from lollipop sticks, and designer paper from paint and washing up liquid.
I think crafting could have a larger place in school life to allow children and young people the time and space to do something else other than work. It certainly would allow for them to express their own individuality, reduce stress by engaging in an activity that is mindful in its nature, and bring them together for a shared experience that can be fun and creative.
Carl Dutton is a psychodrama psychotherapist working in the NHS in FRESH CAMHS at Alderhey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.