Sunday, December 24, 2006

A friend sent the image at left with a question about what relationship this kind of activity has to actual Sloyd. Since my response may help to clarify what Sloyd is, I am posting my reply here.

There are wonderful things about parents assembling toys with their children, but that activity isn't Sloyd. One of the great things is that if they were playing video games instead, they would be encouraging an excitement about death and violence and laying the blessings of the father (or mother) on the destructive acts and attitudes of the child. Things can always be measured by what else might have been done instead. The wholesomeness of parents and children sharing something positive in the use of tools (even if the only tool is a screwdriver) makes a project like the one above a far better choice.

In Sloyd, there was very clear educational purpose, and projects were completed start to finish from lumber to finished object. I see all kinds of nail together projects for kids that have value for the same reasons as the project above, but they don't have the depth of educational value found in Sloyd. Most kits are designed to guarantee the success of the child in the completion of the object...not present challenges that require problem solving, learning methods, making mistakes and starting over.

Making mistakes, learning from them, adapting, starting over, fixing, getting better, holding a plane to learn how it shaves wood, the proper stance and body movement, gaining a sense of gravity, establishing the right hand position to make your edges square. In a Sloyd project, there are many things that can go wrong, producing what is right in the child: an attitude that requires effort, adjustment, cultivation and application of attention, both to the working surface of the material and to the movements of his or her own hands and body as the work progresses. Sloyd was designed to have educational value, and as Otto Salomon said, "the value of the child's work is not in the object, but in the child who made it." Coming up with a finished, successful project is nice, but far more educational are the failures that come first.

I've done birdhouse projects with my students a few times. In order for the birdhouse to be successfully assembled, there have to be parts cut to fit, but there are design areas and spaces that can be left to the child's inventive nature and personal exploration, so we leave those areas for the child to explore. We use folded paper and scissors as a design tool to create symmetrical patterns for sawing, but leave the discussion open so the kids know that asymmetrical is a valid design option.

Projects that are guaranteed in outcomes aren't Sloyd. The project shown above is a good consumer product that will prepare a child for future success in assembling his or her first barbeque grill, and that can be a good thing. Sloyd is much more.

I hope to return to the subject of teaching later in the day.

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