"The Handicrafts best fitted for children under nine seem to me to be chair-caning, carton-work, basket-work, Smyrna rugs, Japanese curtains, carving in cork, samplers on coarse canvas showing a variety of stitches, easy needlework, knitting (big needles and wool), etc."--Charlotte Mason, Home Education
One of the original PNEU programmes for Form 1A (second- and third-graders) recommends these (vintage) books on handicrafts: "Carton Work, by G.C. Hewitt (King, Halifax, 2/-); make a pin tray, a salt-cellar, a book-mark, and a table. Japanese Curtains (see Aunt Mai's Annual, 1894, Glaisher, 2/8). Self-Teaching Needlework Manual (Longmans, 9d.) : children to be exercised in stitches, pages 1-6. Use coarse canvas and wool, then coloured cotton and coarse linen." For the youngest class that same year, these handicrafts were recommended: "Attend to garden (see Aunt Mai's Annual, 1894, Glaisher, 2/6). Smyrna rugs (Aunt Mai's Annual, 1894, Glaisher, 2/6). Carton Work, by G. C. Hewitt (King, Halifax, 2/-): make a pillar-box, a match box, a pen tray, and a vase. Self-Teaching Needlework Manual (Longmans, 9d.): children to be exercised in stitches, pages 1-15. Use coarse canvas and wool, then coloured cotton and coarse linen. Make a pair of cuffs."
What's carton-work? I think it's like Paper Sloyd--making models and useful things with cardboard. Besides the PNEU-recommended book above, here's another vintage title you might look up: The 'A.L.' carton-work, by Joseph Henry Judd, 1909. "Being a combined scheme of planning, drawing, folding, cutting, supermounting, and constructing in paper and cardboard, for lower forms, junior elementary, and secondary schools."
What's a Japanese curtain? If you don't have Aunt Mai's Annual, The Boy Mechanic Volume 1 has full instructions for you.
What's a Smyrna rug? More complicated, because there are real Smyrna rugs, and there is a kind of Smyrna weaving, and there are Smyrna embroidery stitches, but I think I have the answer. According to Charles Dickens' Household Words, an old-fashioned method of knitting rugs was re-popularized by Paul Schulze, author of Designs for the home-knit oriental (Smyrna) rugs", 1884. From the same article on this hot new craft:
"A revival of a very old-fashioned kind of knitting is finding favour amongst ladies who want something easy to work, and that entails but little trouble. It has been registered by Mr. Paul Schulze, and is known as Smyrna rug-knitting, but it is an adaption of the old rug-knitting that used to be done with odds and ends of worsteds, and without any design. Mr. Schulze has patented a quantity of patterns of decidedly Eastern design, and has elevated a rather ugly accomplishment into something decorative and really useful. All people are now familiar with the peculiarly soft colouring and intricate design of the carpets and mats that come from the East, and also with the soft, imperceptible way the patterns melt into each other, and are not cut and marked out like our European workmanship. This blending of colour with colour is seized upon in the Smyrna rug-knitting, and mats of all shapes and sizes, for drawing-room, carriage, or bedroom use, and even strips for the sides of beds, or to place upon polished floors, are made in this way.The Book of the Home: An Encyclopaedia of All Matters Relating to the House and Household Management, by H. C. Davidson (1905) promises that "As the rugs are formed of strips, to be sewn together afterwards, they are not difficult to hold, and even an indifferent worker, with practice, can make sure of good results." And Varied Occupations in String Work, by Louisa Walker, calls the same kind of knitting “String Rugs,” and says that "This occupation is particularly suitable for the boys, because the work is rather firm and needs strong little fingers to hold a large piece." Walker's book (you can Google-Books it) gives clearer directions than does the first article, and uses bits of cloth and string rather than fancy wools. I'm not sure which version Charlotte Mason had in mind for children's handicrafts, but I'm guessing that it was something closer to Varied Occupations in String Work.
The materials required are the Smyrna wools, which are of very soft shades and of six-strand make; steel knitting-pins, No. 13; a wooden stick with a groove down it upon which to wind the wool and cut it to its proper length; the pattern, and the fine twine or cotton upon which to knit the tufts. The strips are made as wide as possible, but it is better to try a short length first. The work is done as follows: Cut up the wool on the stick and arrange it in little heaps as to colour, cast on the number of stitches required—say twenty or forty, two stitches for one stitch on the pattern—knit the first stitch plain, take up the piece of wool required, put it across the work, one end on each side of the knitting, and knit the second stitch, pass the end of the wool on the wrong side of the work round the knitted stitch to the front of the work; knit the next plain, and put wool between the third and fourth stitch, knit the fourth stitch, pass the end of the wool on the wrong side across it and to the front, and knit the fifth stitch; and so on to the end of the row, always consulting the pattern as to the colour of the wool. Work a perfectly plain row between each wool row. Always work the row in which the wool is inserted with the back of the knitting towards the worker, and the plain knitting row with the right side of the work towards the worker. By this arrangement the dots made by inserting the wool can easily be counted, and the pattern followed, as each dot represents one stitch of the design. The design will not be seen until a good length of the work is done: it will then be found that the various colours amalgamate very prettily, and that the Eastern appearance is rather heightened than not by the irregularities in the length of the wood inserted, it being impossible to knit every piece in quite evenly. Messrs. Fandel and Phillips keep the material for this new work. The rugs and carpets so made will cost less than real Smyrna articles, although cheap imitations can be had at a less price; but ladies will find their own rug-work lasts much longer than the latter, and will also have the pleasure of doing it. Very little eyesight is required, and the strips can be joined together by overcasting when finished so as to make carpets."
What does all this come down to? Lifetime skills...hobbies...making useful and decorative things...and looking for crafts that adults like to do as well as children. Forty years ago that might have been making macrame plant hangers. For my Squirrelings the big fad a few years ago was embroidery-floss friendship bracelets and bead jewelery. ..which they still enjoy doing, along with knitting and crocheting. Pick out something you all like, and enjoy working together!