Friday, October 19, 2018

mad hatter

The Mad Hatter Ball in support of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts is tonight. Grab a hat or make one and head for the fun at the Crescent Hotel.

My Krenov inspired cabinet from my book Building Small Cabinets will be auctioned off to support ESSA. There will be a number of other art objects being sold to provide art classes and administrative support.

There are three things that are important to the future of our small town of Eureka Springs. One is that we are a "Tree City USA," a designation that requires us to protect our trees, thus preserving natural scenic beauty. Two, we have a designated historic district encompassing nearly the whole town, making certain that we act to preserve the contributions of earlier generations. The third point is that we are an arts community.

Being an arts community inspired our citizens to protect our trees and our historic buildings, streets and stone walls. In consequence, protecting these important qualities has made our citizenry appreciate the beauty with which we are surrounded. And you do not even have to be an artist to appreciate what we have here.

My upper elementary school students are building arched bridges as shown. They were particularly offended when tour buses crossed the historic bridge at Beaver Town. Not only did those buses surpass the weight limit, putting the historic bridge at risk, they put their own passengers at risk of death by drowning. You can see the stupidity of it here:

Having a citizenry attuned to the values of our natural and historic treasures can be an impediment to business as usual. So perhaps that's one reason schools would prefer to focus on standardized tests and not on the character of our youth. The drivers of those buses should be arrested for reckless driving and endangering their passengers. In all likelihood, they were not.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Archeological wood working

Yesterday my high school students began saving an old thread cabinet that had once been used in a drygoods store to sell thread, and that had then been stored in a barn. Unlike some that you can buy on eBay for a thousand dollars or more, this one is in desperate condition. Unlike those that you can buy for a thousand dollars or more, this one was owned by a family for many years and has family history attached.

Parts are missing. Other stray parts were stashed within. One thing we found was the steel key to a small safe. And the kids were captured by their imaginings as they began taking the cabinet apart where necessary and beginning the clean up. Fortunately the group of students is small, each can work on a part and none are left out.

Teaching is a complex exercise. Each pupil arrives at school with his or her own unique accumulation of prior knowledge. Each comes with a unique set of goals and parental expectations.

Each arrives with aspects of personality, firmly set. And the teacher's complex job is to foster the growth in each one. Of course, from the administrative standpoint (the perspective that drives most schools and American education at large) all kids are the same and are to be delivered the same packets of learning, timed to meet the administrative goals and methods established at the top.

And so, if that's the case, when do students have time to saw? When will students open the doorways to their own imaginations?

Make, fix, and create...

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rosie project day two.

Guided by the Monk's guide: The Art of Raising a Puppy, we have added Golden Doodle Rosie to our household.

She had one accident on the floor and has set up a mournful howl when I'm out of sight. All animal behavior is evolved from millions of years of development just as is our own. Folks would like to think that human beings are different, and particularly that human beings in the digital age are different from ever before.

We are, Rosie and the rest of us, constantly learning to cope, adapt and to get along with each other.

Make, fix and create...

an introduction.

The dog is Rosie and we pick her up this morning. She is an 8 1/2 week old golden doodle, joining our small family. We've been without a pet for years now and take the adoption and training of a pup very seriously.

I have been reading a great book on the subject of adopting a puppy by the Monks of New Skete. It seems dogs and children have a lot in common. Each is an individual. Each learns best through the gentleness of play. Occasionally stern measures are required. Each has to find his or her place in the pack and his or her role in the family and community. For dogs there are alpha males and alpha females and then more submissive roles. There is also a natural process of growth, development and group integration that, if disrupted can lead to difficulties requiring stern measures for correction.

In a community of humans, things are only a bit more complex. So if you want to learn a bit more about basic human psychology, read The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete. Handled gently from the beginning, in full recognition of the various patterns of individuality, children and pups can be steered toward constructive relationships.

Yesterday in wood shop at the Clear Spring School my first grade boys learned to make toy cars and super heroes. For most it was the first time to use a saw.

In the meantime, welcome Rosie!

Make, fix, and create.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A swivel lid box.

One important question about sharpening has to do with which method to use (waterstones, oil stones, diamond stones or sand paper.) I think we concluded that each would bring the tools to a useful edge.

On Saturday I mentioned David Pye to my students and then became distracted before telling them the important part.  Pye, wrestling with how to find value in a craftsman's work in the machine age, decided that craftsmanship of risk in which there is potential for the craftsman's growth was of greater value to society than machine made craftsmanship of certainty in which no immediate growth was certain in the character of the craftsman, and in which the man operating the machine became machine like in his actions and thoughts.

Yesterday I did home maintenance and am always pleased that I have a few tools at hand.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my elementary school students will be making toys.

A friend in Oregon shared the box images in this post, based on a box design in my book Beautiful Boxes Design and Technique. Naturally he made some changes in the design, using mitered joints instead of the modified butt joint I used in the book. The spalted wood on the top has been strengthened and stabilized by a polymer process, so it will not decay any further. Nor will it expand and contract as does normal wood.

I take credit for the original design, but Bob Sokolow's craftsmanship is superb. It is a pleasure to see one of my boxes offered so beautifully through the hands of a friend.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Yesterday at ESSA, I had 7 students who brought lots of various tools as I had requested. The tools ranged from spokeshaves, to drawknives, and regular knives. They included chisels, gouges, plane irons, axes and lathe tools. We sharpened them all. We used grinders, Japanese water stones, old fashioned Norton oil stones, hard Arkansas translucent oil stone, diamond stones, and a system using sand paper that makes tools "scary sharp."

I had fun. It was a class I'd never taught before, so I was uncertain, but hopeful that my students gained what they needed from it. My thought is that what folks may need most is the confidence to get started, and a bit of experience to help them make decisions as to what they need and what tools offer the best chance of them proceeding on their own. We gave them those things and they journeyed home with satchels of sharp tools.

Today I prepare for Monday's classes at the Clear Spring School, do some home maintenance and inlay the lids of boxes.

Make, fix, and create. Increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Sharpening 101

Today I have a class in the ESSA wood shop, in which students will sharpen planes, chisels and other things they want to keep sharp. To join the class you will need to call first thing, 479-253-5384  or show up early at ESSA and register.

Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my kindergarten students made "super heroes."

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

The language of play

Yesterday I began the process of inlaying walnut boxes with spalted woods and patterned wood inlays I fabricated in the days before. In the wood shop at Clear Spring School today, I'll have the kindergarten students working on a project they proposed last week, making toy airplanes.

The following is the American Council of Pediatric's attempt to define play: 
The definition of play is elusive. However, there is a growing consensus that it is an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery. Play is voluntary and often has no extrinsic goals; it is fun and often spontaneous. Children are often seen actively engaged in and passionately engrossed in play; this builds executive functioning skills and contributes to school readiness (bored children will not learn well). Play often creates an imaginative private reality, contains elements of make believe, and is nonliteral.
The American Council of Pediatrics stated this definition is true up to the age of two. I beg to differ. Play and the value of play applies to learning at all ages. What a dull and boring world this would be if all things were scripted for our distraction! Too many schools have become like that. My adult students know the value of play. Should it not be the basis for all education?

One small point. They state that play is non-literal. Have they not heard of wordplay? Even toddlers engage in it. Play is not actually nonliteral, it is transcendent of language. A language beyond language, so to speak.

The photo shows one of my adult students using the drill press to make wheels for toy cars. Even though I've made thousands of wheels myself, I address each one in a spirit of play, knowing the joy children will find in their use.

In my own wood shop, the spirit of play is at hand as I examine pieces of spalted wood for interesting visual properties that will make beautiful lids in walnut boxes. In fact, I think it is a sense of playfulness that attracts others to my work. I have seven students signed up for my sharpening class on Saturday at ESSA. Call 479-253-5384 if you want to join us.

I have been intrigued watching the students at Clear Spring School playing with our supersized Froebel Blocks. A couple days ago the middle school students had them arranged in a straight line so they could jump from one to another. Look again later and they're in a totally different arrangement.

Make, fix, craft and create...

Thursday, October 11, 2018

whittling in camp...

Yesterday I took our Swedish Sloyd knives and a freshly made supply of whittling sticks out to the campsite where our Clear Spring School elementary students were spending the night.  Whittling is a wonderful camp activity, and even though the students had practiced in the wood shop there was no reduction in enthusiasm for it.

For many of our students, this was a first time camping experience and it was a cold night. Each camping trip is different, and each becomes memorable. Last night will be remembered as a chilly night to be camping in the Ozarks.

In whittling we had four very minor injuries. Put a bandaid on and the child goes back to work.

Today in my wood shop I begin putting inlay in box lids, and preparing for an ESSA class on sharpening this coming Saturday. There are still openings for new students in that class. Go to to enroll, or call 479-253-5384.

Make, fix, and create...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

making inlay

I have a large order of boxes to fill prior to the Xmas season, so have begun making inlay. What I made yesterday will make lots of inlaid boxes. I also received a copy of American Woodworker Magazine in the mail yesterday that includes my tip about making a banjo mounted dust collector.

I hope my tip is useful to woodturners. You can see how it works here:

Today I will join my elementary school students at their campsite for an afternoon of whittling.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

shark teeth.

Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop, students continued practicing their whittling in advance of the fall camping trip. On Wednesday I will join them at the camp site to oversee whittling activities.

One of the students decided to make his whittled wood into shark teeth. They look more like bear teeth to me. But that led to all the students making shark tooth necklaces of their own. They assured me that the red marker they carefully applied to the sharp points, was just red color and not blood. The boys were proud to wear the things they had made.

Making necklaces provided an opportunity to introduce another tool, and for the students to gain some practice in its use. What tool was that? The picture is worth a thousand words.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Monday, October 08, 2018

A+ plus, plus

I had a great weekend of engagement with A+ Schools, and feel inspired once again to push for our local public schools to join A+. Eureka Springs is, after all, an arts community. Here in this town of about 2,500 we have well over 100 professional artists, and Eureka Springs is known all over the US as a community of the arts.

That should prescribe the course of our public education. Schools should be a reflection of all that's great and noble from their communities. Joining A+ should put things on a better track, as the arts, just like the hands, touch everything. No subject area is immune to enrichment by the various arts.

Today in the wood  shop at the Clear Spring School, we will resume study of whittling in preparation for the elementary school camping trip on Wednesday.

The photo shows some of my students from the weekend class. As part of the weekend fun we were introduced to the shim sham. Try it.

Can it be useful in the classroom? I'm convinced that the eight count facilitates a comfort with mathematics.

Make, fix, create

Sunday, October 07, 2018

A+ plus

 Yesterday I led two groups of about 12 A+ Fellows through training in the wood shop. The idea was to introduce them with woodworking with kids. Each made four projects including sharp sticks, toy cars, super heroes and Sloyd Trivets from Gustaf Larsson's book elementary Sloyd and Whittling. I think they had as much fun as I did, and just like my younger students at Clear Spring School we were all reluctant to quit work when the time came to stop and clean up.

Adults definitely clean better and more thoroughly than small children, so the ESSA woodworking studio is back in good shape, but for me picking up the tools I'd supplied from home and from the Clear Spring School.

As A+ has the job of restoring and reintegrating the arts into Arkansas Public Schools, the Fellows are an important group with whom to share. I thank them for coming, and for ESSA having played host.

Two groups of Fellows and the objects they have made are shown in the photos.

Make, fix, create and assist others in learning likewise.

Saturday, October 06, 2018


Today I'll have A+ training at ESSA, being given a chance to share woodworking in the ESSA wood  shop with A+ Fellows. I am excited. Perhaps I'll have photos to share tomorrow. Yesterday my 5th and 6th grade students experimented in building laminated arches for bridge building. We will test the strength of them on Monday.

Friend and master planemaker Larry Williams has been interviewed by Charles Brock and featured on the Highland Woodworker. He is a fellow Arkansas Living Treasure.

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, October 05, 2018

building bridges

Today my 5th and 6th grade students will begin a study of bridge building by using thin pieces of white oak to build bridge like forms. We will start with a day of experimentation, and then when they return from camping the week after next, they will be divided into teams to build models.

Yesterday I began setting up for my class with Fellows from A+ Schools. I'll have a variety of centers set up, so they can build toy cars, whittle sticks, and make Sloyd trivets like those in the book Elementary Sloyd and Whittling by Gustaf Larsson. I 'm also planning to introduce Educational Sloyd and the philosophy and history behind it.

I also plan to show Scott Bultman's History of Kindergarten trailer that includes a part of my interview, and some video showing Clear Spring School students at work. All that will begin on Saturday morning.

An interesting thing about wood shop is that children who  may not have concentration in other subjects will be able to apply themselves to great lengths when the process is real and demands concentration to get the results they desire. If the ability to focus is brought into focus, we discover it to be a skill. Once learned, it can be applied beyond the area of initial interest.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

whittling again...

Yesterday in wood shop at the Clear Spring School, students whittled. This was practice for safe whittling while they go on the fall camping trip next week. We discussed the rules. We made lots of sharpened sticks. Students colored them with markers, and no band aids were needed.

Note the small block of wood held in the vise. The block gives extra support to the wood as it is carved. It also directs the child's energy and attention into a single spot and keeps the child from wandering around the wood shop with a knife.

Today I will be getting ready for 24 A+ Fellows to visit the wood shop at ESSA on Saturday to learn to teach woodworking to kids. ESSA is hosting the A+ Fall Fellows Retreat which begins on Friday and will wrap up on Sunday morning.

Much of what I share will be based on the theory of Educational Sloyd. The principles are: Start with the interests of the child. Move in increments from the easy to more difficult, from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract.

Educational Sloyd also carries the recognition that "class" teaching is of little lasting effect. To really learn requires both hands-on experience and individualized instruction. Most administrators don't want to know about that last part. They want to cheap out.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018


The photo shows exquisitely crafted wooden models for the stainless steel manufactured pitchers in the background. I took the photo in the Helsinki Design Museum exhibit representing the work of Finnish designer Timo Sarpeneva.

In addition to the making of wooden things, wood is also useful for the design of other products. In Timo Sarpeneva's glass work, it was particularly interesting how molds for hot glass were made of wet wood and sharp wet sticks were used to form hollow spaces in hot glass sculptural forms.

Today our finished soccer goals were moved to the field next door to Clear Spring School that we acquired over the summer. Having a place for in town soccer (football) will be a great thing for the children of our community, and may also be a draw for new students to our school. For me to see the soccer goals in use offered a sense of pride.

Years ago, soccer first introduced to Eureka Springs and Carroll County through the Clear Spring School. We are poised for a rematch.

Today in the school wood shop, elementary school students will practice whittling in advance of their fall camping trip next week.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

toy cars and real boats...

Yesterday my students made toy flip cars, as shown. Decorating them is part of the fun.

In addition to teaching classes this week, I am also preparing for a class and presentation for A+ Schools to be held at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts on Saturday.

I have added a couple photos from our trip to the Baltic. One is a photo of me as tourist on the waterfront in Helsinki, and the other is of a classic Colin Archer designed sailboat, SV Vera Violetta, at dockside. All three of these photos will not show up on Facebook, so visit my blog, to see the full post.

Colin Archer boats are distinctive and recognizable as he had been the designer of the first Norwegian rescue ships like the one I had made a point of visiting in Oslo, RS Stavanger.

I had immediately recognized Vera Violetta as being a Colin Archer boat by the distinctive stem that it shares with RS Stavanger and other noted vessels of Archer design. Research upon returning home confirmed it. Vera Violetta was built in Norway, 1975 as a replica of Colin Archer's much beloved rescue boats and is owned by the Finnish Maritime Rescue Association. It is used for youth training.

The large vessels across the harbor beyond Vera Violetta are Helsinki's icebreakers. They are kept very busy during the winter months. The water between the islands of Helsinki, having a lower salinity than the Atlantic, freezes in winter.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, October 01, 2018

push blocks

I am working on an article proposal about making and using push blocks for use on the table saw, router table and jointer. I've made a few to show the editors as the start of the proposal process. Push blocks can be made in a variety of sizes and styles to fit the task at hand.

The push stick that probably came with your table saw is great for keeping your hands a foot or more from the blade, but not so good for keeping the wood safely under your control during the cut. The consequence of poor control can be an inaccurate cut, or a piece of wood that hurls back toward you at high speed.

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, my students will be learning to make their own envelopes, and will begin making wheels and toy cars.

Make, fix, and create.

Sunday, September 30, 2018


Letter writing at the Clear Spring School, stimulated by our making of mail boxes, has gone into full swing. The students write letters to each other. One wrote to a high school student and simply said, "give me some money." So the letters can be short, but the lessons and learning are long. They are learning to take care in what they say in their letters, and to take care in how they write. In wood shop they learned to take care in the assembly and decoration of their mail boxes.

The students check their mail regularly, and my own box was added, so I, too, will receive mail.

Yesterday my wife and I drove to Missouri to meet our new puppy Rosie. She is just over 5 weeks old and it was a good thing for us to become acquainted three weeks before we bring her home. Already knowing us will ease the transition to her new home.

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

Saturday, September 29, 2018

starting K (kindergarten)

Yesterday we began woodworking with the students from the Clear Spring School Kindergarten. They made toy cars but by the end of the lesson they were wanting wings so their cars could be made to fly. They, over the course of the school year, will have other opportunities to make planes and a hundred other things that come from their youthful imaginations.

The students at Clear Spring School are not the only Kindergarten students to enjoy wood working. As I had described earlier, the University of Helsinki has a wood shop where Kindergarten teachers earning their master's degrees, learn to teach wood working to kids.

It's called pedagogy... knowing the developmental needs of the child and developing age appropriate lessons to facilitate their growth. Pedagogy is about a lot more than knowing how to read and do math.

You will recognize "flip cars" that are designed to work either right side up or upside down and to flip at a finger touch. I asked my new students, "Have you done woodworking before?" No, they had not.

My editors are beginning to work through my woodworking with kids book.

Make, fix, create and extend toward others an understanding of the pedagogical function of the hands.

Friday, September 28, 2018

mail boxes in use...

My first through 4th grade students at the Clear Spring School made mail boxes in wood shop this week so they can exchange letters. Each has an address so they can write to each other, and they are very busy doing that.

Each of their mail boxes is personalized and numbered 1-16.

The letters are placed in a basket before delivery so the teachers can observe their progress and letter writing skill.

Yesterday was the 4th day of Woodcarver's Rendezvous at ESSA and studio stroll was held to show area residents the excellent work that was being done.

Make, fix, create, and adjust schooling so that all children learn by doing real things. We need not all do the same things. Some will apply themselves to music, some to dance, some to the wood shop and some to the culinary arts. All will develop both character and intellect through the caring engagement of the hands.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

tying a net

Yesterday we worked on making soccer goal nets on the pvc frames I assembled the day before. Hopefully they will turn out OK.  As long as soccer balls don't go through the net, I suspect they will work.

We had the choice of using ready made nets, but it seemed to make some sense to attempt this. The point is not to have it but to learn it, and I'm learning hand in hand with the kids.

In the wood shop, high school students finished making wooden boxes for offrenda shines, and the elementary school students finished their post office boxes.

In the early days of education, Friedrich Froebel had his students make small nets, as a way of developing intellect and hand skills. So making soccer nets is only a new twist on an old thing.

Make, fix, and create...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

a gentle reminder

I got an email yesterday from a woman who had purchased an old display cabinet and found my name on it along with the date, 1977. She found my website and wondered if the cabinet, being so old and early in my career would have any special value. It is a gentle reminder that we do not start out doing our best work.

One pane of glass and the shelves are missing from this piece.

At the time, I was working for Arkansas Primitives, a small company that made furniture and accessories out of recycled barn wood. I was allowed to make a few pieces of my own design that were sold through various outlets.  This piece shown in the photo was one of those. It was made of grey weathered barn wood and painted sometime later its  long life. It is currently in Texas, and still of use.

At school yesterday I built soccer goals from PVC pipe and today my students will learn to make the nets.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Woodcarver's Rendezvous

A five day Woodcarver's Rendezvous started at ESSA today. Six teachers are working with about 50 students in a variety of subject areas. The turning room, the machine room, the bench room, and yet another building on the ESSA campus are full of highly skilled woodcarvers.

Please plan to attend the studio stroll on Thursday, 4 PM to see what they've accomplished. Many of my friends are at work among the other carvers.

At the Clear Spring School, my elementary school students are making post office boxes so that they can write and exchange mail with each other. It is a project intended to get them engaged in writing. The boxes are made of wood resawn from 2 x 4 lumber and from 1/4 in. luan ply. The students will be allowed to personalize their boxes in their next wood shop period on Wednesday.

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

Monday, September 24, 2018


One week ago today I was in Riga Latvia, and preparing for our return to the US. Now I'm ready for a week's classes. I plan to begin exercises in drafting and design with some of my older students, and the younger ones will be working on "mail boxes" so they can exchange notes and letters.

Before I left for the Baltic, I'd cut a plastic barrel in half to use as ball boxes where soccer balls and basket balls could be put away at the end of play. The two halves, instead of being used for balls, have been incorporated into children's play, as you can see in the photo. 

On Friday I cut the lid from another barrel so that the kids can use it to roll around on the playground. They had a similar barrel before and had demonstrated that they could use it without injury to themselves or others. The barrel had contained soybean oil, so it was easy to scrub the inside clean by adding sawdust then simply sweeping it out. It is remarkable what sawdust can do and what it can be safely used for.

Make, fix, and create...

Sunday, September 23, 2018

a rant

If you are enjoying American politics, you are one of the few. The constant tugging between parties for power may be good for television ratings, but not so good for the American people. The parties are aligned in opposition to each other, when the question of the day ought to be, "How can we serve the American people." By American people, I would place greatest emphasis on those who need the help most.

Each day I receive relentless email requests for money for one campaign or another. Each one is urgent and describes dire consequences if I don't comply. Money should not be the driving force in determining our political destiny. It is, and that disgusts me.

Yesterday my wife and I watched Michael Moore's new documentary film Fahrenheit 11/9. Michael Moore made use of the Flint water crisis to help make his point. A Republican governor decided it was OK to poison thousands of children with lead, and to hide what he'd done. It seems those in power are often more interested in remaining in power and helping their cronies than in doing the right things for real people.

The old saying, "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," has never been more relevant than today.

As to the movie, I recommend it. And I also recommend that you vote. Assess the candidates based on their interest in your success and the success of all those in your community. Brush aside those who portray greater allegiance to ideology than to real people. Take seriously those who listen to you and demonstrate the propensity to work with others on your behalf. Do not take seriously what you see paid for on television. Those ads are often paid for by people with agendas that have the effect of diminishing your rights. What you see on the internet, unless it comes from a reliable news source, vetted by real journalists, should be painstakingly researched or ignored.

I would much rather talk with you about woodworking with kids, but occasionally I have to get a few things off my chest. It is essential that we invest more heavily in our kids. That means smaller classes in schools, better training for teachers, better salaries for teachers, greater respect for teachers, and it calls for greater trust in the teaching profession. If that requires you to brush aside those persons driven by conservative ideologies. Great. Vote them out in November.

Today I will be preparing materials for Monday's classes. Forgive me for today's rant.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

cooperative work...

My box guitar article in Woodcraft Magazine came out this week. I want to thank my editor Tim Snyder and their staff for doing a great job laying out a complex object in a coherent form. There is a lot of information in a few pages. I hope my article helps promote an interest in my book on the same subject.

I am starting to work regularly with our Kindergarten students at Clear Spring School, and a good book that would help others in the same position is Learning Through Woodwork by Pete Moorhouse. Not only is the book filled with images of children and their creative work, the book also goes into the rationale for woodworking with kids and suggests tools for their use. 

Many of my readers have asked how to get started either in schools or with their own children and grandchildren. Pete's book would be of great help.  I've found is  that some parents and teachers lack confidence in woodworking with kids even if they already know its value. Reading Pete's book might help.

The photo is of two of my first grade boys making an ofrenda or shrine as part of a project in their Spanish class. Working together is an important component of woodworking education. The students help each other both in the work and in the decisions about design. And they learn how to work together.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, September 21, 2018

gathering to do good work.

A friend of mine reminded me that if we were to factor in the effects of poverty on outcomes in education, the US would be winning at the PISA testing game. That is without a doubt true.

Finland has a tax supported safety net to assure that all children and families have quality education, quality healthcare and good pay. In the US, we have a major political party that's strongly against the government having any role in that.

It is difficult to learn if you are hungry. It is harder for parents to be supportive of their children's learning in school if they are working extra jobs and lack time to lend encouragement and support.

And so, are we at an educational impasse? We have a political party in power that insists that the only path toward a national success story is to deregulate big business, reduce taxes, over amplify the power of our armed forces, cut social services to the quick and suck the marrow from social security  and medicare.

We have a lot more to learn from Finland than how to have good schools. We might learn how to care for each other. Would that be OK? If a human being is raised to be a citizen of good character he or she would use whatever tools are at hand to be of service to others and include among those tools the government and governmental agencies through which we gather together to do good work.

All that said, another friend pointed out that a good teacher can, if given the tools and resources, counter the effects of poverty and lift children toward greater engagement and success. But teachers should not have to be in that struggle alone. Vote for those who support higher taxes and for leaders who are willing to use the government to assist the people.

Yesterday I was back at Clear Spring for a full day of classes, including 8 first grade boys in the wood shop. All went well. The beautiful model ship in the photo is at the Maritime Museum in Riga Latvia, a classic trading ship from the 18th century.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, September 20, 2018

what's the diff!

During my eleven day Baltic sojourn, I had the opportunity to visit schools in Finland and Latvia. I was particularly interested in Finland schools due to their high ranking in the international PISA tests that are set up to compare educational effectiveness in
the developed nations.

The US routinely ranks down around 19th or below in reading and math. Finland is routinely tied for first. As one of the first place scoring nations, there are educational tours going to Finland all the time. These tours pay large sums of money for groups of American school administrators to tour Finnish schools.

Due to my having contacts at the University of Helsinki, I was able to get a personal tour of one of their public schools, along with some insight into why they are a proven success story. On the surface, not much will appear different from many American schools. I'm not sure how many educational observers, regardless of how much they paid for a tour would grasp the difference. In addition to visiting a public school, I also visited a highly respected private school.

I had theories going in. Years ago (2008), I had asked Patrik Scheinen, Dean of the University of Helsinki School of Social Sciences, whether they had done research that might suggest a relationship between student's involvement in crafts education, and the level of student engagement that would lead to higher test scores. There was no particular research that would suggest that their success could be so narrowly found. That does not disprove the hypothesis. Nevertheless, Finland does have compulsory education in crafts. Finland has a two track higher education system with the trades being held forth as a reasonable alternative to college.

I then began wondering if there was some relationship between Froebel's educational method and the Finland Schools' success. The Finnish Folk Schools were founded by Uno Cygnaeus upon the Froebellian philosophy of learning through play.

Here is some of what I observed. Class sizes were not overly small. Fifteen to twenty five seemed to be normal in the school I visited. Students all removed their shoes and put on indoor slippers when in school. This was a requirement. Woodworking classes appeared smaller in number of students than the typical class size. In large schools, classes are of a single age student, but in smaller country schools, a classroom may have two or three ages combined. Finland has a two track higher education system with the trades being held forth as a reasonable alternative to college. Both technical school and college are held forth as reasonable options.

Finland has a reputation for not sitting on its laurels when it comes to learning. They try new things on a national level. For instance, despite Sweden having experimented with theme based curriculum and having warned against it, Finland is in its third year of a plan in which all schools adopt cross curricular themes to guide integrated studies. The idea is to bring a multidisciplinary approach requiring collaboration between teachers. Latvia has also joined in that approach. One cannot say, however that this curriculum integration has anything at all to do with their ranking in the PISA study, as they've been on top for many years before the new reform was put in place.

I had hoped that my visit might shed some light on Froebel. Were his theories and methods still important in Finland schools? I came away with no evidence that Froebel was still the guiding light in Finnish education. And yet, here are the few things we know.

Children in Finland spend more time in recess than any other children in the European Union, and far more than children from the US. That alone suggests a greater emphasis on play and a better understanding of child development. From the earliest days of Finnish education, children were fed a hot lunch each day. This policy was instituted by Uno Cygnaeus, when children's labors were needed on the farms, and for a child to go to school meant some sacrifice for their families. Finnish parents have learned to trust schools and to value them (and the teachers) as important contributors to community life. 
Compare that to American education where education and the rights of teachers have been a political football thrown back and forth by opposing parties.
Cygnaeus had developed a system of teacher training that survives to this day, and some of Finland's success story was described by a teacher who said, "They train us well and then trust us to do what we've been trained to do." As did Froebel, upon whose model Finnish education was based, Cygnaeus recognized the important role that women teachers are well suited to play. Teachers are valued in Finnish society. How different that is from so many of our American schools.

If there are failures in our system of education, let me assure you, our teachers are not to blame. Through careful reflection, I remain convinced that there are improvements that can be made. One of these, of course has to do with the hands. Where the hands are engaged, the artificiality of learning is erased, the lessons become more relevant, practical and useful to family and community, and the engagement of the heart follows.

The photo is of the entry to Jaunmārupes Pamatskola in Riga, Latvia.

The cover story in Time Magazine this week tells of a teacher who has to give blood each month to get by. It illustrates how much we value teachers, and shows also how little we value our kids.

Make, fix and create... Let the hands restore meaning in American education.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

back in Arkansas...

My wife and I returned to Northwest Arkansas last night after flights from Latvia, Finland, and Chicago.

We have a lot to catch up on, and a lot to process from our travels. I want to thank folks at schools in Helsinki and Latvia, where I was allowed to visit and learn. My teacher guides were generous with their time, and the experience is one that will be recorded and utilized in my own work.

The workbenches shown are from Jaunmārupes Pamatskola, a school in Riga, Latvia. It is a fairly new school and their teacher had arranged for their benches to be built by local craftsmen using a classic design. I hope to offer some observations on the schools of Finland and Latvia in the days to come.

Our travels were brought to greater depth by sharing our stay in Latvia with great good friends from Norway, Kari, and Jan Erik. Being with such good friends is an experience that I've not enough words to describe.

An opening scene in the old town at Riga...  Jean and I are trudging along narrow cobblestone sidewalks, the tiny wheels of our luggage grumbling like oxcarts, as we are being led by google maps to enter an ancient alleyway of unknown destination. There behind an iron fence, we find Kari and Jan Erik in the courtyard of our hotel, waiting for us, cool drinks and warm hearts at hand.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ending our Baltic excursion

We are leaving the Baltic and will return to Northwest Arkansas today. Yesterday I visited Jaunmarupes Patmanskola in Riga, Latvia, and was guided through the school by Alvis Reinis, their woodworking teacher. It is good to connect with folks in other countries teaching in the same field, and although Alvis is a much younger man than I, we had a great conversation about technology education. I promise to share more with you when I have had more time to reflect.

In addition, Jean and I visited the Riga City and Nautical Museum in which many of the artifacts were from the 13th century. I took many photos as a means to try to remember and use the things I'd seen.

A history museum is a great place to engage students in understanding technology. And I can imagine Rudolph J. Drillis, as a young man in Latvia was drawn into history and culture by the experience of living in such a historically rich environment.

The photo shows something very simple that I'd not seen before outside a book. These are two anchors  in two sizes made of wood and stone. A split in the wood holds a stone that gives it weight, while the hooks, made of bent wood, allow it to grasp the bottom of the sea.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Schools in Latvia

Today I will visit a school in Latvia and will have a chance to visit a woodworking program. Woodworking teachers need to stick together as it is one of the ways that we sustain energy for our programs. Even an administrator observing that guests from another country are interested, may give at least a small measure of credibility to what we endeavor to do. The task is that of making schooling real and relevant to the lives of kids.

Part of the fun of travel is to stumble upon the unexpected. I did not know when we walked into St. Peter's Cathedral in Riga, that they would have a craft exhibit. While a large part of the exhibit was of textiles (an area of crafts for which Latvia is well known) there were some delightful carved bowls that caught my eye and may catch yours as well.

If this wood was in the US, I might have guessed it to be elm. Please note how thin and uniform the top edge is in the bowl at the top. Note also that each cut with the gouge was left crisp and uniform. These are the work of a true craftsman.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Riga Lativa is a beautiful, vibrant city with a youthful energy. It is also a place that remembers its past, including a KGB Museum dedicated to preserving the memory of things the Latvian people endured under Soviet repression. In the KGB Museum we were allowed to visit the prison in the basement where citizens were constrained as many as 30-35 to a cell. The cells were so small and hot, the prisoners sat naked with no room to walk. We also visited the execution room where many citizens were routinely shot. Others were exported to Moscow for trial, execution or banishment to the Gulag.

The photo shows the "exercise room" in which prisoners were allowed a few moments of fresh air. The man in the red jacket was a tour guide who brought the experience to life.

We also visited the Latvian National Library where we participated in an exhibit highlighting the ways technology has been used to purposefully distort the flow of human information.

Fake news? It has long been used by totalitarian regimes, left and right to control the people. As depressing as all this may seem, the KGB Museum is a great place to visit in Riga if you are interested in feeling its history come to life.

Make, fix, and create...

Saturday, September 15, 2018


My wife and I are in Riga, Latvia, and as we have been throughout our journey are reminded of the march of time. In Tallinn, there were outlines marked in the cobblestones memorializing where buildings had stood before bombings by the Soviets in WWII. Here in Riga, there is a large museum dedicated to the occupation of this country by the Soviets. There have been armies marching here in all directions forth and then back again, and one must wonder what things would have been built if simple folks had been left alone, free of the machinations of egomaniacs.

I was first drawn to consider Latvia as a destination by a series of drawings illustrating the use of tools and the mechanics of the human body by Rudolph J. Drillis as mentioned in an article by Ethel J. Alpenfels, 1955. To consider human intelligence without taking the hands into consideration is a mistake.

We've met friends here and will spend a wonderful day here together.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, September 13, 2018


If you want to go one way to Tallinn from Helsinki buy a round trip ticket anyway. The cost is 2 Euros. To buy a one way ticket is 35 and you can save by buying round trip. The reason is that so many folks from Helsinki make day trips to Tallinn so they can stock up at the duty free store.

Today the journey cost far more than the price as the seas were rough and the voyage nauseating. When the seas are calm the journey can be a delight.

In any case, we are now in the walled city of Tallinn Estonia. It is a lovely place.

We will visit museums, and take a walking tour. There are many walls in this city including the ones that kept invaders out since the 13th century.

Make, fix, and create.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

in Finnish Schools.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit two Finnish Schools, one private and the other public, and I got to see happy kids and get some of my various questions answered by excellent guides. It was a thing I had hoped to accomplish on this trip to Helsinki. I'll not take the time to write without adequate time for reflection and I'll share some of what I learned at a later date.

Today my wife and I are taking the ferry one way to Tallinn, Estonia.

The photo is of the wood shop at the English School in Helsinki.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

at dockside...

Yesterday in Helsinki, my wife and I visited the island fortress of Suomenlinna off the coast of Helsinki. It is a world heritage site due to its having played a part in national dramas between France, Russia, Sweden and the UK prior to Finland having been granted independence as a democracy in 1917. I had been to Suomenlinna before one evening during the conference in 2008. We took a long evening boat ride to dinner in a restaurant in the bowels of the fortress. But that did not allow for the exploring that did today.

The fortress history is amazing and depressing, as I am made to wonder when human beings will learn to treat one another with more respect. Wars are not the answer.

Along the dock back here in Helsinki I found a boat that I had admired in 2008, still cared for and in the same shape after the past 10 years. That boat, Strömsdal, is a work boat given a better life. A picnic table and chairs on the back deck give a suggestion of what that lovely life might be.

Today I visit two schools in Helsinki. My point is not to point out the failings of American schools, but to highlight ways in which American schools can be made better.

Make, fix, create, and allow American students to learn likewise.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Is less really more???

Yesterday my wife and I took the hop on, hop off bus to a variety of museums in the central part of Helsinki. As we passed the Sibelius memorial park, and a high school, the recording on the bus noted that  the schools of Finland are tourist attractions, and that educators from around the world come here to visit the schools and try to figure out what makes them tick in such a superb manner. The schools rank very high in the international PISA testing, which comes as a surprise to Americans who think heatedly that the more you cram into kids at an early age, the better.

Finnish schools begin reading at age 8 and by the time the students are tested in the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) PISA studies, they far surpass American readers in 30% less time. Can that really be true? I have visits scheduled for Finnish Schools on Tuesday.

When I visited the University of Helsinki in 2008, I found my way into the wood shop where Kindergarten teachers working on their master's degrees were learning to teach wood working. Can you imagine that happening at the University of Arkansas? I can, and I'm hoping to push things in that direction despite my utter lack of power in doing so.

The recording on the bus speculated that the reason for the success of the Finnish model lies in the idea that less is more: That by spending more time in recess than any other country in the European Union, and far more than the US, students love school. It makes a difference.

And I cannot help but think that 150 years of Educational Sloyd and the reliance by Uno Cygnaeus upon the Froebel philosophy of learning through play has built a significant culture of learning. Cygnaeus, like Froebel before him, believed that the child's first significant impulse is to learn.  Too much pressure can destroy that impulse. Love of learning will pull a child to the ends of the earth in question or quest, but love is not a thing that can be forced upon us.

A beautiful place that impressed me was the rock church, hewn from granite in the center of Helsinki. We happened to be there while a group was practicing for a concert. It is a lovely place and deserves to be one of Helsinki's most popular tourist attractions.

Make, fix, create, and assist in seeing that others have the chance to learn likewise.

Saturday, September 08, 2018


My wife  and I are in Helsinki on a trip to mark my my pending seventieth birthday in November. I had been to Helsinki for an educator's conference in 2008 and wanted to come back for a variety of reasons. Helsinki is a designer city. The city is beautifully textured and for such a small country, Finland has an outsized influence in the area of design.

Yesterday, after arrival and checking into our hotel, we toured the Design Museum's exhibit of works by Timo Sarpeneva. The retrospective of his work is truly amazing. Among the artifacts are some of the wooden molds used in the manufacture of Iittali glassware. Sarpeneva was given free reign to explore new methods of creative manufacture. The videos shown of his craftsmen at work and of Sarpeneva discussing his work were illuminating. A huge body of work was collected in the exhibit.

The other reasons I'm excited to be in Helsinki have to do with its history in education. Finland is still the leader in effective and compassionate education of kids. Much of that, I believe has to do with the founder of the Finnish Folk Schools in the 1860's by Uno Cygnaeus. Cygnaeus had traveled throughout Europe investigating various schemes of education, and settled upon Froebel's Kindergarten. To extend Kindergarten style learning through the upper grades, he invented Educational Sloyd utilizing woodworking and textile arts.

Who might have guessed that wooden molds could be used to shape glass? These molds would be used wet, and as the wood charred, and as steam would be released as the hot glass was blown inside beautiful effects were attained.

You can find my earlier trip to Finland recorded in this blog by following this link:

Make, fix and create. Have effects on the intelligence and character of your communities by encouraging others to learn likewise.

a favorite class

This last week we started woodworking again at the Clear Spring School, grades 1-12 and we  have had some growth in the student body over the summer. That means we have larger classes in wood shop, and new students to introduce to the tools and rules of safe woodworking. I have new names to learn.

Later in the year we will begin working with the Kindergarten students as well.

New students come to us through new parents and we've welcomed a number of new families who moved to Eureka Springs to take part in the Clear Spring School. We welcome them, one and all with the hopes that we live up to their expectations. Some of my new students have told me that even after just one day, wood shop is their favorite class. The point is that it's real. They use real tools to do real things.

Make, fix, create, and adjust American education so that others are allowed to learn likewise.

Friday, September 07, 2018

constructive playground.

In the photo, one student steadies while the other climbs to the top. I spent a bit of time today watching students interact with the Froebel blocks. There is a gentleness to their play with the blocks and with each other.

One of the parents said upon observing the blocks, that a person would have to go to Europe to find such things... that the blocks are so unlike American education. I'm curious whether they might even be found even there. Are there schools in Europe now, where large Freobel blocks are used in this manner?

My intention is to add 4 more cubes and then at some point to add 8 number 4 blocks giving more students the opportunity to engage in cooperative play at the same time. Unlike Froebel gifts, I will not be building a box large enough to hold them.

The name I'm applying to this is a "constructive playground." It's different from a playground that parents and administrators have engineered for kids. It is one that the kids engineer and re-engineer for each other. For example, three girls were playfully jumping from one bock to another while one of our 4th grade boys moved blocks in response to their directions.

In the early days of Kindergarten, children played with very small blocks. In John Dewey's school, cooperative play with larger blocks was seen as being of value beyond personal creativity as it required collaboration. These supersized blocks enable and inspire even greater collaboration.
My daughter Lucy is in this video from ABC News Channel 7 in New York City. Look for the lovely young woman in the light green dress.

Make, fix, and create...

Thursday, September 06, 2018

forms of beauty

Our students know what to do with Froebel's gifts without instruction. The image shows a "form of beauty" in which the blocks are arranged to illustrate some form of beauty, unity and of harmony. The younger students are busy taking the blocks and arranging them in beautiful expression. The older kids, according to strength are stacking them and climbing up. So far they've been used safely.

The idea is that a child's playground can be "constructive." Some of the things we've "constructed" in the past, student led, have been a gaga court, a balance beam and a see saw. Other building components based on Froebel's gifts will be added.

Make, fix, and create.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018


I've finished four supersized Froebel blocks for the Clear Spring School playground as you can see. Four more of these will complete the set of Froebel's gift number 3. Give kids blocks and they know just what to do with them.

The elementary school students have begun a study of inventions and inventing. They used the blocks as prompts to explore their own ideas of design. A block could be a car. A block could be a house. As shown in the photo, a block could be the base for the Statue of Liberty or the stage for a dramatic and important proclamation/

I also had my first classes for the year in the Clear Spring School wood shop.

Make, fix, and create...

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

the reprise of the pen.

Penmanship and cursive are making a comeback, according to this article in the Washington Post.

Yesterday  I assembled the first of a set of 8 supersized Froebel blocks number 3 for a constructive playground at the Clear Spring School . I've decided that 2 ft. cubes are large enough that they will be a challenge requiring collaboration. Moving one was even a challenge for me, and while I'd thought of making them even larger, this size will be just right.

The sand filled volley ball court on campus will be the perfect building site for constructing with Froebel blocks. If penmanship can make a comeback, then perhaps Kindergarten and wood shops will also.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise

Monday, September 03, 2018

Tools, hands, and the expansion of intellect

What follows in an edited version of a paper I presented at a conference at the Unversity of Helsinki in 2008. 

Abraham Maslow (American psychologist 1908-1970): “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Tools not only provide the power to shape materials, but expand the dimensions of human intellect. There is magic in the manipulation of real tools and real materials. They create interest in the learner by engaging the hands in the exploration of physical reality and the expression of intellect. We place our children at risk of boredom and diminished capacity by abandoning the commonplace tools that formed the foundation of human creativity.

Research on gesture, the field of embodied cognition, and new developments in the study of depression reveal the significance of the varied and rhythmic use of the hands in the development of human intellect. We are made stupid and depressed when our hands are stilled.

Most American schools and homes are involved in a risky experiment in which the common tools of artists and craftsmen are abandoned. The Clear Spring School, a small independent school in Northwest Arkansas is different. We are on the cutting edge in the making and use of tools. Our children make their own, from hand-carved ink pens based on the 1885 Nääs Sloyd model series to the looms our children use in weaving and textiles. Making tools provides a means to put the hands into action in the classroom. When the child makes the tools used in his or her hands-on exploration there is a depth of interest and understanding that cannot be approached otherwise.

Tools, hands and the expansion of intellect
"Let the youth once learn to take a straight shaving off a plank, or draw a fine curve without faltering, or lay a brick level in its mortar, and he has learned a multitude of other matters which no lips of man could ever teach him" --John Ruskin, "Time and Tide", 1883.

The United States, unlike the Scandinavian countries does not have a national curriculum in craft education. While many schools in the US have arts education, often taught by a resource teacher and with little integration with core classroom learning, craft education is extremely rare in schools. For that reason, those of us involved in crafts education are challenged to find a clear rationale for its inclusion in schools. Crafts education must compete for funding against many other more widely recognized educational needs, so part of my mission has been to demonstrate its value within a system that has been skeptical. On the more positive side, not having a standardized national crafts curriculum offers craft teachers the opportunity to be exercise personal creativity. To develop a program like my own would not have been possible in schools with greater responsibility to meaningless national standards.

Prior to the 1990’s, wood shops were common in middle schools and high schools but since then wood shops have been discontinued to allow greater emphasis to be placed on academic studies. At this point, schools with wood shops have become rare. But the good news is this: You can play a vital role in the return of common sense learning in schools.

According to widely published statistics, about 30 percent of American high school students fail to graduate. An additional, but unmeasured number of our best and brightest students are bored with their high school educations. Add the numbers of disinterested, and deliberately disruptive students who manage to squeak through at graduation, and you might begin to think we could be doing a better job at educating our children and preparing them for their futures.

In my own wood shop, as a professional craftsman I never felt that what I was doing was obsolete. Woodworking enabled me to use a variety of skills, integrating the arts, science, history, mathematics and business. It occurred to me that woodworking in school could become central to the learning experience, making all the other conventional studies more relevant and meaningful to children’s lives.  If learning were more relevant, more meaningful and more fun, school would more readily engage our children’s attention and more surely lead to their success. As the mission statement of the Clear Spring School suggests, When the hands are engaged, the heart follows.

In the fall of 2001, we launched the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School to demonstrate the value of woodcrafts as a part of school curriculum. We named the program Wisdom of the Hands in the belief that bringing the hands into direct action on behalf of learning would enhance learning in all areas of conventional school curriculum and for all students, even those planning to pursue college educations. We started at the high school level and over the next two years, expanded the program throughout grade levels 1 through 12. During that time I began my own research on the role of the hands in learning and I discovered that many of my own ideas were widely shared by educational theorists since the mid 1700’s and are very much a part of modern scientific research today. 


As human beings even from the earliest age, our tools are very much a part of us. They influence our thoughts and capacities and perceptions of self.

Charles H. Ham wrote in 1886, “—the axe, the saw, the plane, the hammer, the square, the chisel, and the file. These are the universal tools of the arts, and the modern machine-shop is an aggregation of these rendered automatic and driven by steam.”

As shown in the drawings from R.J Drillis Folk Norms and Biomechanics, the hands have been the fundamental means through which the world has been shaped, measured, studied and understood. All the actions of machine tools are derived from the motions of the human hand. In addition, while the metric system is based on relative abstraction, earlier concrete systems, including our system of inches and feet, were based on observation of the human hand and other parts of the human body.

The Hands

As schools have attempted to become more efficient in the process of education, children have been confined to desks with hands stilled, essentially blocking their traditional engagement in the process of learning. According to Dr. Frank Wilson, author of The Hand, How its use shapes the brain, language and human culture,

“The entire open-ended repertoire of human manipulative skill rests upon a history of countless interactions between individuals and their environments, natural materials and objects. The hand brain system that came into being over the course of millions of years is responsible for the distinctive life and culture of human society. This same hand-brain partnership exists genetically as a developmental instruction program for every living human. Each of us, beginning at birth, is predisposed to engage our world and to develop our intelligence primarily through the agency of our hands."

Current research in the new field of embodied cognition recognizes that the whole body takes part in the processing of information and human intelligence. The idea that human knowledge is “brain based” or “language based” no longer provides an accurate view of who we are or how we learn.

There is something extremely powerful about the engagement of the hands. Woodworkers have noted the therapeutic effect of woodworking, calling their time spent in the woodshop, “sawdust therapy.” By and large we feel better when we take the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the process of creating something from wood.

In our nation we have an epidemic of depression and other mental and emotional disorders and use of anti-depressant medications has become common for controlling mood and behavior. I came to my own conclusion that much of the problem has been that we have been out of touch with our own hands, and while being out of touch has disastrous consequences in adult lives, it also has profound detrimental effects on the education of our children.

The significance of the hand’s role in learning and the feelings that woodworker’s have about the therapeutic aspects of their time in the woodshop are illustrated by research conducted by Dr. Kelly Lambert at the University of North Carolina. She describes a system of “effort driven rewards” resulting from the creative use of the hands, stimulating an exchange of neuro-hormones in the brain that offsets symptoms of depression and raises overall emotional and intellectual engagement in learning. The idea that the engagement of the hands in learning and making things might come as a surprise to our nation’s pharmaceutical suppliers, but is no great surprise to those who work with wood. Lambert’s research illustrates how the lack of hands-on engagement leads to emotional disengagement, leading to diminished display of intellectual capacity. This may explain why gesture researcher, Susan Goldin-Meadow suggests, “If you are having trouble thinking clearly, shake your hands.”

So the great educational question we must answer in the first part of the 21st century is very much the same question asked by educational theorists at the beginning of the 20th. “How do we bring the hands to bear on the education of our children?”

The Demonstration at Clear Spring School
The Wisdom of the Hands program is different from conventional school art classes and is different from conventional woodworking programs as well. Each project is planned in cooperation with core classroom teachers to integrate with current studies. By making our own tools at Clear Spring School, we establish a relationship between the materials drawn from our environment and the student’s growth in confidence by capitalizing on the child’s natural inclinations toward creative activity. We make tools that fit a variety of different categories, each intended to enhance the school’s basic curriculum. Some of the tools enable children to do work, while others are used to expand the children’s understanding of concepts. Some are used for investigation and demonstration of scientific principles, some are used for organizing and collecting data and still others provide additional interest in classroom activities.

Working tools are those that provide the children opportunity to do other projects, often involving crafts. Examples are looms for weaving, knives for carving, pens for learning cursive, and pencil sharpeners, among others.
Conceptual study tools include geometric solids for the study of geometry, math manipulatives, models of the solar system, puzzle maps for study of geography and plate tectonics, abacuses for doing math problems and developing numeracy.
Investigatory tools include windmills for studying meteorology, bug boxes and nets for catching insects, and projectile launchers for the study of trigonometry and physics.
Organizational tools include tool boxes, divided trays for the collection of rocks and minerals, display boxes for collections of insects and numbered stakes for marking plant species on the school nature trails.

In addition, the children of all ages have a love of making toys and we use toys as tools to expand interest in specific areas of study. As examples, the children have made trains and various animals inspired by their reading. We have made dinosaurs inspired by their study of dinosaurs, as well as boats for the study of the sea, and cars and trucks for the study of economics and transportation. Much of the success of the program is rooted in the close relationship between classroom teachers and the wood shop.

Toy making increases the child’s enthusiasm for learning at all ages. Each project tests new ideas and ends with play. Each child at Clear Spring School has a collection of treasured objects that remind of lessons learned, skills developed.

The Key to our success:
The fact that the classroom teachers are part of the planning process, often suggesting possible projects, leads them to become active wood shop participants, working alongside the students, demonstrating their own engagement in the learning process. Rather than the wood shop being an isolated school activity, it is successfully integrated at all grade levels.

By being deeply immersed in exploring the fundamentals of physical reality, and making his or her own tools for discovery, truly no child is left behind, no child is bored, and every child is empowered to engage in creative response to society and the environment. The variety of tools that can be made in the school wood shop is without limit. So what is the difference between making an object and making a tool? Tools are intended to have use and impact beyond the time spent in the wood shop. As an example, the simple tray made for the collection of rocks and minerals is not complete until the contents have been collected, organized and labeled. A loom is not complete until it holds a completed piece of textile art. A toy is not complete until it has been played with and enjoyed, shared and learned from. Tools have particular effectiveness in bringing the hands to work in the classroom far beyond note taking and keyboarding. The hands’ profound impact on learning has been widely ignored in American education, but may also offer the pathway to effective educational reform and renewal.

Clear Spring School was founded in 1974 in the small town of Eureka Springs Arkansas to serve as a laboratory to explore new principles in progressive education. It serves 80 students from pre-school through high school. It is accredited though ISACS, Independent Schools of the Central States and through NAIS, National Association of Independent Schools.

Make, fix, create and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise