Friday, January 15, 2016

useful from the child's standpoint...

Yesterday in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, my students walked into class, gathered their guitar parts and went straight to work. I had my hands full answering questions. "Is this OK? Am I doing this right? What do I do now?" I direct some of their questions to their own capacity to observe, for authority must at some point come in their own hands. How does the neck feel as you move your hand down its length? If you move the rasp this way instead of that, what are the results and how do they differ from the results you have gotten so far? I sometimes briefly take the tool and demonstrate what I mean. Sometimes I warn, "Slow down and examine what you've done so far." The students, almost without exception, are excited about the project, because they see it to have potential use to them and because they see their own ideas taking shape in it.
It is a very patent fact that a great deal of the ordinary work which children perform at school, they do not see the value of, i.e., the value either to themselves or to those immediately related to them. If they saw the true value or utility to themselves of any subject, they would take much more interest in acquiring a knowledge of it. Hence in Sloyd it is a principle that the models must not only be useful, but be useful from the child's standpoint. Children are far more interested in making objects when they know that they can make use of them— i.e., they love the labour connected with their manufacture. It is well, too, if the parents regard the work of the children as advantageous and useful. This will be the case if objects be made that can be used in the house. The children will be delighted to assist their parents by doing so, and such acts will foster in them a spirit of unselfishness and consideration for others.– Otto Salomon, the Theory of Educational Sloyd
Today in my own wood shop, I will be applying Danish oil finish to boxes and lining the insides. Boxes I finished yesterday morning are shown in the photo above.

This morning I used the search function in this blog (upper left) to find what I had written about Carl Malmsten, and found a  blog post related to how I use Educational Sloyd in the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School. Finding that creative edge may be useful to anyone wanting to incorporate the spirit of sloyd in their school. Educational Sloyd was not intended to be as rigid as it may have seemed to those incapable of exploring its depths.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.


  1. Excellent post today. Also, the one you referenced from back in 2013 is also splendid. Redirecting students inquiry back to their own observations makes sense. I can see how this technique not only taps into – but continues to support/build up – the power and momentum of their internal drive.

    One area that I have a series of questions is regarding planning of upcoming project/themes….How do you go about determining what the next theme/item is that your students build next? Do other teachers help decide? Is there a kind of queued up list of suggestions? Do you rely somewhat on what you did the prior year? If students decide they want to build something completely different than the current one you have suggested, do they come back to make the item you had recommended or just move on to the next one you present?

  2. Joe, these are very good questions. The answers vary depending on the situation. I try to keep abreast of what students are learning in their other classes with an eye open to integration wherever it might be possible. So with my upper elementary school students who are going to be traveling in Arkansas, are currently studying the Civil War, and will visit a state park that was once the Civil War Capital of Arkansas where they will stay in a school house and take part in re-enactments, students are busy making tools related to their trip... a cutting board map, a sieve for diamond mining, a rock hammer and chisel for crystal mining.

    At the upper school levels, we are making guitars, just because I know it is an area of high student interest, and I did it with my high school students three years ago.

    So sometimes projects are based on student interest, sometimes, on my interest, sometimes on collaboration with others on the teaching staff. One teacher reminded me today of a project that required the wood shop that arose spontaneously during a particular lesson. I try to avoid the use of wood shop as being overly contrived. Where the need for woodshop arose spontaneously and at the suggestion of a student, that constitutes the best of all worlds. There has to be some level of student engagement and buy-in that stands apart from adult objectives. I realize this doesn't necessarily make things easy for those who would like to copy the Wisdom of the Hands program, but the program would not be what it is without being flexible, as all things should be based first of all on student interest. In The theory of educational sloyd, the first principle is "start with the interests of the child."

    I have a student right now who plays chess regularly and is good at it, and she asked that she be allowed to make a chess board instead of a guitar. Being flexible, I said yes. By the time she's done with that, the students making guitars will have moved on in the process and we won't look back at that for about 3 years.

    But if my student makes her own chess board that she will use but not the guitar she doesn't need or want, I see no problem.