Science shows crafting is good for the brain, and kids who learn to make things with their hands hold the key to their own happiness.

girl crocheting stitch camp

Photo © Margaret Lampert, excerpted from Stitch Camp.

It’s true that our kids’ fiber-craft book Stitch Camp is chock-full of boredom-busters and gifts kids can make, and those are great reasons to — sales pitch alert! — buy it for your children. But there’s also a bigger, deeper case for kids crafting, and it’s this: people who do meaningful things with their hands are happier than people who don’t.

I’m not saying this only based on, say, my experience of my own grandma clicking her knitting needles contentedly, stopping only to sip from a nearby cup of tea. Or based on my experience of my own children sitting happily with an embroidery project, drifting in and out of conversation the way you do while you’re parallel crafting with someone. Or based on my own experience of bone-deep satisfaction from the simple darning of a sock. I mean, yes — all of these things — but also: science! The kind done by scientists.

Like Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist who has written an entire book on this subject. Her argument is that when you do meaningful work with your hands, your brain rewards you with feel-good dopamine and serotonin. These happy neurochemicals are natural antidepressants, and we’ve evolved to release them when we do something handy; this kind of work helps keep us alive, and our brains want to bribe us to stay alive. Chopping wood, preparing food, building a home. But also, sewing, crocheting, making things, mending things are all activities that your brain interprets as live-preserving (it doesn’t know that you’re making a beanbag rather than, say, a warmth-preserving coat) and it rewards you generously. Make something. Feel good. Period.

boy sewing stitch camp

Photo © Margaret Lampert, excerpted from Stitch Camp.

We can skip the counter-example, which you know already — phones, screens, social media, and the like, which your brain interprets mostly as noise and distraction and meaningless time, which it will refuse to reward you for. Who ever puts down their phone with a deep feeling of satisfaction after watching YouTube skateboard-fail videos? (Spoiler: nobody.) But making something with your hands? That’s where it’s at. Learning skills, solving problems, taking your time, and getting into a relaxing click-clack rhythm with your knitting needles or a meditative back-and-forth with your weaving. Kids need more of that. We all do.

And, luckily, it’s also crazily fun. So no — you don’t need to sell your children on the positive-psychology angle of crafting. You don’t even need to mention it, since crafting sells itself with all the cool things you can make and do. But you can stand by to help them learn, to encourage them to unplug and take their time, to know that they’re engaged in an activity that gives way, way more than it takes.

kids crafting stitch camp

Photo © Margaret Lampert, exerpted from Stitch Camp.

One thing my co-author Nicole and I love about fiber crafts is that they’re fun to do in a totally solitary, quietly thoughtful way and they’re fun to do with a friend or even a group of friends. Informal craft parties and get-togethers are super delightful, and they can be especially great for learning new skills, asking questions, and getting help with a project.

We also recommend that kids bring their project with them wherever they go, partly because it’s satisfying to pull out some knitting while waiting for the orthodontist (hello, time not wasted!), and partly because they may end up in the company of a person who knows a lot about it.

We have to confess: we love our book, and we’ve done our very best to make the instructions clear, but there is still no substitute for learning these skills from a real, live human. Siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, teachers, babysitters, counselors, and friends are the greatest resources young makers have got. Encourage them to ask around to see who knows how to do what — and have them ask that person to share their knowledge! It’s one of the best ways to learn, and it offers an amazing chance to deepen relationships.

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Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of What Can I Say? and the award-winning bestseller How to Be a Person, as well as two parenting memoirs:… See Bio

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Stitch Camp

by Nicole Blum and Catherine Newman

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