Monday, April 12, 2010

Crafting Some Magic

I love doing craft activities with children, although I am not especially crafty by nature. If anyone who knows me now had seen me struggling and cursing during my skilled craft courses in OT school {woodworking class was like entering the twelfth circle of hell every Tuesday and Thursday, but my weaving class was a lot of fun... until we had to warp our looms} or watched me staring in shock and awe as my classmates completed one beautiful, elaborate project after another in crafts lab, while I demolished an entire box of tiles trying over and over to crack just one of them neatly in half for a mosaic, you'd be amazed at me now.

I think what convinced me to continue using craft as a clinician was recognizing how profoundly uncomfortable the emotional struggle was for me when I was faced with something I couldn't do very easily. I grappled hard, both with myself and with the materials at hand, to come out the other side and complete the task. I was so frustrated, so down on myself, so ready to drop out of the program altogether, cowed by my inability to do something that came so easily to everyone else around me. But I was too proud to fail and too invested in completing my schooling at that point to quit, so I dug in, got some help when I needed it, and plowed through. I was thrilled with myself when I managed to finish my projects, and some of them, amazingly enough, received "superior workmanship" grades from the teacher. I also enjoyed the feeling of being as one with my materials as the world faded away and I was totally immersed in creating my project.

What the right craft activity could really accomplish became clear to me when I was a student therapist. I had a patient assigned to me in a rehab unit, a woman who had had a slight stroke. She had good use of her body, but was having perceptual difficulties that made dressing and other self care activities impossible. Despite the fact that she was mobile, she wouldn't have been able to live independently, the way she presented in the unit. She had full use of her arms and legs but couldn't dress or bathe herself without supervision. Her lack of safety awareness and inability to plan and problem solve were worrisome.

Remembering how difficult it was for me to conceptualize and execute a design for my tile mosaic, I asked the therapist who was supervising me if I could give her a tile project for one of her three daily 45 minute OT sessions -- minus the cracking, of course. I thought it might be a good way to get that part of her brain, the one responsible for perceiving her environment, interpreting the data, and making it possible for her to take appropriate action, back in gear.

Just watching her wrestle with the initiation phase was an education for me. She had no idea how to even begin. I sat with her and encouraged her to figure it out, piece by painful piece. It was a challenge for me as well, not to jump in and try to help unless she got so stuck that the frustration was too much. Slowly, painfully, with much trial and error, she managed to design, and began to execute, a simple pattern of tiles, which she proceeded to glue onto a metal dish.

Magically, after a few days of struggle with the project, her clothing ceased to be alien swatches of random fabric, and began to be shirts, socks, and trousers. They once again permitted themselves to be oriented correctly, pulled onto the correct limb, buttoned, zipped, and tucked without too much effort. We went into the clinic kitchen, found some flour and shortening, bowls and spoons, and she mixed and baked some biscuits. Then she took the clinic's sewing kit, threaded a needle, and expertly sewed and knotted a button. This particular task had completely eluded her a couple of weeks earlier during her evaluation; when presented with the sewing kit and the button, she had held them for a few minutes, turning them around in her hands, and then put them back on the table with a sigh.

Of course it wasn't only the craft activity that had made the difference for this woman, but it was quite wonderful to watch how quickly her brain reorganized itself when challenged with the right tasks. After another week of intensive therapy, she went home.

Making things is a high level, powerful activity. When we give our children the opportunity to engage with materials, solve problems, make decisions, struggle with frustration, and ultimately create something uniquely theirs, we are truly giving them the world.

1 comment:

Regula said...

Making things and using immagination and creativity are basic tools for life. I'm glad that I had parents and teachers who encouraged me to do anything with my hands from making a fire to knitting a sweater. I even tried to make shoes of a old tire once.

I'm happy that handcraft still is a subject in the schedule of the public schools in Switzerland.