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

Sunday, September 02, 2018

a fun day from the annals of wood shop

I have been reviewing photos of various projects through the years at the Clear Spring School. It is good to have photos to remind us of the many things we've done in wood shop. The photo here shows bridge testing. The students grouped in teams of three studied bridges of various kinds and  I gave them materials to build designs of their own. They used glue and nails to attach parts.

Then the testing began. We used saw horses for the bridges to span and nylon straps to support a weighted platform underneath. When we were unsuccessful at applying enough weight to break the bridges, we went to weightier measures, using large rocks gathered from outside the playground.

Rachel's sign shows the weight supported by this bridge made of slender wooden parts glued into a structure as being 496 lbs.

Make, fix, create and assist others in learning likewise

Saturday, September 01, 2018

a balanced education

A see saw is such a simple thing. You put one kid on a side, and then others join, and it is a source of amusement through which a certain amount of information is conveyed. Yesterday at times as many as 9 or 10 students were on at a time, testing the strength of the construction. "If I add my weight to this side, what will the results be?" The see saw is a piece of play equipment that our students requested a couple years ago and then helped build.

Yesterday I began work on large Froebel blocks to be used on the playground in building instructional forms. The first blocks are gift number 3 consisting of eight  2 ft. x 2 ft. cubes that my students will help construct.

We have a number of new students this year, so I will have my work cut out for me in learning names and understanding abilities. My own classes in the wood shop will begin on Tuesday.

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