Wednesday, April 25, 2018


We know that the most natural inclination for children is to learn through active engagement in all that surrounds them. They see what interests them and the next impulse is to touch, and explore. And yet, when it comes to American classrooms too many students are required to put all at arms length. Classrooms have become sterile and disengaging as though the child's senses do not matter, and we thus fail to utilize our children's most natural inclinations. No wonder American education is more expensive and less effective than in many other nations.

Kindergarten was truly a revolution in early childhood education, with classrooms designed to inspire, and objects designed to systematically incite curiosity and touch. Inspired by Froebel's Kindergarten, Educational Sloyd was devised by Uno Cygnaeus in Finland, and promoted throughout the world by Otto Salomon to extend that revolution of sensory engagement in learning throughout the upper grades of education.

We think of wood shop in school as being a means to direct children into mind numbing industrial occupation, whereas Educational Sloyd was intended to propel children into life as intelligent, responsible citizens with their natural curiosity and propensity for learning intact.

When I went to Sweden for a Sloyd conference in 2006, one of my objectives was to visit Nääs, the school established by Otto Salomon to promote Educational Sloyd. I wanted to get fully immersed in a system of education that clearly recognized the relationship between the hands and learning, the use of the hands and the development of intellect. And what I found, like a shade lifting from my eyes, was so much more than I had allowed myself to expect. Sloyd, I discovered was not just the making of objects for the development of skill, but a complete foundation for a better way of addressing the overall educational needs of children.

When teachers from around the world arrived at Nääs for summer classes, it was not just to learn how to teach woodworking, but to learn a complete theory of learning that encompassed and advanced the needs of the whole child. When I arrived, I was surprised to learn that gymnastics was also a part of Sloyd, that Salomon lectured each day on educational theory (in four languages), and that the Sloyd movement was closely connected to the Kindergarten movement which was at that time taking the world by storm in the lowest grades. In other words, Educational Sloyd represented nearly all that we have come to systematically neglect in American education.

There are matters we can take into our own hands, and there is compelling evidence that we must do so. I cannot spell all this out in a single blog post, but I hope you will continue reading and test what you've read here in your own hands.

Yesterday we had a minor catastrophe in the middle school class as I was attempting to help with their hydroponic window garden. As the upper manifold filled with water from the pump, it broke free from the hooks holding it to the top of the window. Parts, and water flew.  Don't we learn better when things do not go according to script and when the realities of life enter into the fabric of education?

Make, fix, create, and help others understand the value of learning lifewise.

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