At Clear Spring School I have the luxury of working with all grade levels from pre-school through high school, so have the opportunity to observe child development over an extended range of ages. I also have the luxury of having worked with some of the students I have now all the way from first grade to high school. So while other teachers and administrators have come and gone, I tend to be one of the fixtures of stability and insight.
On Wednesday, I got out a student's unfinished cigar box guitar with the intention of discussing making musical instruments with my upper level classes. June, a second grader, saw the guitar and insisted that she wanted to make one. Oen had seen the older children at work on bows, and insisted that he needed to make one of those. He had been searching through the wood scraps for weeks looking for a piece to use for a small bow.
At first, I tried to explain to Oen and June that these projects were for the older kids, and that the guitar involved so many steps that had to be performed in a certain order. She asked if she could have this piece for the neck and that piece for making the body. She insisted that a hole had to be drilled "right there." As she had seen me do, she used a small paint can to trace the shape of the hole. When I tried again to explain the complications involved, she climbed up on a stool, at the work bench and with a sloyd knife and awl began trying to dig a hole through the board.
What I had forgotten was that for many young children the symbol of the object may have as much power as the real object itself. While I was trying to explain to June how difficult it is to make a guitar, I was looking at the guitar from my perspective based on the experience of making musical instruments. From hers, a guitar was simply an object to hold and strum, and whether or not it makes sounds at the right pitch, or even makes real sounds at all, was beside the point.
Oen, having selected a thin piece of white oak for his bow, asked that I string it for him. At that point, it was nothing more than a strip of white oak that he could bend in his hands. I asked him how I was to string it if it had no notches at the end. "What do you mean," he asked. "Go look at a bow that one of the older students is making," I suggested. Looking across the room, he saw immediately what I had in mind. It was a thing he had never observed before. He cut notches with a hand saw, I added the string, and with a dowel for an arrow, he had a working bow that gave him hours of enjoyment.
And in all that was the opportunity for me to witness and better understand how children grow. And that, my dear friends is how it all worked before standardized testing came to the fore, and teachers were no longer trusted to assess growth and children were never allowed to do real things.
Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn likewise.