Sunday, July 19, 2015

in the days of horses...

I am attending a family reunion and one of my older cousins-in-law told of asking his father years ago about the things he had done as a child. We were talking about what we had done as kids and what kids do now to learn from the world in their unsupervised time of which so little is allowed them these days. (I know this last paragraph deserves some careful editing to make it easy for my readers, but I am on vacation and will let you do the work).

In any case, my cousin's father grew up in New York City and told of using sticks to roll iron hoops through the streets. He and his friends would go everywhere without parentally imposed limits and see how far they could keep their hoops rolling. The iron hoops were discarded from broken wooden barrels. My cousin-in-law asked his father, "Why the sticks?" "Why not just roll them by hand?" And his father reminded, "There were horses."  Is it not true that we learn best and remember most from the experiences in which we have applied ourselves? You may also have wondered why one would roll a hoop with a stick. And yet the answer would be most obvious to those who had done so.

The point is that rolling a hoop with a stick can take you into all kinds of experiences that children today would never be allowed to have. They are given technological devices that keep them sheltered from reality, and ignorant of real life. What they learn most often comes only through the information provided through the device. And yet, if left to their own devices, children might come up with ways to set themselves apart and make greater meaning in their lives as shown in the photo above.

Even the notion that woodworking must be taught,  is part of the problem. Folks think that in order for children to do woodworking, someone must teach them to do so, or that in order to teach children to do woodworking they must go through lessons of some kind and be provided a curriculum.

Yes, there is a right way to hold a knife, and there are things that must be remembered in order to be safe. But there is actually nothing standing in your way but to commence with things. The boy with a bike was in Trondheim in the very early 1900's.

So, what's wrong with American schooling these days? A student of mine addressed this issue years ago. He said told me that he "hated learning." The truth was that he hated being taught. Being taught usually involves being required to feign interest in subjects in which you have little interest, and it involves surrendering your life to boredom enforced under the control of others. Being taught is to exist in a framework of subjugation. Learning on the other hand, is liberation. The fundamental principle of Educational Sloyd is to start with the interests of the child.

Make, fix, create, and inspire others to do the same.


  1. Hi Doug

    Very interesting subject this one.

    Ten years ago while our oldest and No 2 were still in the kinder garden, they had "bring your own toys" on the last Friday of each month.
    One such Friday my children asked if they could bring the sticks for making a sawmill.
    It was just a bunch of sticks 3/8 x 3/8 that were left over from cutting the tongue and groove from some floor boards that I used for another project, most of them were about a feet long, but not sanded or made nice in any way.
    We had sometimes stacked them at home, and I had told them of my own childhood where I had built a similar structure and imagined it was a saw mill. pushing one stick over a table like structure, and let it fall own on the other side.

    I said that they could bring them, but I was pretty sure they would regret it when they saw what other toys the rest of the children had brought, But they insisted.

    When my wife picked them up in the afternoon, most of the activity of the entire group was centered around those sticks. They had all had a great time imagining that they built a saw mill, and everyone could help by pushing a stick through the imaginary saw mill.

    It is interesting to notice how much more fun a game can be when the imagination and fantasy kicks in.

    Brgds Jonas

  2. Jonas,
    too many toys do too much and thus overwhelm the child's natural creativity with the creativity of the toymaker. One blog reader had told a few years back of buying his sons shovels and letting them dig a hole in the back yard. The fascination lasted weeks, and the rewards were enormous. And how many young parents buy too much for their kids and then find that what they like most are the cardboard boxes everything came in.

    We live in a culture that is dominated by objects, and has lost sight of the values inherent in craftsmanship and making.