Saturday, September 24, 2016

the power of something you've made yourself

Little man with big meaning. He made it himself
On Thursday when I was not at school, my student Jack was looking for me. A foot had come loose on his little toy man he had finished on Wednesday, and it had to be fixed. Fortunately, his main teacher had a hammer and was able to come to the rescue. She told me that he plays with it constantly, as I could see for myself.  At the time, Jack was in the volleyball court with it, digging and burying his little man only to pull him up again and again triumphantly from the sand. I was watching a symbolic resurrection drama taking place in his hands and mind.
How can a thing crudely made be so full of meaning? But the loveliness and power of it comes from his having made it himself. If you've not made something yourself, try making something and see if you can discover what I mean.

The following is a brief excerpt from my new book Making Classic Toys that Teach, and may help to explain:
Mademoiselle Albertine Necker de Saussure wrote the following in the early 1800s: “It is a matter of surprise to some, that children are satisfied with the rudest imitations. They are looked down upon for their want of feeling for art, while they should rather be admired for the force of imagination that renders such illusion possible. Mold a lump of wax into a figure or cut one out of paper, and, provided it has something like legs and arms and a rounded piece for a head, it will be a man in the eyes of the child. This man will last for weeks; the loss of a limb or two will make no difference; and he will fill every part you choose to make him play. The child does not see the imperfect copy, but only the model in his own mind. The wax figure is to him only a symbol on which he does not dwell. No matter though the symbol be ill chosen and insignificant; the young spirit penetrates the veil, arrives at the thing itself, and contemplates it in its true aspect. Too exact imitations of things undergo the fate of the things themselves, of which the child soon tires. He admires them, is delighted with them, but his imagination is impeded by the exactness of their forms, which represent one thing only; and how is he to be contented with one amusement? A toy soldier fully equipped is only a soldier; it can not represent his father or any other personage. It would seem as if the young mind felt its originality more strongly when, under the inspiration of the moment, it puts all things in requisition, and sees, in everything around, the instruments of its pleasure. A stool turned over is a boat, a carriage; set on its legs it becomes a horse or a table; a bandbox becomes a house, a cupboard, a wagon—anything. You should enter into his ideas, and, even before the time for useful toys, should provide the child with the means of constructing for himself, rather than with things ready made.”
I had a simple breakthrough during the week with a new high school student who had been unwilling to express himself. He began asking questions in wood shop, and I learned he was taking a more open attitude in his other classes as well. I wood shop, he wanted to know why a shaker box would be made in one way, and not another. I suggested he try his own method, and he did, learning for himself the efficiency of traditional methods.What comes next? We will see. I overheard some of the high schools students telling each other that wood shop is their favorite subject, and I don't think it was because they thought I might hear.

Today I'll work on the text for the Fine Woodworking article on hinges, and power wash the deck in preparation for staining.

Make, fix, create, and demonstrate for others the potential in learning likewise.

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