Friday, September 08, 2006

In order to understand the importance of the hands in learning, I can point you to a number of authorities. But first, I ask you to make a few personal observations. We have become a society reliant on experts. We hire people to tell us things about our lives, when we might find the greatest truths through simple and direct observation. For instance, we turn on the Weather Channel to learn the temperature, when we might step outside instead, feeling the chill or warmth of the air on our own skin.

He is a simple thing to help you to begin your own observatons. Pick up a long stick and hold it if front of you. Now close your eyes. You can feel in the tensions of your hand whether or not the stick is vertical, or slightly out of balance. You can feel or direct its motion, pointing it straight up or feel the weight of it when it moves away from dead balance.

When you pick up a tool for the first time, whether it is a chisel or a pencil, the same dynamic principles are measured by the hand. The hand, measuring and adapting to those forces moves from the foreground of awareness to the background , disappearing from conscious thought as it learns the weight, form and movement of the object. In the use of a chisel, the hand itself can disappear from thought and consciousness to the degree that the only thing felt in the mind is the position and sharpness of the cutting edge. We take our hands for granted due to the extremely close integration between the hand and brain in the development of our consciousness and our awareness of the world around us.

As an excercise in the development of your own wisdom, I invite you to watch carefully today as your fingers engage the keyboard, as you write notes in pencil to a friend, as you pick up a bag of groceries, pull a book down from the shelf, or wipe the tear from the eye of a child. Hands that we take for granted are the key to being fully engaged in our lives, sensing and creating.

Engagement in learning through the hands is the purpose of my program at the Clear Spring School . You can learn more about my school program, Wisdom of the Hands at

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:23 PM

    Doug: Great to see this site, in honor of whose youth I thought I'd say something about the earliest steps toward an enduring hand-mind partnership as I've seen them taken by my grand-daughter, now just 14 months old. From completely undifferentiated open/close movements of the whole hand and fist, she has gradually gained the ability to control the pinch grip of thumb/index finger (thanks to endless practice collecting Cheerios and then depositing them in her mouth). Starting at about six months she was manipulating small objects bimanually. She became skilled at dropping things from her high chair. She next began tapping hard surfaces with spoons and blocks, testing their sounds. She also started exploring the surfaces of grampa's teeth with her fingertips. She started using her hands to pull herself up. She learned to use a spoon to maneuver peas into her mouth. She began to tear paper; then to pull books from bookshelves. She played with a springy doorstop to make noises. By the age of 1 year she was gesturing -- pointing with her index finger, waving bye-bye, slapping both hands to the temples repeatedly with a wild facial expression as if to say: "Oh, what can I do???!! She has fallen in love with buttons: buttons on musical toys, buttons on her mom's Blackberry, and now the buttons on the elevator in our building. Two weeks ago she started walking, and immediately she approached other small children to pat them on the head, or touch their tummy, or gently push on the belly-button (as if expecting to see the kid's nose light up).

    It's already a huge repertoire. What next????