Saturday, April 04, 2020

the making of masks.

A friend and blog reader Tim Holton sent me a link to his own blog that mentions a thing he'd read here last year about the "fabric of community." I urge you to read it because it's a beautiful piece that concerns the making of masks.

If it's N95 masks that the medical community needs, what place is there in that for the home-made? Have you wondered? Here in our own town of Eureka Springs many are making fabric masks in a project led by local clothing designer and teacher at the Clear Spring School, Mark Hughes. You can see Mark's video tutorial through this link. There is joy in feeling of service to others that I hope all come to know.

It's recommended now that we all wear masks when we go out, but is there a place for hand-made masks in hospitals? I learned from Tim Holton's post that some in the medical community are wearing hand-made masks over their N95's. They give a sense of identity and recognition to the faceless heroes of our Coronavirus catastrophe. They also protect the important N95's from being discarded due to becoming soiled.

That they are made with love should say enough.

Stay well.

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


I heard back from a reader who began using Paper Sloyd with his stuck at home kids. Matt said,
"The ‘lesson’ was a success, despite initial grumbling. Once the kids decided for themselves that they could make the project theirs by customizing things, they were all over it. Attached is a photo."
Thanks Matt, for sharing this. I've been reflecting on the narrative qualities of wood, that: "where there's a knot, there had been a branch" and how much we are like trees. They tell their stories. We tell ours, even though we often tend to take the easy way out, by using our words, rather than mind, muscle, and hands. It makes a difference how we think of narrative. Is it only human jabber, or is it connected to deeper human experience? One difference between trees and man is that trees don't jabber.

This coming week I have a podcast with the Writer's Colony in Eureka Springs, so I've also been reflecting on the difference between how-to writers, and those who dwell upon fictional subjects. This is not to disparage other forms of writing which also require effort and imagination, but we how-to writers are held to the bonds and boundaries of the real world, and in that are empowered to bring real change to real lives. A child writing a note to Nana to fill an envelope carefully crafted from paper offers a small example of our work.

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

Friday, April 03, 2020

attempting to be brief...

As I've been attempting to convey lessons in woodworking to the students and parents at the Clear Spring School, I'm beginning to realize that I need to be brief. Many (even parents) will not read what I write, as reading has become hard for us in our twitter age.

Even with the corona virus slowing us down and giving us more time to read we seem to have lost the knack for long sentences.

But it's difficult for me to be brief on a subject I love so much and that's so deeply entwined in human culture to the point many don't know that it's there.

Wood and the attempt to make useful and beautiful objects from it are foundation blocks in human civilization.

So for those who don't like to read so much, I offer the following about the kits that Clear Spring School parents will pick up for their kids beginning Monday by arrangement with their core teachers or head of school.
  1. A labeled and finished sample of an Arkansas hardwood. The students are to  use the internet to learn more about the tree and the uses of its wood, then draw a picture of the tree or write a poem or observations about the tree.
  2. A block of 2 x 4 spruce (a common building material). Count the annual rings and give thought to how long it took to grow in comparison to their own lives.
  3. A sanding block with which they are to work on the 2 x 4 block, sanding to compare results, across and with the grain.
While we are in some difficult times, look at the spaces between the annual rings and notice that not all are not the same. Trees, too, grow through difficult times, and that the rings go on, tells us that we, too, will grow on to better days.

With the sanding block, I offer this warning to kids. Only use it on unfinished wood. Using it on other things will get you in big trouble.

I'll try to lay out assignments more simply in my future mailings. If you want to receive those mailings, use this link.

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

Thursday, April 02, 2020

number 3

I just sent out the number 3 newsletter Woodworking at Home with Kids. There are millions of kids out there, suffering from social distancing that would benefit from woodworking, a better understanding of wood and a greater respect for craftsmanship. You can help by passing the newsletter along to parents, grandparents and teachers.

If you want to subscribe, click on the link above. It offers the opportunities to subscribe, view earlier editions, and have the page translated into a language of your choice.

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

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

an easier link

A friend, Kim Brand sent an easier link for folks trying to download the Paper Sloyd book than from my drop box account.

This will be useful for those attempting to make use of my emails about woodworking at home with kids.

Viewing the email online you can subscribe, download the previous message, and thanks to google also view translations in a wide variety of languages, so world-wide, parents and children can benefit from stay at home woodworking exercises.

I received this lovely quote from Marsha:
"Behind the visible surface of things is the infinite ocean of possibility. Its waves are so beautiful and inviting. "What a wonderful world," Louis Armstrong sings. What a wonderful life, in which the playful waves in the cosmic ocean dare you, tease you, and play a game of hide and seek with you, all the time hoping that you will catch one and turn it into a beautiful poem, a painting, a song, or a wonderful act of human kindness." — Lothar Shäfer - Infinite Potential - What Quantum Physics Reveals About How We Should Live
I am reminded that we are interconnected, and perhaps that offers some consolation in challenging times. We can dwell upon our separateness and suffer the pain of isolation, or we can feel (even while sequestered) that we are not alone.

As I work alone in my shop, am I alone? There are tools there in my own hands that others have designed and crafted or that were passed down to me. And from my simple shop, there's a flow of ideas and forms that can be placed in service for others. And the woods! May I tell you about the woods? I'm overwhelmed thinking about that, so the subject will await another day. Wood will be the subject of my next news letter. You will have to subscribe to receive it.

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Volume 1, number 2

I just sent out volume 1, number 2 of my newsletter series, Woodworking at home with the kids at the Clear Spring  School. If you use the link, it will allow you to subscribe and to view the first in the series if you missed it.

The photo shows an original first edition of the book Paper Sloyd along with a "wall pocket" and  a hand crafted valentine I found saved in the book.

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

Monday, March 30, 2020

a review

I sent a review pdf of my new Guide to Woodworking with Kids to a very dear friend in Sweden, who had been my guide and host at Nääs, Sweden, the home of Educational Sloyd.

Though quite elderly, Hans Thorbjörnsson, wrote the following:
"Your creation Guide to Woodworking with Kids is a remarkable creation. You have brought The Teacher's Handbook(Salomon's) ... and The Theory of Educational Sloyd into the 21st century - in a much better version. Lots of photos of high quality, very instructive and filled with interested children. Drawings so easy to understand that even Rosie can use them. And best of all - your text caracterized by your passion for educational sloyd and it's good fruits, especially the co-ordination between hands och brain, Wisdom of the Hands.

"The models are adapted to children's and young students'interests, much better than Salomon's dusty ones. Carl Malmsten - remember his criticism - is applauding you from designers' heaven.

"Educational sloyd and good woodworking are most essential in our digital time. You have done your best and I feel happy to have seen it happen before I close my eyes."
Hans, a historian and teacher, had written books about Educational Sloyd and Nääs. When I met him, he was the curator of Otto Salomons library at Nääs and he has been my correspondent for years as I've delved into the history and methods of Educational Sloyd.

In his note Hans makes reference to Carl Malmsten, a Swedish designer craftsman who had been at Nääs, and later became James Krenov's teacher, and through that had a tremendous effect on American woodworking. Malmsten had caused great dissention at Nääs, as he tried to bring Sloyd forward into the 20th century. His ideas and ideals of fostering the child's creativity and responding more directly to the interests of the child were not well received at the time.

In my own shop, I'm working on designs for a bathroom bench, and preparing lessons for my next newsletter.

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

a simple new look...

A simple new look. I've been making some boxes with veneered panels glued into the top. Some were left with too large a gap surrounding the panels, so my fix has been to put a fresh veneer on the top. I like it and hope you do also. Now final sanding, the installation of a lift tab on the lid and the application of an oil finish will bring these to completion.

A friend in Finland wondered about how to sell boxes for a price that reflects the effort required to make them. He mentioned living in an Ikea world in which everything was made cheap. But making is not just making. It's learning, and it gives shape to the feelings we have about ourselves. It's therapy in hard times, and gives us the ability to cope with difficult circumstances. As we pursue growth of skill, we influence those around us to do the same. And if we want to live in strong communities, we must encourage each other to do as follows:

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

Saturday, March 28, 2020

an invitation

My first newsletter about woodworking with kids went out this afternoon. You are welcome to invite others to subscribe.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning lifewise

an insatiable desire to make things.

This video about the  woodworking of Russ Zeitz. came to me from Lee Valley. Russ says, "You will never get bored if you start making things." Russ describes his "insatiable desire to make things."

In the meantime, I'm just getting ready to send out the first of my woodworking with kids emails to the parents of my Clear Spring School kids. To subscribe you will have to send me an email. It will offer tips for parents of students grades K-12 but also may be useful to woodworkers in general.

Stay busy, stay well.

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

Friday, March 27, 2020

moment to movement

What do our hands offers learning? Some research has shown that we learn science more effectively (and it's remembered) when we learn hands-on, even when less breadth of material is covered.

I suggest a revolution in schooling to make use of concrete learning to a greater degree than we do now. The covid-19 epidemic is likely to divorce learning even more from concrete learning unless we can figure out how to become a channel for propelling kids to get off their digital devices and into the real world. Many years ago, a friend had suggested to me that my brains are in my hands, and that threw me for a loop. I realized he was right, and over the years became aware that was not only true for me, but for most others as well.

I would urge all teachers and all students, even those in academic subjects to thoroughly examine their own learning experience sand particularly those a-ha life changing moments that brought them to an extreme interest in a particular subject area, and assess how deeply their hands were engaged at the time. Were they doing something real, were they out in a real place, and did they connect what they were learning with actual real world experience? I believe effective learning for all of us, must involve engagement in reality. And where the hands and mind are equally engaged, the heart follows. 

This is what I try to write about in this blog. So let's see how we can build this moment into a movement. There's a real world out there folks. Let's examine it hands-on and learn from it, and build a better world from what we've learned.

In the meantime, I'm working on boxes and trying to figure out how to get tools and materials distributed safely to our kids. Thanks, Dana,  for the ostrich. You can discover such cool things when you're paying attention to wood.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2020

new Woodworking with Kids newsletter

During this time of crisis, and with kids out of school for the time being, I'm looking for ways to keep out students engaged, and also to help other woodworking teachers to do the same. So I'll be using mail chimp to help me to send weekly newsletters to student's families offering projects that can be done at home.

If you want to subscribe, I'll need your name and email address, which can be sent to me at The first issue of volume one will be sent in the next few days. You can unsubscribe at any time.

The photo shows wooden squares recently glued up and "squared," for student use. These will be sent home for our students to use and learn from. They are like the ones we use at the Clear Spring School, but these will be theirs to keep.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

path to learning

Scott Bultman has launched a podcast based on the interviews they conducted with over 100 educators from across the US. You can join in here: I was one of the educators interviewed for the History of Kindergarten documentary film project and some of our Clear Spring School kids will likely be included. I'll try to let my readers know when my own interview will be released.

We seem to be facing a revolution on all fronts, and I hope the Kindergarten model of learning can play a role in what comes up in education and in life.

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

Monday, March 23, 2020


Today we begin our second week of being self-sequestered in our homes, maintaining a safe distance from others and figuring out how to move forward. I've finished a brief article for American Woodturner magazine that will appear in a future issue. I've also set up a small photo booth to take pictures of boxes so that I can list them for sale on

All of our teachers, students, parents and families are adjusting to new circumstances. So we are feeling our way. I talked to my sister Mary in Lincoln, Nebraska where schools are also closed for the time being. They are being told by administration to go lightly in their expectations and in assignments for home learning. What the kids need most will be assurance and support.

My wife an I and many others are lucky to live in a nice home, and to have managed to avoid poverty. We were able to stock up on supplies. This is not the case for many and there will be extreme, devastating effects. Can we not, as a nation with such wealth, make certain that the least among us are offered security of food, security of home, security of health and freedom from fear? It seems that since FDR, the two parties have answered that question in different ways.

In the meantime, the Republicans are working on a bailout for American corporations. The Democrats are working on a bailout of the American people. If we soon weather this crisis and put it behind us, the folks with big money will be making Wall St. bounce back, while folks in the street will will continue to face devastation for years.

There's a tendency in the news to present the stock exchange and what happens in it as "the economy." Let me assure you that the economy is much larger than Wall St. It includes the nurses and doctors that go to work each day to care for our sick. It includes the grocery clerks who struggle to provide curbside service and are there to make certain that in our sequestered state, we eat. Yes, it even includes boxes made in a very small woodshop and placed Etsy. And it includes teachers now struggling to find new ways to keep their students engaged and learning.

Make, fix, create, care for others by taking good care of yourself.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

on the square

Yesterday I began making tools to send home with our kids in busy bags to keep them learning while being sequestered in their homes. So we start with the square.

The square and the geometry it entails is fundamental to modern civilization. In woodworking, square cuts and square edges allow parts to be well fitted to each other. And with the use of the square to examine the world that surrounds us,  perhaps we and they will note a few things of interest. I will present some exercises using the square as lessons to the kids.

With two of the the Educational Sloyd precepts in mind, Start with the interests of the child, and move from the concrete to the abstract, the square presents and opportunity for learning. For each student to have a tool of his or her own, will excite interest. Each square is a concrete object with which to examine abstract concepts.

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

Friday, March 20, 2020

paper sloyd

Paper Sloyd was written by Ednah Anne Rich and published in 1912.  I just finished scanning it, arranging it and uploading it so that you can download, enjoy and make use of in the stay at home education of kids. I added my own article about paper Sloyd from Woodwork Magazine published a number of years ago as I was reintroducing Sloyd to American woodworkers.

So why is this important now? Kids are stuck at home and parents are wondering what to do about it. Kids need to continue learning and we know that hands-on is better by far than being stuck at a computer all day. Academic third-party learning and hands-on discovery-based learning each refresh and nourish the other.

Paper Sloyd was a means to prepare very young students for later lessons in woodworking. It involves accurate measuring, and the ability to follow instructions. Unlike origami, the outcome instead of being merely decorative is useful. The projects are arranged to take advantage of how kids learn, moving from the known to the unknown, from the easy to more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. It also engages and develops spatial visualization, that will later be important in finding success in math. But just because the book shows very young children at work, does not mean that older children and adults would not learn from it and enjoy it.

The tools of paper Sloyd are scissors and ruler, both of which should be available in most homes (at least I hope so!) Only paper is required to make the models from the book which offers three years of paper folding lessons. I prefer to use card stock for most of the projects, to make them more lasting, but lighter paper can be used.

Even if you never use this book, the way projects are laid out is instructive as it illustrates the way that lessons were laid out in woodworking Sloyd. When you've learned the lessons from one project, what you've learned will make the next just a bit easier and the instructions just a bit more clear as you build skills in a sequential and natural manner.

A student favorite from the book is making paper pinwheels as shown.

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

make a wish, make a list...

Years ago, a friend who had spent WWII in China had told me that the Chinese symbol for crisis and the Chinese symbol for opportunity are the same. And so, what do you want to learn, and what do you want to develop that you can during a time of being sequestered from our normal reality.

Kelly McDonough, director of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts has always wanted to knit socks. So with a new knitting kit in hand, and her dad crafting some lovely new needles, she's ready for some days or weeks, working at home.

We need a way that we can share what we're learning, so I suggest visiting the ESSA facebook page and sharing with others in our arts community. If you do, and even if your results are not what you might hope for at first, you'll likely find encouragement and support from others facing the same challenges.

Decide what you've always wanted to learn. Make a wish for it, and that you find a way for it. Make a list of what you need. Do some careful shopping if you must. Or think about things you already have in your home that might help. As a friend Paul Ruhlman suggests, "Do what you can with what you have." But don't forget to share with others.

If you don't have any ideas, go to my blog, There you'll find years of ideas from my teaching at the Clear Spring School and from my time teaching adults in woodworking clubs and schools and through articles in various woodworking magazines. Spool knitting is a great way to occupy and excite children's hands. I plan to supply knitting spools to our students at the Clear Spring School.

In the meantime, and as an example from the blog, you might wonder about your hands. Did you know that wearing a single glove on one hand or the other can actually change the way you think?

In thinking about Kelly knitting socks, I'm reminded of a pair of gloves I bought in Helsinki from a woman who knitted fingerless gloves while talking to me in a market. How can a person's hands be so smart? As proof, I have a pair of her gloves in my coat pocket.

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

unprecedented times

I have been reading my friend Charles Templeton's new first novel based on his actual experience as a crew chief on a CH46 tandem lift helicopter in Vietnam. Boot-A Sorta Novel of Vietnam is now available on Amazon His is an amazing story about the incredible idiocy of war and the young men thrown into Vietnam. Post war, Charles became a lifelong teacher and educator, who has become a beloved member of our own community. His novel has been in the works for years, and is a very good read. He and I feel towards each other that we're brothers, so to read his book is a very good thing.

I'm also led to compare those days when our nation was torn apart by war, with these days when we are at war with a deadly virus and led by an administration that for weeks bent over backwards to assure us that all was OK and everything is under control as the deadly virus spread undetected and undetectable through every state. In the meantime the invasion of the Covid-19 virus is nearly complete. Unlike a nation torn apart by war, this is actually worse. It's a war that we don't send young folks off to fight. It's here and it's a war we are left to fight ourselves.

In war young innocent men and women are sent away into battles, returning with scars that are often unseen but that have deep effects on their lives and their families and communities. In this case, we have the opportunity to rise up and stand of defense of each other, and the oddest thing at this point is that we protect each other by hiding out until test kits are actually delivered and we are assisted with tools to fight the deadly disease.

One of the challenges in all this is to keep our heads on straight and our spirits up. One of the tools that's proven to be successful for that is to engage our hands and hearts in meaningful creative work. Yesterday I spent some time cleaning my office and sanding boxes. Today I hope to continue in the same vein. Reading is another good thing, as I proven to myself through my enjoyment of Charles Templeton's book.

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

Monday, March 16, 2020

under control?

My wife and I have self-sequestered in our home with our dog, Rosie. I hope all are taking Covid-19 seriously and are doing the same. In 2001, I was one of the founding members of the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers, While wood programs throughout the US were closing, that association for mutual support was proposed and has persisted to this day.

Now members of NEAWT are sharing ideas about how to continue offering hands-on learning to their student while their schools are closed. We will persist, and grow. A great friend from that group, Paul Ruhlman, shared the following:
I got some remote teaching ideas while jogging this morning.

1. Lloyd Kahn just came out with a book, Half Acre Homestead. Lloyd goes way back as one of the principles of the Whole Earth Catalog and later a founder of the Shelter Institute and related books including Dome Book One & Two. His core philosophy is "Do what you can, where you are with what you have." A good philosophy for these times. There is a great 25 minute video of what he is up to at:

After watching the video, I will be asking my students to come up with a project using things they find around the house. I will be asking the kids to come up with a project using materials and tools found around the house. They get extra credit if they write up the project so that they can share it with their classmates.

2.The artist Alexander Calder is a huge influence in American Art. He is best known for popularizing the mobile. One of my favorite pieces by him is the Circus. During the depression he made circus animal and human figures using mostly wire, scrap wood, and wine corks. He packed his miniature circus in an old suitcase and went to various neighborhoods and put on circus performances for kids and parents. Charging just a penny, it helped him make it through the Depression. There are tons of videos of his work. I’ll let you choose. I will be asking my students to make a piece inspired by Calder, either a mobile or another piece from materials found around the house.

3. I will be asking my students to put together a hypothetical optimum tool kit if they had a budget of $250, using Home Depot or Lowes. Students have to say why they would choose particular tools. You or the students can vote on the best student submission.

4. Cabaret Mechanical Theatre is a great source for mechanical sculpture ideas. I have included a link to sculptures made from food you probably have at home. They also have great mechanical sculpture ideas made using wood. I often make prototypes using cardboard from cereal boxes and toothpicks. A great exercise in creativity and mechanical problem solving.

This is just a start. "Do what you can, where you are with what you have."

We will get through this.
Wishing you the best.
Paul Ruhlmann
Buckingham Browne & Nichols School
You can find other ideas on the woodworking teacher website and at

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning lifewise

Sunday, March 15, 2020

getting ready

I'd planned to be at ESSA today to get ready for my 5 day Viking Chest class. I have a very large table stacked with parts, all planed and ready for joints to be cut. Staves are cut for forming coopered lids, but all the parts will be put in storage for now as we make adjustments due to the coronavirus, Covid-19. My class is being postponed to a later date. Fortunately, the students come from our local area, and with luck, we'll be able to find  better, less dangerous date.

Is it too soon to be sequestered from the dangers of the disease? With no testing yet available, despite the administration's claims that millions of test kits were being sent out, we are operating in the dark, and we dare not take the risk of our students getting sick with this potentially deadly disease.

I'm also attempting to get my head around my own coronavirus response. How can I keep my Clear Spring School students engaged in learning? What tools and materials do they have in their homes? Can we supply some? Woodworking and crafts are ways to cope, and to build mental health resilience to stress.

Make, fix, create. Keep healthy in mind and body by learning lifewise.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

What to do...

With schools closing across the US due to the coronavirus Covid-19, some folks being asked to work at home, there being a shortage of necessary supplies and having been a near complete failure of leadership at the top of things, it appears that the US and the world are headed toward recession.

In 2008 as we were heading into our last great recession, we had a daughter in college, and a mortgage, and I wondered whether my business would survive. Remembering what folks did to survive in the great depression, I pulled lumber from my barn and began making tables which I then managed to sell. The effects were profound.

If I'm sequestered due to the Covid 19 virus and the threat of spreading this deadly disease, and if I'm able, I'll be in my shop, attempting to make beautiful and useful things to outlive my own life.

One of the hazards as we face these times is that of loneliness and depression. One direct way to deflect those feelings, even when alone, is to get busy with a creative life. Let's take whatever time we're given to learn something real, to master something we've wanted to master, to make something that we know will be of service to others. The byproduct of all that crafting will be that feelings of powerlessness in the face of adversity are put aside, and joy can be found, even when not in the company of others.

Today I have more materials preparation for my next week's class in building Viking Chests. The photo shows the hardware that students will be making themselves.

Make, fix, create, and find joy in learning lifewise

Friday, March 13, 2020

Spring break

Today I will prepare stock for my class in making a Viking chest. The wood is white oak, and the hardware will be hand forged under the guidance of master blacksmith Bob Patrick. The class will begin Monday and we are taking extra precautions concerning cleanliness of tools and shop due to the threat from Covid 19.

After today students at the Clear Spring School will go on an extended spring break while we prepare for the Corona virus's eventual effects on our own community. These are scary times. And the reasons for fear are quite real, though as a friend Kari in Norway reminds us, "we are not afraid."

With the Federal government having failed in its response, it appears that people in small communities all across the US will step up and care for each other.

I was surprised last night to see the supermarket shelves completely emptied of toilet paper.
Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London, explains the psychology of panic buying of such things as toilet paper as “retail therapy” — where we buy in an attempt to manage our emotional state.

“It’s about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control,” he said.

There are other ways to feel in control during troubling times. Crafting objects of useful beauty provides what psychological researcher Kelly Lambert describes as  providing"effort driven rewards." Some experts have suggested we find ways to "hunker down" for three months. There may be ways we can rise up instead.

The photo shows my prototype Viking Chest with hardware hand forged by Bob Patrick.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A simple skill builder

Yesterday I planned for my elementary school students, grades 1-4 to build skills in measuring, marking and nailing. The lesson was planned as follows: First I showed a youtube video on the use of a tape measure. Even kids who think they know how one works, quickly learn that there's more to it than they knew.  "Why does the tip wiggle like that?" is a question even many adults do not know the answer to.

Then I passed out tape measures so the kids could examine what they'd seen on TV. After the kids had measured all kinds of things in the room, I passed out lengths of 2 x 4 in. lumber, asked the students to make a mark at 5 inches, and then use a square to draw a straight line across. The next challenge  was to drive in nails along the line they'd drawn.

The project was a good skill builder, as it kept the students engaged for the full period and even the youngest exhibited growth. It didn't answer the question: "What are we making today?" but that was OK and the kids were joyful in their work.

In addition to teaching this week at the Clear Spring School, I'll be spending time at ESSA to prepare for next week's adult class, making Viking style chests.

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

Monday, March 09, 2020


As I've been working with my editors to finalize my Guide to Woodworking with Kids, I've been going through years of photo files and finding interesting things. The model of the Parthenon as shown was part of an exercise in geometry and in making a blocks set representing ancient Greek architecture. Looking back, it's amazing to see how many interesting things we've done.

In addition to a collection of photographs and projects I have an interesting collection of old books on the manual arts.

T. W. Berry in his book The Pedagogy of Educational Handicraft, 1912 wrote about the general school effect of manual work.
"Children who are dull at literary work are very generally bright when engaged in manual work, and this interest in what is done, stimulated by its attendant success, is reflected in all the School work. The accuracy and neatness of execution and artistic embellishment demanded in Handicraft is imitated in School work generally, so that the moral effect is very great. The variety of work, both as regards materials and nature of models, tends to make a pupil adaptable to varying circumstances, but always aiming at a high artistic finish to a useful article.

"Not only is the direct influence of manual instruction great but the indirect is even greater. The correlation of studies widens the interest, inculcates the spirit of co-operation and interrelationship, and enables the pupil to express his thoughts not in words only but in models, which necessarily demand precision, thus developing a most useful habit."
Woodworking is not alone in reaching the depths of the child. In fact, when schools make a sincere attempt to connect education with real life by doing real things, children become more deeply engaged. When they've become more deeply engaged, they learn at a faster pace and to more profound effect. Is this rocket science, or do you get it, also? Can you draw conclusions from your own life as a learner? I suspect so. Please tell us about it.

T.W. Berry's book mentioned above is one that I got while my daughter was at Columbia University in New York City. I was contacted at a librarian at Teachers College, who when tasked with throwing out old books on the manual arts, could not stand for them going to waste. She would take them to my daughter's campus mail box so they would be there for me to take home when I would visit New York. As a result, I have a rich collection. It feels as though I was entrusted through special circumstances to play a role in all this.

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

Saturday, March 07, 2020

tonight's spring fling

Clear Spring School's annual Spring Fling fundraiser is being held tonight from 6-9 PM at the Holiday Island Country Club 1 Country Club Drive, Holiday Island, Arkansas. The event features dinner, dancing and a silent auction of art and services. It is our most important fundraiser of the year. Join us.

Want to share a box making experience with your very best friends? At the Spring Fling you can bid on a box making package for four in the Clear Spring School wood studio. If you win the bidding war I'll guide you and three friends in each in making a box or two.

This week I've been going through another round of edits on my Guide to Woodworking with Kids. The book is scheduled for release in May. A how-to book comes into being through collaboration, and I'm grateful to be working with professionals that I've known for a long time and worked with on other projects. What we're making will be a very good book. Whether it sells may be up to you.

Yesterday, with steps finished for the outdoor classroom, I found students in it playing school. Some were on the benches while another lectured at the blackboard. That assures me that real teacher led classes in it will be coming soon. There are lots of simple little things that need to be done, but with lovely weather, we're making progress.

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

Friday, March 06, 2020


During the housing crisis from 2008 that lasted well into the next decade, around 10 million families were evicted from their homes due to foreclosure. So what happened to those homes?
A story in the New York Times tells how those homes were snapped up by newly formed companies owned by investors seeking to win big money at rapid rates by taking advantage of the crisis in home values. They were able to buy houses at a fraction of their value and then rent them out at high market rates. The great recession was one of the largest transfers of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy elite in American history.

That transfer of wealth continues as middle class folks pay high rents to wealthy investors who snapped up foreclosed homes. You can read about it here:

My fifth and sixth grade students have been helping finish the outdoor classroom that has been in the works since fall when cold weather began to intrude. They took turns driving screws and hammering nails. The blackboards are now up and ready for paint. We plan to add small tool cabinets at each end where simple hand tools can be kept for student use.

Make, fix, create and assist others in learning lifewise

Monday, March 02, 2020

wash your hands...

When my mother was a young woman there were three choices for a career. My mom chose to become a teacher and an older sister Marge became a public health nurse. And so as we face a potentially catastrophic Covid-19 pandemic I need to make mention of nursing as one of the important hands-on activities essential to society and to every small community in America. We pray that the pandemic is not as severe as it threatens to become.

Warmer weather offers some hope to delay the spread of the disease, but if things proceed as they did during the flu pandemic of 1918-1920 in which between 40 to 100 million died, there will be a lull in the summer months and a dramatic reappearance of the spread of the disease when the weather turns cold.

This brings me to my point. Nursing is one of the underrated professions. In this blog I've failed in the past to make this important point. Craftsmen make. Nurses make well. We can make their job easier by washing up and wiping down. We are facing a time in which the bravery and intelligence of the nursing profession will need special recognition. Let's start now.

Make, fix, create, make well, and assist others in learning lifewise.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Seymour Sarason

Seymour Sarason compared teaching to a performance art. In the classroom, the teacher stands in front of class and engages the students attention, or at least makes the attempt to do so. But unlike a musician, or a theatrical performer, the teacher gets little or no direction to improve performances, and no rehearsal time.

He or she is judged from outside the classroom based on whether or not order is maintained. The teacher's power over his or her students is the basis upon which administrators and fellow teaching staff judge the teacher's effectiveness, and yet when it comes to kids, intellectual engagement is more often expressed by an enthusiasm that would be adjudged intolerable in many schools. So one can see that administrators and policy makers would like to find some way to measure teacher performance without having to put directors and stage managers in every class.

Seymour Sarason had maintained a rather dark but realistic view that every attempt at reform of public education would fail and so far he's been proven 100% right.

The charter school movement takes a spitwad approach. Throw a bunch of new ideas (that are really old ideas) in the form of charter schools (most of which follow a single not so new formula and most of which are intended to turn a profit) against a wall, and see which sticks best. Sarason, on the other hand, suggests that the secret to effective schools may have more to do with how we train our teachers for collaboration within and between classes, training them to draw forth from students their deepest engagement.

His thoughts are a deep well, and should be read by all who might take an interest in the subject of school reform. With between 40 books and 60 articles, getting to know Sarason would be a monumental task, but for the book I'm reading, the Skeptical Visionary, edited by Robert L. Fried

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the likelihood of learning likewise.

Friday, February 28, 2020


My first through 4th grade students finished their planter boxes this week as you can see in this photo of student work lining a classroom window.

On the home front, we've reached the end of an era. About 5 years ago our yard and gardens began being overrun and destroyed by feral hogs. With the help of a friend, and having been offered no help from the state, we began the process of trapping, killing and removing them ourselves.

We are grateful that the State Fish and Wildlife Commission has finally become involved. Today I took down our trap, knowing that we are no longer alone. Fish and Game's high tech traps are far more effective.

Make, fix, create, and adjust schooling so that all children learn lifewise.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

a new favorite

I take photos of the Clear Spring Students at work in the woodshop, and occasionally a new one shows up that serves particularly well to illustrate a particular value of woodworking. This is one, showing intense concentration. It also shows the development of skill. The idea of a child with a sharp knife might frighten some. But the boy is proud of his work.

Make, fix, create, and adjust education so that others learn lifewise.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Beginning to make foot stools

Yesterday my high school class began making foot stools from white oak. Two inch thick white oak will be used to make the legs. To get familiar with the wood and the processes of traditional woodworking I passed out hands planes so the students and their teacher could get their muscles and minds into the work.

My lower middle school students glued up blanks  from cherry and walnut to begin turning plates on the lathe, and my elementary school students finished planters to used for starting a garden.

My assistant Curtis took a scrap of white oak home from making legs for the footstools. He and his sons counted over 100 annual rings.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

if we were...

If we were to build a new school from scratch to resemble the way children actually learn, it would bear little resemblance to the public schools of today with 30 same age kids put in sterile manageable classrooms. Instead, it would resemble the Clear Spring School where we have over 40 years practicing and refining our educational model.

If we were to build a new school or university to teach adults the way adults learn best, it would not look much like the universities of today. Instead, it would resemble the Clear Spring School, for certainly, we all learn alike, and learn best and to greatest lasting effect from doing real things. My quote in Matthew Crawford's books Shop Class as Soulcraft, and the World Beyond your Head makes that point.
“In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
The photo shows our students joyfully crossing the small bridge my students and I built last year to connect the school with our new hands-on learning center where my new woodshop is located.

This next week I have an editor coming from Fine Woodworking Magazine to photograph an article we've been working on about box making. I'll also have him briefly in the Clear Spring woodshop to  take pictures of our kids, learning in the manner they (and we) love best.

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

Friday, February 21, 2020

take a break, do something

I was contacted by a writer wanting to contribute to this blog on the subject of safe things to allow your child to do with digital devices while you take a slight, necessary break from the demands of parenting. Children take and need a lot of attention. Parents do need some time for themselves. And so, many parents use their digital devices to alleviate parenting concerns.

There are serious concerns with toddlers and screen time, also, in that research has proven a number of undesirable and even damaging results. The following report is only one bit of research among many.

Screen time is linked to poor social adjustment, childhood obesity and other unwanted effects, and while we have these delusions that digital technology is making our children smart, perhaps we should not allow ourselves to be deceived. Google makes us feel smart also, as we race from one site to another retaining very little in actual mind.

There are reasons to stay engaged in the real world and for us to use tools to help our children remain engaged in reality. I told the writer that as the author of Making Classic Toys that Teach, I had other ideas beyond iPhones and iPads for occupying children while their parents take a break.

Making Classic Toys that Teach is about a lot more than just making toys. It is also about the life and contributions of Kindergarten inventor Friedrich Froebel and his philosophy of learning, that applies to toddlers and even to their parents or grandparents. We all learn best when we are doing real things.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise

Thursday, February 20, 2020

measuring stuff

A friend asked, "How do I teach kids to measure stuff?" The assistance I have is that our elementary school students are taught the use of rulers in their regular classes. Their teachers ask them to measure stuff.  It's part of math, and to have children running around the classroom with rulers observing and measuring the length, breadth and thickness of things is a good thing. Similar exercises should be common in every school. In our case, students also have the opportunity to see that measuring things is important in wood shop, sewing and in the arts. Measuring is important in math comprehension and student confidence.

Yesterday one of my 8th grade students was measuring the inside dimensions of a frame and stated confidently, "Nineteen and five-eighths inches." I felt joy. Her measurement was exact.

I also felt joy with our Kindergarten class as they made "flag poles."

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

Friday, February 14, 2020

super heroes

On Wednesday my kindergarten students finished their super heroes. Today I'm packing a shipment of props to send to my publisher, Blue Hills Press for my Guide to Woodworking With Kids. It will go to press next month and be available in May.

In my at home wood shop, I'm assembling boxes.

What more can I say? We learn best and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hand-on and by doing real things. Through woodworking children can be of service to family, community and self and gain in intelligence and character by doing so.

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

in comparison

My wife, Jean alerted me to this furniture company, Palettes by Winesberg that might serve as an example of American industry at its best. They have zero waste, and source all their fine hardwoods from their own forest. This would not be found to be the case under most circumstances.

When you invest in quality American products, you invest also in the quality of our nation. Is that so difficult to grasp? The screenshot from their website shows the entire operation except the forest from which their furniture is made.

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

Monday, February 10, 2020


Johan Heinrich Pestalozzi was kind of an "absent-minded professor" of education. He had written a novel, Leonard and Gertrude about a poor mother and her stone mason husband in a small village dominated by a bailiff who used his tavern to keep the citizens drunk, indebted to him and subject to his control. Gertrude was a righteous woman, who despite her poverty, used her creative resources to keep her family fed, clean and clothed while her husband suffered from drunkenness under the malicious influence of the Bailiff. Gertrude managed to get her husband's attention, and thence commenced the story of how a whole community was restored to prosperity and righteousness.

In real life Pestalozzi had been brought up by his mother in relative poverty after the death of his father. So when he devised his method of schooling his intent was primarily to serve the poor. His books, Leonard and Gertrude and How Gertrude Teaches Her Children are both available from Google books for free, so with a bit of free reading you can become as much an expert on his life as I am. His schools were one failed attempt after another from a financial point of view. His book How Gertrude Teaches Her Children was his attempt in the form of letters to explain his educational method. Pestalozzi had a profound effect on the rise of progressive education through his books and through visits by important folks to the various schools he founded.

Much of modern educational policy is driven from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Pestalozzi recognized the power of the simple individual to take matters into his or her own hands and bring profound changes in their own lives and in their communities. How Gertrude conducted herself in relation to her children, husband and community offered a profound example that influenced Froebel in his development of Kindergarten, then Cygnaeus in the founding of the Finnish Folk Schools, and then Salomon in the development of educational Sloyd. Pestalozzi's approach was from a radically different angle from the current efforts at educational reform in the US. We all know that things are broken. Most expect others to fix things.

Both Pestalozzi and Froebel (who had visited Pestalozzi) recognized the value of young mothers as being their child's first teacher. One of the things that poverty tends to do is to extract young mothers and fathers from this important role. Fix the problems associated with poverty and you'll go a long way toward fixing American education by giving young mothers and fathers more time to fulfill their traditional roles.

Pestalozzi was known for his enormous compassion for the poor. So his books can be an inspiration, even today.

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

Sunday, February 09, 2020

4 things

Diane Ravitch, an educator whose writings I follow has an editorial in this week's Time Magazine, offering her prescription for  improving American schools. The prescription is simple, fix our nation's poverty, and reduce class sizes. Abolish our fixation with standardized testing... a fixation that's never fixed anything despite pouring billions into the standardized testing industry and despite disrupting children's learning by testing and teaching to the test.

The fourth thing I'll offer on my own. When education is abstract, unrelated and irrelevant to the lives of children, they sit numbly through lessons. That may be what some educators want. Numb children are more
manageable. Of course the down side is that they're numb.

The alternative that we practice at the Clear Spring School is to use education to offer a grounding in doing real things. In the woodshop we are engaged in the use of real tools, using real materials, making real things. And that can serve as a model for transformation.The following quote from this blog served as the opening line for Matthew Crawford's Book Shop Class as Soulcraft and to frame his discussion in the closing chapter in one of his more recent books.
In Schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006
Children deserve to become fully engaged in their educations. Others might try it and will see that it works.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning lifewise

Saturday, February 08, 2020

standing on shoulders broader than our own

A very dear reader suggested that in my last post I was bragging while I thought I was making a point that not all that needs to be taught in schools will be something measurable by degrees or academic attainment. I do not want to disparage those who work hard to attain academic credentials, but do suggest that they are made richer by engagement in the real world, a thing often ignored in the halls of university training. There's the abstract and the concrete, and we know that learning must, in order to be most effective, move from the concrete to the abstract and not the other way around.

Yesterday I took part in a panel at the Arkansas Arts Council to select the next Arkansas Living Treasure from a field of 8 or nine nominees. Taking part in such panels is part of the responsibility I have for having received the award in in 2009.

The award is for excellence in the practice of traditional crafts, and for pushing those traditions into the future. It's not enough to be good at what you do. You must also demonstrate your commitment to education. As I told a friend, no craftsman is an island unto himself. We most often stand upon shoulders broader than our own, and have a responsibility after being lifted, to lift those around us.

Last Wednesday we were missing some students due to bad weather, and so with a reduced class size, I invited our 4th and 5th grade teacher to assist a third grade student as he made his first efforts to turn on the lathe. Chris had been one of my students years ago, and it felt special to have him re-engaged at the lathe. We do stand on the shoulders of others, and while we may brag on occasion, it is truly best to acknowledge that whatever we do or have done there are certain things we must not forget.

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

Wednesday, February 05, 2020


I was asked kindly for my qualifications to teach a 5 day class in making small cabinets for a community college. They wanted to know whether I had a degree which would have been useful in meeting their accreditation standards. I told them:

 I have a degree in political science, a BA in 1970. I've been a professional woodworker since 1975. I'm nationally known for having published over 100 articles in national publications on the subjects of woodworking (for adults) and k-12 education. I've published 13 books for nationally known publishers in the woodwork field, two of which were translated into German. I was named an Arkansas Living Treasure in 2009 and have served on a furniture design critique panel for the University of Arkansas School of Architecture. I've taught woodworking in major craft schools like Arrowmont and the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and for 19 years have directed the Wisdom of the Hands Program at the Clear Spring School with students from pre-K through 12th grades. I'm the author of the Taunton Press book Building Small Cabinets and have taught Building Small Cabinets at ESSA, at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers, the Diablo Woodworkers in the SF Bay area, and at the Kansas City Woodworking Guild. I also did a Building Small Cabinets DVD for Taunton Press. An MFA in the Arts would not make me better qualified to teach this course.

Yesterday my students worked excited in wood shop. One of my younger students struggled to glue two pieces of wood together end on, thinking that if a bit of glue didn't do the job, more might. In wood working we learn about the real world and real constraints within our material environment. There is a difference between real life learning and the conceptualized and artificialized environment of typical education. And typical education at all learning levels would benefit from being held to the standard of doing real things.

The lovely piece of furniture shown was just completed by my good friend Bob Rokeby.

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

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

the process

Each day, I push things forward just a bit. I spent a good bit of time yesterday reviewing the first draft of my Guide to Woodworking with Kids. It promises to be a good book, giving greater confidence to parents, grandparents and teachers to help their children get started in woodworking.

In the new wood studio at the Clear Spring School, I continue organizing in the new space, as we hold classes for grades K through 12.

I got an email from a fellow box maker saying this:
I have been making boxes for some time now and have never been terribly happy with them now I have purchased the Box Making video and cannot believe how well done it is, I have been building sleds and jigs for days now getting ready to start. Thank you very very much.
All I can say is "you're welcome." I am also grateful that I've been able to help. Isn't that what we're here for?

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

Friday, January 31, 2020

a simple tip for speedy boxes

By sanding and finishing one side of a piece of wood prepared for box making before it's cut into parts, you ease and expedite the process of finishing at the tail end. I thank my retired box making friend Don for the tip.

In the photo are over a dozen future boxes. The woods are cherry, walnut and ash. The outsides of the boxes will be sanded and finished after being assembled. The application of the oil finish before the parts are mitered will not interfere with effective gluing, because fresh unfinished wood will be uncovered when the miters are cut and when the grooves for the top panel and bottom are cut.

I have an editor from Fine Woodworking coming at the end of February to take pictures of the process, and today my book editors and I will go over the next steps in completion of my Guide to Woodworking with Kids.

There are wonderful things that happen in wood shop. We learn to look around us and to assess reality in our search for truth.

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

Thursday, January 30, 2020

super heroes

Yesterday in wood shop my Kindergarten students began making super heroes. I asked them to consider the super heroes in their own lives... Like Mom, like dad, like a teacher or their librarian.

The Kindergarten students are the real joy of my woodworking week. They embrace everything in the wood shop without reservation.

The new woodworking studio remains in a slight degree of chaos as we find places to move additional tools and projects from the old shop. I asked my 5th and 6th grade students to help in the process of organizing, by playing a game. Find something, look for other things that look just like it, learn what it is, and put things together.

Yesterday I received a pdf of my new book on woodworking with kids. I'll review this first draft with an open mind and the editors and I will talk on Friday.

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

among friends

I never seem to get done all that I want to accomplish, so I hope to begin spending at least one hour each night in my shop. It will be better than TV. Last night laminated eight top panels for boxes using a variety of Arkansas veneers to cover 5 in. by 7 in. Baltic birch panels. These will be used with ash sides, and if I add just a few shop hours each day the boxes will be finished next week. The photo shows some panels glued up, and another stack of four in the vacuum press.

I reordered hinges from Craft Inc. In my early years I kept track of the number of boxes I'd made by counting the number of hinges I'd bought from Craft. Two thousand hinges meant 1000 boxes, and I always ordered from two to four thousand at time. Now I use a variety of other hinges as well and made some lift lid boxes, so keeping track of hinges no longer gives a clear count.

I have been thinking about the importance of staying put. We live in an age of constant motion, with people moving from place to place and seldom realizing the full value of where they are and with whom they live. You can glue yourself to the TV watching the nature channel and know more about distant places than you'll know about your own back yard. And so it makes sense for us to allow ourselves to become rooted in one place, to care deeply for it and for the people who surround us. For me to have lived here for so long, means that wherever I go I find myself among friends.

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

Monday, January 27, 2020

today in the wood shop

I've begun a whole bunch of boxes in my shop as it's important to connect with my own inner drive to create. Yesterday I resawed inch-thick ash lumber to form the sides, and today I'll begin vacuum laminating veneers to 1/8 in. Baltic birch plywood to form the top panels. The combination of veneers and solid woods give a box that's strong and light. Beautiful, too.

In the Clear Spring School wood design studio, I'm still in the design mode myself. Yesterday we put up more pegboard for hanging tools, installed a French cleat along one wall and began adding shelves that will also provide for coat hooks at differing heights to meet the needs of our full age and size range of our kids.

In my January beginning box making class at ESSA, one of my students brought in a box that he'd bought at our local thrift store for $20 bucks. Normally that would be a lot to pay for such a thing, but he'd recognized it as being one that I'd made and that had originally sold for several times the price.

The hinges were bent but I bent them back. It was a one-of-a-kind box, done as a demonstration of techniques in an earlier class. You can read a bit about that specific box in an earlier blog post here: The box has a number of interesting features intended to illustrate a variety of techniques.

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

Saturday, January 25, 2020

simple progress

We're making progress in organizing the new Clear Spring School woodworking studio and clearing out the old space for it to be assigned to other use. We hope to be out of the old shop next week.

We had a very pleasant book signing this week for Not Dead Yet. Despite it being a rainy, cold night, a number of copies were sold and signed by the authors attending.

I showed some of my students this video: and now they all want to be youtube stars. They want me to do some more brief videos. Perhaps that can happen if they can work quietly while the camera is at work. In the meantime, some of my younger students are excited to learn how to use various tools for the first time, and to be trusted to do so.

My new to unreleased guide to woodworking with kids is now in layout and the first draft is nearly complete.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, January 20, 2020


Yesterday as we were finishing up our box making class at ESSA, students gathered tightly around my workbench to assist, encourage, and share tools. I was reminded of my first, second and third grade students doing exactly the same thing.

Schools regiment learning. Learning at its best is not regimented. It is responsive to the needs and interests of the individual. That's what public school administrators could learn if they were to attend one of my adult woodworking classes.

I was worried at the beginning of the day that my students would not arrive at the point of putting hinges on their boxes. But they did. Each had hinges, and check chains installed and a bit of finish applied. It was a great class with each student learning, applying personal creativity and helping each other.

I'd walk into the room and hear them laughing with each other. All schooling could be like that, and the expression of joy should be one of the most important measures of educational success.

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

Sunday, January 19, 2020

day 3

We are ready for day 3 of an adult box making class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. We've made small lift lid boxes, larger lift lid boxes, and today will make hinged boxes with floating panel tops.

The photo shows play with pulls.

On Jan 22 the local contributors to Not Dead Yet will gather at Brews for a 6 PM book signing and to offer readings from the book. Like most of my writing, I offer some how-to. In this particular case, the how-to is not about making things, but about making a better life.

What we learn in life is more meaningful, more effective and more fun than being "schooled." And that raises the important question, "how can we make education more meaningful, more effective and fun?" Real life offers the solution. At the new Phyllis Poe Hands-On Learning Center at the Clear Spring School, we have cooking, sewing, woodworking, dance and art, each of which engage our students in real life.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

at work in the new studio

Yesterday we began woodworking classes in the new Clear Spring School woodworking studio. The larger space gives us better organization with will lead to greater learning. It is a very happy place, complete with an elf door made from clay by a friend, Karen Overgaard. The elf door is to assist entry of creative spirit into the wood shop. Will it work? Of course.

I thank assistant Curtis and maintenance supervisor Jeremy, for helping with the move.

Better organization will also make things easier for me. Today I'll have Kindergarten students and upper and lower middle school classes.

I'm grieving the loss of a very good friend Michael, to pancreatic cancer. I'm thankful to have had time this summer to visit with him, share and express our love for each other, and to have had the opportunity to make a box to hold his ashes. Michael's plan, worked out with his grandsons and granddaughters is that when his ashes are buried, the box will become the place where dad jokes are kept. I hope that some of my love will be held there as well. Whether open or closed, a box we make with our hands, can express things.

I'm preparing for a three day box making class at ESSA that starts this Friday. Seven students are enrolled and due to last minute cancellations, there's room for two more. Join us. You can register at

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, January 10, 2020

the relevance of sloyd

Yesterday I met with staff at the Clear Spring School and mentioned Sloyd, the system of woodworking education from which I draw inspiration. I also received notice concerning a paper published in Sweden by Marcus Samuelson on following and leading in a Sloyd Classroom.

When Educational Sloyd was first developed in Sweden and Finland, children were generally homogeneous in their prior experiences. For instance, children growing up on small farms all had the experience of whittling with a knife, even as young as 4 or 5 years old, and all came from common backgrounds and domestic situations with all mothers working in the home.

So it was relatively easy to set up a course of training in which all the kids in a class and of the same age would go through the same exercises at the same time and share a common interest in the work. That's not exactly the situation today. Some parents fill their children's lives with technology. Some fill their children's lives with rich experiences. Some parents may face such challenges of family survival that they have no resources for either.

These days, children starting out in any field of subject will be all over the place in level of prior experience upon which to base further study, and all over the place in terms of interest, also based in large part upon prior experience. And so the first principle of educational Sloyd, that of starting with the interests of the child takes on even greater relevance and importance today.

It would seem improbable today for academic educators to arrive at the conclusion that there would be anything of importance that they might learn from manual arts. That was also the case in the early days when school administrators insisted that there was no time for concrete learning, that hands on work took too much time away from necessary academic pursuits. The truth is that when a proper foundation in reality is secured, academic subjects are made easier, their relevance is better established and the kids are refreshed and energized to actually learn in short order.

We now have the new woodworking studio at the Clear Spring School, in our new Phyllis Poe Hands on Learning Center, ready to classes to begin in the new semester starting next week.

In the meantime, educators would sere themselves well by learning the basic philosophy of Educational Sloyd. Start with the interests of the child. Move in close increments from the easy to the more difficult, from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract.

Make, fix, create, and allow for all children to learn lifewise.