Thursday, January 26, 2017

work with kids...

I had a conversation with a school principal from Canada yesterday and he asked for some details about setting up a school program. One aspect is the cost. What would one expect to pay for the necessary tools and materials to put children to work? There are a couple different approaches.

Back in the days of Educational Sloyd, it was suggested that there be a bench and complete set of tools for each student in class. So if you had 10 students in a class at a time,  ten benches, 10 of each type of plane, ten of each size of chisel, 10 of each type of saw, and ten of each required type of marking tool would be required.

I'm more of an incrementalist in my approach. You do not need to start out with every tool in the book, as you would never introduce all the tools at once and confuse the child over which tool to do what. With that said, however, a basic pull type saw,  a small block plane, a knife, and a hammer are enough to get going, provided you have some way to hold the wood so it can be safely cut. Tomorrow I'll raise the issue of vices and clamps. Instead of having individual workbenches, each with its own set of tools, tools at Clear Spring School are kept on racks, and tools that have less frequent use can be in smaller numbers to be shared.

For years, I've used Vaughan and Bushnell Bear Saws in the school wood shop. And over the next few days, I'll focus on one type of tool at a time. One of the advantages of the Bear saw is that it's of Japanese deign so that it works on the pull rather than push, and it has smaller teeth to make a lighter cut than a more conventional western hand saw. Also useful are coping saws. They present a bit of confusion in their use because they can make a curving cut, but the thin blade passes easily through wood without the binding that comes from a wider blade in inexperienced hands.

It is funny how easily a saw will cut wood, but how difficult it can become if you begin by awkwardly twisting the saw this way and that, making the work so much more difficult for yourself. Students can end up fighting the tool rather than fighting for the control of their attention in the first place. So the big challenge is not mastery of the saw, but mastery of the hand and mind holding the saw.

One of the benefits of woodworking is that children must become more aware of their own bodies to do it. In order for a saw to pass straight through wood, or along a marked line posture is important as is smooth motion and steady control of the limbs. The cultivation of the power of attention is an aspect of development that takes place through woodworking that applies to every other activity in school and in life.

I will come up with a selected tool list and approximate cost, keeping in mind, however that the world is full of unused tools that can be acquired for less than one might think.

Yesterday in the wood shop, my first through 6th grade students worked on projects that they decided for themselves. One 5th grade student, having made a doll house for his sister on Monday, decided to make furniture and a doll today. Part of the challenge a teacher faces in wood shop is to watch over safety but avoid interfering with the student's opportunity for discovery.  A first grader insisted that glue enough would hold the house she was making together. After the glued pieces kept sliding apart and falling, she asked, "How can I do this?" "Would you like to try nails," I asked? You can see her success in the photo above.

It is always a mistake for a teacher to walk into a classroom, unprepared. It is also a mistake to insist that the teacher's lesson stand in the way of real learning. Instruction should come when the child asks for it, proving him or herself ready.

Rather than tell the whole of the woodworking with kids story in one blog post, I alerted the Canadian School principal to a page of notes found in the column at right. The link is called Doug Stowe's WOH Articles and Papers, and could keep an enthusiast reading for a week. It includes youtube videos, articles about woodworking education I wrote for various magazines, and scholarly articles I presented at conferences in Finland and Sweden. All of these papers are hosted in a folder on my website:

In addition to classes at the Clear Spring School, I've finished my scissor tail box guitar, so it and a few others are ready to ship to my publisher for the cover photography. I made tail pieces for 4 guitars today, and after nuts and bridges are made, those too, will be ready for strings.

Make, fix, create, and offer others the chance to learn likewise.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:18 PM

    Paraphrasing Master Shifu "to master the handsaw you must find inner peace". Kung Fu Panda.

    Nick from Canada