Wednesday, April 19, 2017

starting with the interests of the child

I was contacted by a man interested in starting a woodworking program who had read some old books about Sloyd and was surprised (it seemed) that we at the Clear Spring School are not following a model series. He wanted to know if I knew of anyplace in the world where Sloyd was being practiced as it was and as represented in the old books.

I explained that it would be a violation of the principles of Educational Sloyd if it was. I attempted to explain my own program as follows:
No, I do not claim to be following Sloyd, but rather attempting to utilize the philosophy of Sloyd, outlined as follows.
  • Start with the interests of the child.
  • Move from the known to the unknown
  • from the easy to more difficult,
  • from the simple to the complex and
  • from the concrete to the abstract.
As with most models (sloyd itself is a model), there are problems that emerge when slavishly applied. Salomon saw sloyd as a "casting mold" from which better models would emerge. Or in other words, he saw it as a step in a process.

But what happens in all models is that adherents adopt them as though they are the last word. Sloyd should be the first word, not the last.

So starting with the interests of the child, what he knows, etc, the models or the 19th century are not necessarily what a child in the 21st wants to make. I could work to come up with my own model series that would be just as out of touch if I am truly attempting to consider and continuously reconsider the interests of the child.

So my own teaching requires flexibility, some negotiation, and a lot of individual attention to each child.
I've gotten requests from teachers who want me to share a “Clear Spring School woodworking curriculum.” I have a philosophy instead, that attempts to utilize the principles of Educational Sloyd.
I am sorry if this philosophy does not give a clearer starting point for teachers interested in starting programs. The important part is to simply start. Just as the student will learn by observation, so does the teacher. Choose some very simple models of things your child would like to make, remembering that at first you and your child will know very little about what it takes, the skill involved, or the steps. For that starting point, some of the old Sloyd models from the books can be of clear use.

Mike Mascelli, one of my fellow teachers at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, suggested that my students would love learning to sew. He suggested the Singer Model 20 as being the ideal machine to get them started. It was originally sold as a "toy" but one that does real sewing. My first, second and third grade students will start today. When one little girl saw the machine, her eyes lit up. "Doll clothes!" she exclaimed.

Make, fix, and create. Help others to learn likewise.


  1. Anonymous4:44 AM

    A multi-disciplinary activity is making string puppets. Painted head in "papier mâché". Skeleton in wood and leather for the joints. Clothes sewed from rags.
    Writing a drama. Making a puppet stage, stage set and accessories. Mastering the puppets. Playing the drama (memory and elocution).
    As an alternative to skeleton with clothes, a completely carved puppet. Some limbs might be turned.
    For smaller child: hand puppet.(clothes and papier mâché head and hands [or carved in styrofoam?])

  2. Thanks for this article, Doug. I have been thinking about the same thing as the man you mentioned in the article. I have been going through the old Sloyd/Slojd books trying to find something that would be relevant and interesting to kids today (without much luck). Do you have any suggestions for some starter models for Modern Educational Sloyd? Perhaps you'd be willing to share a beginning supply list too? We've got Sloyd knives, curved spoon knife, work bench with a (metal) vise installed, hammers, nails, etc. . . .

  3. Nicole, what I need to do is to gather and organize materials in a more easily accessible format. I am hoping one of my publishers will help me to bring out a Wisdom of the Hands workbook that will have sections on tools, materials and materials prep, and favorite projects. That has been on my list for a very long time, and I will get diligently to work on it over the summer months after the ESSA wood shop is up and running with classes.

  4. Wow, Doug, that sounds really great! As you may or may not already know, there are many families trying to faithfully implement a Charlotte Mason homeschool education for their homes (and in schools too). Mason, a contemporary of Froebel, emphasized Sloyd (and handicrafts generally) in her curriculum (which in all areas emphasized educating the whole person, not just with books). Anyway, there are lots of people (especially me!) who would be grateful to have some hand-holding on how to teach paper-cardboard-wood Educational Sloyd for today's children.

  5. Anonymous11:07 AM

    I don't know if my comment has been lost in the cyberspace or if you choose not to publish it, so I try again.

    In 1959, I was about 8 in a mixed class (while my elder sister and brother were respectively in girls only and boys only classes). I had no problem in learning embroidery. My gran son (aged 3) is of the wrong opinion that sewing is for girls. Obviously there always has been men sewing (tailors, sailors [no other choice while at sea], sail makers, people working with leather, etc.) While I have learned hand sewing, using a sewing machine is a plus as boys like to use machines. Now making doll clothes might not attract them. This is where my lost comment was starting.

    Making string puppet might be a good multidisclinary project:
    - Making puppet with a simple wooden skeleton;
    - Sewing puppet clothes (this need to make also male clothes);
    - Making puppet heads in "papier mâché" or carved in wood or in styrofoam;
    - Making puppet with carved body and turned limbs;
    - Writing a drama (which would define the puppet to be made);
    - Making a puppet stage, set and accessories;
    - Music and songs;
    - Making a basic light table to drive small projectors;
    - Mastering the puppet;
    - Performance (elocution);

    Now, just making a puppet which needs clothes and mastering the movements will already be a good challenge. When they have the puppet they would temselves want to perform a drama.

    Smaller kids could do hand puppets.

    Other sewing idea is making disguises (Zorro etc.)

  6. Sylvain,
    I'm not sure what happened to your earlier post except cyberspace must have eaten it. It never showed up here.

    Why is it that some boys have an opposition to sewing? I do not understand that. When I was in high school I sewed the upholstery for my model A Ford. The one who introduced me to the tiny Singer in this post is an upholsterer of some great repute. Making puppets has been of great interest at various ages at Clear Spring School and some of the younger boys are always crafting things representing the characters in their favorite video games.

    Part of the problem is the way we genderize toys, making them for boys or for girls, and the assumptions we make about gender and gender identification concerning whether or not boys are to play with dolls and girls with trucks. Part of the problem also is that roles in our culture were traditionally assigned by gender, and jobs were to be assigned by gender also. So in school, girls were to sew, and boys were to hammer, even though both would have enjoyed very much what the other was doing.

    I am getting the tiny machine to work and coming up with things that can be done with it. Your suggestions are good.

    One thing for certain is that boys and girls love wood shop equally, and they ought to enjoy sewing the same way.