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Boy Craft Book Review

30/04/2014 18:43 | Updated 20 May 2015

Boycraft book review

As the craft-loving mother of a seemingly craft-disinterested little boy, I was intrigued to see a new book, Boy Craft, which encourages boys to make things, and says boys can even love sewing and knitting.

From papier maché heads to giant bean bags to model making to a t-shirt scarf, Boy Craft, out now, is crammed with tried-and-tested activities for boys.

I do everything I can to encourage my three-year-old son to get into art and making things - mum friends and I even have a toddler craft circle all set up. But what always happens is that the little girls happily sit sticking and colouring while my son jumps down from the table wanting to play with cars and trains.

Typically, the other day, he brought home from nursery two paper butterflies he had made with the other children. I said how beautiful they were and he just looked at them in utter disparagement and said: 'Don't like them'. He would probably rip them up if left alone with them...

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My own experience used to make me wonder if boy craft is really a phenomenon or just wishful thinking. Even as a feminist, I admit there is some part of me which has always assumed my son won't learn to knit or sew in the same way I expect my daughter might.

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Looking at two craft books for children I was sent to review last year, one for boys and one for girls, I noticed how the girls' book was titled: The Girls' Book of Crafts and Activities, while the boys' book was simply The Boys' Book of Things to Make. It was as if the word 'crafts' was considered too girly for boys.

To me, the girls' craft book is rather dull. Friendship bracelets; gift boxes; growing strawberries in wellies; healthy cooking. The boys' book, by contrast, is full of creative activities: make a periscope; make planets out of milk and food colouring; make a board game; glow in the dark jelly; magic tricks; animation.

I know which book I'd rather have had as a little girl, and which one I'd give to my daughter.

Why do many of us assume crafting is more for girls? The authors of Boy Craft, Sara Duchars and Sarah Marks, who run kids' craft kit company Buttonbag, and have three sons and a tomboy aged from eight to 12 between them, say it's time to step outside the gender myth.

"I think the desire to create is fairly universal and unfortunately, it often gets channelled into traditional gender-aligned roles during play," says Sarah. "So boys are conditioned to express their creative urges through play that is a reflection of men's traditional jobs - like carpentry or construction - while girls are encouraged to work on things that are mostly about appearance or home.

"Textile craft is traditionally seen as domestic or fashion-orientated and we positively encourage that focus in girls and discourage it in boys. Any craft that is traditionally done in the home is primarily seen as part of the female domain, despite the fact that the economic and social context that created that link is now much weaker. Interestingly, Savile Row and all the major fashion houses are dominated by men."

According to Sarah, boys can and do get really interested in textiles. "One of Buttonbag's first craft kits, Adventure Peg Dolls, was created in response to demands to make peg dolls for boys, from our own broods,' says Sarah. "So we came up with Adventure Pegs - no fairy wings, no frilly skirts - just knights and pirates and swords and helmets."

She adds: "Finger knitting [which also features in Boy Craft] is really popular with boys of about eight and up. There was a craze for it at my son's school recently and the playground was full of boys showing off their multi-coloured scarves.

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It got so popular that one local comprehensive had to ban finger-knitting in class!

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As for boys like my son, who are only interested in machines, or who are too young to understand sewing or knitting, Sarah says the key to getting them into crafting is about focusing on their interests. "If he's into cars, go with cars. My younger son Oliver is more interested in cars and he really liked making junk box rally cars [Boy Craft explains how to make toy cars out of jam jar lids, cotton reels, old CDs, egg boxes and so on]. If he's into sticks, make some animals by nailing or tying sticks together.

"Getting messy is another part of getting boys into craft. Boys also love dressing up. Oliver and Alfie [Sara's son] loved making false beards and then wearing them!"

I think Sarah is spot on. One day my son and I made a rocket out of three loo-rolls and a plastic hanger, and he loved it. And a week or two later, we turned an enormous cardboard box into a 'car' complete with a steering wheel, a boot and front and back seats. My son may still have zero interest in making cards or butterflies, but driving the 'car' has become one of his favourite games.

When I asked my friends whether their sons liked crafts, I was interested to hear a resounding 'Yes' in response. "Goodness, I thought all boys were mad about making things?" says Lynley. "Give boys a whole pile of stuff, paints, etc and in my experience you'll soon have glitter covered robots, dinosaurs and spaceships all over the place. And a huge mess."

Heidi, who herself is not into crafting, says: "My nine-year-old son loves all things art and crafty. It's always been his thing since he was tiny. I don't see it as a gendered thing at all... Art is his favourite subject at school and he wants to be an architect when he grows up."

Chloe's three-year-old also loves crafty stuff, she says: "Especially making things like Mister Maker, gluing, glitter and so on.

"I do think, though,"' she adds, "that girls the same age are more likely to concentrate at one task and so sometimes enjoy crafts more."

I think this explains why my little boy isn't too keen on sitting at a table with play dough or paints for long. Perhaps he'll be an engineer; perhaps he'll suddenly discover art one day. For now, though, we're going to keep making vehicles out of cardboard.

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