Monday, February 27, 2012

Into our own hands...

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 for contrived learning we 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 so many other nations.

Kindergarten was truly a revolution in early childhood education, with classrooms designed to inspire, and objects designed to incite curiosity. 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 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.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous9:40 AM


    I just wanted to say thank-you for such a long string of very engaging posts on education...I have been following closely, but haven't commented at all. Don't take silence for apathy - your work is greatly appreciated.
    thanks again
    P. Follansbee

  2. Peter, it is great to receive your encouragement. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope readers will check out your blog,

    I love what you do with wood.