Friday, November 04, 2016

knife, chisel plane

I promised to help describe what could be called a curriculum for elementary woodworking education by using the principles of educational sloyd, and my illustration at left helps to show the difficulties involved.

Otto Salomon developed a series of models (the model series) which was to be changed and adapted to the needs (and interests) of children in various communities. The model series was not to be set in stone, as children were different in different nations, and there were different customs and different things they might be inspired to make. Behind the series was a carefully crafted set of exercises in the use of various tools. These were the basic exercises of craftsmanship and were to be used in the selection of models, and were arranged, and introduced through the making of models based on the principles of sloyd: moving from known to unknown,  from easy to more difficult, from simple to complex, and from concrete to abstract. You can find these exercises on P. 80 of Otto Salomon's book, The Theory of Educational Sloyd.

In the illustration of the knife, the chisel and plane you can see that the cutting edge of each tool is similar in purpose, but that the use is more clearly prescribed and limited as technology moves from simple to complex. And yet, the knife was the introductory tool in educational sloyd (particularly in Norway, Finland and Sweden) because the students were already familiar with and comfortable with its use, and the knife offered a far greater range of possible forms. It also offered an invitation to the investigation and understanding of the material that the other similar tools did not.

While a plane would be a safer introduction than either the chisel or knife, it was of more limited use, and the children of Scandinavia were already prepared for safe use. In Denmark, and in the UK, educators argued against the knife, considering it too risky to use in schools, and unrelated to the carpenter's trade.

My own situation at Clear Spring School is unique and I'm not sure how to directly help those who would like to develop programs of their own. On way would be to take the projects that have worked for us, and to describe them and the preparation work required. So a woodworking curriculum can be described from a project base. Another way to establish a curriculum would be to base it on the introduction of various tools, as to age appropriateness, and increasing complexity. A third, more free wheeling approach is to simply follow the interests of the child and require reflection.

You can see that I'm struggling a bit here to do what I said I would do. Ask questions if you like.

Today is the first day of the Artist Studio Tour. My shop, finish room and office are cleaned and ready for guests.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others a chance of learning likewise


  1. Hi Doug,

    I definitely would be interested in reading about a list of your projects, the ages/stages they are designed for, and the skills they build. Knowing the reason for projects can help in generalising to find other similar projects.


  2. Project-based sounds reasonable. But to generalize, it would be most valuable if you're talking about how each was selected (why they might have been selected over others?). I think there is a lot of value if you're also able to address any issues that you ran into and your reflection on them.

  3. Based on your insights so far, I am not sure that a hard fast (in programming you call it hardcoded) curriculum and/or project-by-project plan is required - though anyone can develop one if desired. I think your mention of "Examples or models" makes sense. What it seems like is you have a full spectrum (from simple to more difficult, etc.) of projects that you have compiled over the years. I observe this because you have some items in your blog that reappear from year to year. But these examples/models/projects are like a catalog in a way -- they can be selected or skipped based on if they fit into "your own" setting, maybe based on what is being taught in the other classes (history) and of course the interests of the child. It almost seems if this could be likened to books. The goal is to progress from the simple books to the complex books as you develop reading skills. There are many books (in your case projects) to choose from to accomplish the goal and the exact books will vary a lot depending on what the interests of the child are.

  4. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Hello folks,
    as you write, Doug: the children in scandinavia had been familiar with using knives safely - back then.
    To get a good and safe grip, you need to touch the tool (the knife) as often as possible: The small and tall folks will act more safely with "everyday" tools.
    So, in my opinion, any curriculum should start with the concret in every kid's family. In this case: Hand your children your kitchen paring knife to cut tomatoes, apples, bananas, ... Show them how to hold and use it, and how tasty that food is. After a few test drives the kids will be ready for a new tool: The carving knife, and they will get keen on making very pointed sticks. And what is possible with a bunch of that sticks: plant sticks, paint faces on it, use it with ink as kind of pencil, built puppet-tents,... - And on that way you introduce a hand saw, a drill bit and so on.
    I stop here. I think, the point is, that it is difficult to put in a curriculum for official measurements what you (initially)need to become familiar with working with your hands. And this seems to me (attention, circle closes), because of the loss of everday use of the first tool we need: Our hands ... on knifes, on sticks, on wool, on veggies, animals, mud and water.
    kind regards,

  5. There is such an overwhelming emphasis on creating safe environments that children often miss out on opportunities to grow in order to placate the sensibilities in a gynocentric profession. Is there an age appropriate tool with regards to safety? I would argue that age is a very unreliable factor in determining whether a child is ready to begin with a knife. But a teaching environment organized around age groups cannot accommodate a fuller sense of maturity.
    I assert that children ought to be allowed to use the knife first because of its potential to hurt themselves with it. Of course, they must be taught about safe practices, (nothing focuses the mind better than selfpreservation.) and having established the safe practices early on in such an impressionable level, the students do not need to be retaught with every new tool and situation.

  6. A student of mine (age 10) had gone floating on the Kings River. Her family met another family and decided to have lunch. When the watermelon came out the other child's mother was aghast at the idea of her 11 year old son using a knife to cut open the melon. One must wonder, does that mother also cut her son's meat at the table? Can parents not understand their children's need to do real things? The irony is that the same mother will buy her son a cell phone, and a car and launch him into a far more dangerous world of texting and driving, when he's not yet learned the safe use of a knife.