Thursday, January 31, 2019

adding to...

We've been adding to our collection of supersized Froebel blocks, these being from gift number 4.  I set out the first of the number 4 blocks this morning so they could be discovered at recess.

Of course the kids know immediately how to play with blocks. These are heavy so the kids have been warned about dropping them on toes, and have been warned that fingers can be pinched. If the kids use them safely, they will remain.

These blocks are inspired by Froebel's gifts and our use of them in the classroom. They are also influenced by Jean Lee Hunt's 1918 book, "A Catalog of Play Equipment," about play equipment that the kids can build for themselves. The pieces from the "catalog" would never pass OSHA standards. But they give the kids a sense of creative agency.

What I observed about our gift number 3 blocks had been that every time I'd arrive on campus, the blocks had been moved into new arrangements and new positions. And so the blocks create a fluid and responsive play set. Adding the number 4 blocks will offer new possibilities, including stacking them all into a 4 ft. x 4 ft. x 4 ft. cube.

Make, fix and create... assist others in learning likewise.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

effort driven rewards

The things we work for are often of greater value to us than those things that arrive with ease. The things we make may of greater value to us than the things we buy. The effort we invest in doing real things offers feelings of well-being, agency, and accomplishment.

Even dog chow is more appealing when it requires some effort to attain. For example, the simple dog toy shown allows our goldendoodle Rosie to work for her chow. Kibble hidden inside offers greater reward than the bowl of the same kibble readily at hand. And Rosie proves it by playing the game for food while her bowl is full and standing by.

We make a mess of things when we fail to understand nature. Shall I say human nature? Even animals share the same traits.

The concept "Effort Driven Rewards" comes from Kelly Lambert's study of rats.

Those who are raised without the opportunity to engage the world, hands-on are left out of touch.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

beads of courage

Today the Stateline Woodturners will gather at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA) to assemble and turn wooden boxes for "Beads of Courage." The boxes will be distributed through the Northwest Arkansas Children's Hospital to children being treated for life threatening diseases. The activities will begin about 8 AM. You are welcome to come by and observe.

A reader had asked how the center finding gauge works. This one that I made of clear plexiglas may be more obvious. For a round, square or octagonal object, slide it into the "V" and mark with a pencil. Where two  or more lines intersect will be the center of the object.

Make, fix and create. Offer others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Friday, January 25, 2019

changing times...

A friend alerted me that two landmark craft galleries have been severely shrunk in size. I guess it's a sign of the times. Appalachian Spring Galleries in the Washington, DC area appears to be down to one location, as is the Real Mother Goose in Portland, Oregon. Both of these galleries have been of huge importance to those who make beautiful and useful things.

I had sold a few boxes at one time to the Real Mother Goose, and my boxes were sold through Appalachian Spring Galleries from around 1993. I remember the date I began supplying them with my work because it coincided with the election of Bill Clinton as President and an awakening to objects made in and from Arkansas, a previously unknown state.

Part of the problem may be that the owners of craft galleries have aged in the same way craft producers have aged, and without as many young people being involved in making beautiful and useful things without digital assistance, the following for fine crafts has been reduced as has been an understanding of their value.
“...persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labour at less than their real value. They think it much more difficult to solve a mathematical problem than to make a table. It is not an easy thing to make a parcel-pin or a pen-holder with accuracy, and when students have done these things they will be the better able to estimate comparatively the difficulty of making a table or chair; and what perhaps is of still greater importance, they will become qualified to decide between what is good and what is bad work.”–– Otto Salomon
The skilled hand will reach toward beauty created by skilled hands. The object shown above is what happens when a common useful object meets the imagination of a first grade boy. It becomes a useful robot.

Make, fix and create. Encourage others to learn lifewise.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

a lovely book...

I was alerted to an old book online and found a hard copy for sale cheap. "The Boys' Own Toy Maker, A Practical Guide to the Useful Employment of Leisure Hours," by E. Landells was published in 1859 and this copy is from the collection of the Earl of Normanton. A label in the front displays his coat of arms. I can imagine the Earl's children having made use of this book. With a very small bit of research I can know who owned it and where it was kept in such pristine shape

Of course the point of the manual arts are not that they make tradesmen of our children, but that they assist in raising them as fully functional human beings capable of care for each other.

Landells in this small volume states:
"Whoever would be a great inventor to the benefit of humanity must begin to learn common things in very early life; for so vast is the accumulation of knowledge heaped up by the ages and the inventive industry of mankind that if the task of learning be deferred until the business of life, with its thousand cares and distractions, begins, knowledge cannot ripen enough ... to be great in usefulness in their generation, to their country, and to their kind."
Today the US Senate will be allowed to vote on whether or not to end the shutdown of the US government. I've been calling my Senators urging them to pass a clean budget resolution and put Federal employees back to work. They had passed a clean budget resolution almost unanimously  during the last term, and they should do the exact same thing again. Call your own Senators and urge them to act. It seems unfortunate to me that we have so many leaders who are so completely out of touch and so uncaring for those who work on behalf of our safety.

Make, fix, create and insist that others learn lifewise.


Yesterday at the Clear Spring School  we were visited by Claudia Daggett, head of our Accreditation body, ISACS. The acronym stands for Independent Schools of the Central States, and we have been a member of ISACS for over 20 years. In fact, we are entering our fourth round of accreditation review which takes place in 7 year cycles. Claudia was visiting the ISACS schools of Arkansas and she took this photo for her Twitter account.

I have decided that some of my students are suffering from a lack of imagination that comes from their play with video games. They come to wood shop wanting to make the kinds of weapons they are trained by those games to seek... swords, and axes and the like. And so part of my responsibility is to push them beyond those things, and into the wide arena of lovely and useful things that can be made from wood. The birdhouses being made for the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists are only one small example.

Make, fix and create... Assist others in imagining their own roles as makers of beautiful and useful things.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The hands speak for themselves

The written word has lost some of its power to incite. The power of images and particularly of video has grown enormously through the internet. A few years back I showed some plans to one of my students who pushing them aside complained, "I'm a visual learner." "These are visual plans," I suggested. "Not that kind of visual," she protested. "I'm a youtube visual learner.

And so, with careful editing, we can be led from the truth.

Not so, when the hands speak for themselves.
"It is easy to juggle with words, to argue in a circle, to make the worse appear the better reason, and to reach false conclusions which wear a plausible aspect. But it is not so with things. If the cylinder is not tight, the steam engine is a lifeless mass of iron of no value whatever. A flaw in the wheel of the locomotive wrecks the train. Through a defective flue in the chimney the house is set on fire. A lie in the concrete is always hideous; like murder, it will out. Hence it is that the mind is liable to fall into grave errors until it is fortified by the wise counsel of the practical hand."––Charles H. Hamm.
The human hand is constantly seeking the truth and finding it. By leaving laboratory science and wood shop and the arts outside of education, we have diminished our children in both character and intellect, and sacrificed our human culture on the altar of stupidity.

What you see in the photo are 22 bluebird houses being made at the Clear Spring School for the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists to place and attend in our local Lake Leatherwood City Park.We diverged slightly from the published plans, in that I wanted them to have sloped roofs to shed water and add longevity. We also added predator protectors on the fronts that can prevent snakes from getting a foothold and entering the nesting box.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 21, 2019

gift number 4

I am in the process of building 4 gift number 4 Froebel blocks which with the four gift number 3 cubes I made earlier in the year will enable a large cube to be made from the 8 parts. Being made of treated plywood and being stapled and glued using waterproof glue, the blocks should offer long life and I can add to the collection in years to come if they are used safely.

The number 3 blocks are large enough to make spaces to hide within, and small enough that the kids can move them or roll them where they like. The gift number 4 blocks will add new challenges.

The turned bowl in the photo is one a CSS high school student turned a few years ago.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 19, 2019

n week

Yesterday at the Clear Spring School we made great progress in making bluebird houses for the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists to install at the Lake Leatherwood City Park. What we still have left on the 22 bird houses will be to add roofs and doors.

With the Kindergarten class I decided to have them make note holders for their Moms. The note holders are simple. A small board is held in the vise while a base is nailed on. Then a clothes pin is attached using hot melt glue. Personalized decoration with markers is an important part of the process. A note holder was the perfect project for "N" week in which the students were learning words that start with the letter "N."

The kids made notes to their Moms to be held in their note holders.

The kids told me that they want to make tiny cars next week.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Kindergarten in the college years.

I received a large pdf file from John Reynolds at Miami University showing student architectural designs based on Froebel blocks serving as the design prompt. The students arranged blocks and made block sets, then followed the path that the earlier steps provided in designing a building.

The point is that (as described in the theory of Educational Sloyd) we work best from the concrete toward the abstract. The blocks, being concrete forms, empower abstract thinking that has greater relevance to real life.

At the Clear Spring School, my students are working on bird houses for the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists, and I am working on supersized gift number 4 blocks for the school playground. The gift number 3 cubes still receive student attention even though they were introduced at the beginning of the school year. The addition of number 4 blocks will allow a much larger cube to be formed and other forms to be created. and will reinvigorate student interest.

Educational Sloyd was first conceived as a means to extend Kindergarten style learning through play into the upper grades. John Reynold's investigation of the use of Froebel blocks at the university level show that even college kids benefit from Kindergarten style learning.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Box making at ESSA

I finished a two day introduction to box making at the Eureka Springs School and have been back at work teaching at the Clear Spring School joined by a parent volunteer. On Monday my first through 4th grade students made rocket ships for their study of space.

Yesterday I picked up materials for making more giant sized outdoor Froebel blocks and for my students to make 24 bluebird houses for the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists to install at our Lake Leatherwood City Park.

Make, fix, and create... Assist others in learning lifewise.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

"M week" part II

Yesterday my Kindergarten students made marble mazes in celebration of M week in which they are studying words that start with the letter and sound M. Maze and marble. are among many The kids loved the project and wondered if they'd be allowed to take them home. Of course. That's one of the important points of manual arts training. The work that goes home is better than grades at showing proficiency and understanding.At the Clear Spring School,  coloring, decorating and personalizing is an important part of the process, one that was overlooked in the early days of Educational Sloyd but that excites the kids of today.

Who needs a report card when kids have done very real things, that capture their interests and imaginations and demonstrate their growth.

I expect a similar experience today as I embark on a two day box making class for adults. Adults and children are not much different when it comes to learning. We learn best through guided play. We are pulled forward to learn new things because our imaginations have become captive in our explorations of self. The very odd thing is that we've public school's that ignore what we all know about the process of learning.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

Friday, January 11, 2019

"M week"

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, I decided that our lesson for Kindergarten students would be making marble mazes because they are studying the letter "M."

This is my first day back at teaching, so I woke up in the middle of the night thinking through what I would do with my fifth and sixth grade students. Because they are studying caves, I explained that they would be able to make marble mazes in which the marble would have to pass through the maze by feel alone.

They loved the idea so much that next week they want to make multi-level mazes in which they not only have to move the marble around a track built inside, but they will also have to feel its way through the game level by level. That will add difficulty and complexity to a simple game.

I will have photos of the Kindergarten marble mazes in tomorrow's post. Unlike the 5th and 6th grade marble mazes, the Kindergarten mazes will be open on the top rather than sealed.

Some have wondered where the ideas for the Wisdom of the Hands projects come from. The teachers play a big part in the process. The students, also. It is a delight for a teacher to see his or her students deeply engaged, and every student this morning was just that.

Tomorrow I have a two day box making class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix, create and assist others in learning likewise.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

coming attractions.

On Friday I resume classes  at the Clear Spring School. The students are excited that I'll be back.

On Saturday I start a two day class in box making at ESSA. I have 9 students signed up, and have hopes that the possibility of snow does not interfere.

On January 26 the Stateline Woodturners (a chapter of the AAW from Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas) will make "Beads of Courage" boxes in the ESSA wood shop as a service project for children who are facing difficult medical treatment.  If you are interested in learning more about the Stateline Woodturners you can contact them through this link:

I contacted a friend, George Lundeen, internationally known sculptor, to congratulate him on a project he had recently completed, building larger than life sized "stations of the cross." It was a monumental project involving a number of sculptors. We reminisced about our college days, with him recalling that he learned very little from his classes and a whole lot more through his relationships with friends. Is that nearly always the case?

The turned box shown is a "beads of courage" box.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning life wise.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Does manual labor boost happiness?

A friend sent a link to an article describing the effects of manual agency on the chemistry of the brain.  The title of the piece "Does Manual Labor Boost Happiness" may be misleading. "Manual labor" is thought to be that thing that those in search of ease try their damnedest to avoid. Digging ditches might come to mind. And yet to feel fully human requires the display of manual agency. The article mentions Kelly Lambert, a researcher I've mentioned many times before in this blog, and perhaps it will help readers to understand that I really do know what I'm talking about.

  • Working with your hands affects brain chemistry in a positive way. 
  • Automation technologies can strip away a sense of agency and meaning in our lives. 
  • Using your hands connects you with your environment in a way that most technologies cannot.

The article also mentions Matthew Crawford, about whom I've written many times before and who used a 2006 quote from this blog as the launch of chapter one of his best selling book, "Shop Class as Soulcraft. "

Of course, how we feel as human beings and how we feel about ourselves as human beings are only part sof what's related to the agency of the hands.

  • We also are smarter when the hands are engaged. 
  • We are more truthful and responsive to the needs of others. 
  • We are less egotistical, more compassionate, and loving, when the hands are engaged. 

The search for happiness may not require us to become manual laborers and dig ditches for a change. We can serve in a multitude of other intelligent ways. Engaging the hands as a means to restore body and soul needs not lower us on a social scale. Even doing the basic chores of life can have restorative effects.

Make, fix and create... encourage others to learn and love lifewise.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

aiming an arrow at a hard to find mark

A former student from my box making classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking contacted me in the hopes that I could guide him in the promotion of his work. He had remembered from a conversation at school that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton had used my boxes during his international travels as gifts from our state.

My student wanted to create a similar opportunity for himself and wondered if there was some way to construct a similar opportunity for his own work. I explained that my opportunity was pure happenstance. I was selling my boxes in a Little Rock store that was frequented by the governor and his wife.

In response, my student mentioned he had been hoping for more more direct formula. A more direct formula would be some form of self-promotion which I'd been loathe to do. I went for the first 8 years of professional woodworking without business cards of any kind. My thought was that the work should speak for itself. We do not think of ourselves as living any longer in those times.

In November, I was reminiscing with a friend who hired me to design and build the Arkansas Governor's Quality Awards almost 25 years ago. We talked about the first conversation we had leading to my opportunity to design and make those awards. She hd been put in charge of finding the award designer and after presenting some ideas was challenged by the president of a large utility company, "Can't you find someone in state? It should represent Arkansas," she was told. So she went looking again. She called the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission and they dropped my name as a possible lead and gave her my number.

She called and asked about my work. I told her that I was probably best known for my boxes, at which point, she turned over a small box on her desk and found my signature underneath. The box on her desk had been a gift from her husband, director of the Little Rock Area Chamber of Commerce. Her seeing my work at hand led to an invitation to design the award, and I've made them ever since. I could not have aimed an arrow at that mark.

But there is a simple formula. Put yourself into your work. Let it speak for itself of your sincerity and serious intentions, of your caring and concern about things larger than yourself. It may take time to arrive at the right desk, but in the meantime, the rewards, those of craftsmanship are great.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

a wheel drilling guide and explanation of absence

It can be difficult to make a working wheel if the axle hole at the center is not precise. This gives drilling with a drill press an advantage, and with the number of wheels we make in the Clear Spring School wood shop, its best that I not buy them or attempt to make them myself. This means that the kids need to have some means to safely make wheels themselves.

The drawing conveys my latest attempt to make wheels easy and accurate and this jig along with instructions on how to make it and use it will be offered in my new book.

A reader asked about plans for the benches we use at the Clear Spring School in the younger grades. These were made years ago with some help from noted craftsman and Arkansas Living Treasure Larry Williams. I presented the instructions for making the benches in an article in Woodwork Magazine number 52, August 2005. On another day I'll post the plans here.

Schools would be remarkably different at all levels including college if the principles of Educational Sloyd were accepted and understood. One of these principles is that of moving from the concrete to the abstract.

An article in the New York Times helps to illustrate. It seems that a push to engage students in hands-on learning through science has not led to an increase in the number of engineering and science students reaching graduation. They shift majors due to the abstraction involved. You go from building robots in high school to contending with advanced calculus in college. Due to the disconnection between the concrete and the abstract the results are predictable and dire.

I ceased posting to the blog a few days back due to a large kidney stone causing severe pain. That stone was removed by surgery a couple days ago. I'm finally back, though under the restriction of not lifting more than 10 lbs. and no use of power tools. I make no promises of making regular posts.

I began this blog in 2006 and without me needing to post each day, there's plenty to read in the event that I'm not attending to it. I had made the assumption that given the nature of the hands and the reality of their impact on all things human, they deserve daily attention. If I can awaken you to that fact, this blog will have done its job whether I write each day or not.

We have a national concern about all students arriving in college or some other form of higher education. That's legitimate. We should also have a national concern about all students finding success in higher education. It is quite unlikely that universities might allow themselves to actually learn something from the principles of Educational Sloyd, but it would be best that they make at least some small attempt to recognize the importance of hands-on learning. The hands form the bridge between the concrete and the abstract.

Make, fix and create. Assist all others in learning lifewise.