All They Need are Tools & Materials

It’s Christmas crunch time now. Every year, I inevitably I find myself sweating away in the shop until the Christmas eve wee hours. So far, I’m doing a little better than previous years, but everything takes longer than expected. So, who knows.

This week, my boys have been taking turns up in the woodshop making gifts for each other. Not to spoil the surprise, but it’s all wooden knives and rifles. Which is, of course, ironic to my friends seeing these boys are homeschooled by near-pacifist parents. But hunting is the constant play around here and developing the ability to make your own equipment is an important part of skill acquisition. 

My article in Issue Ten, “Ready Hands,” was written as a letter to my sons about this very thing. I still get notes about that piece from readers who resonate with the desire to instill in their children the value of engaging the world. As I’ve watched mine grow, I’ve seen them become more and more independent, and seen the creativity compound in their collusion. My youngest is growing up believing it’s normal to build catapults from scrap wood or to carve yourself the tools you need. This sort of normalization of craftsmanship is something I’ve been working so hard to incorporate into my own life, but my kids just don’t know any different.

And kids don’t need much encouragement to be creative. Unless it’s already been shushed out of them, kids naturally want to sing, and paint, and build. All they need are tools and materials.

The “educational slöjd” training model began serious woodworking instruction at 10 or 11 years old, but until that ripe old age kids just want to have fun. Embracing this low-stress approach has been the biggest hurdle for me, because I’m always tempted to show them the proper (i.e. actually effective) way to use tools, but they rarely put up with much of that for very long. That’s why it’s better to let little ones loose with low-skill tools such as rasps, hammers, and sandpaper. As they progress in their competency, I gradually introduce more sophisticated tools that require a more delicate touch.

And before I know it, they’re designing and building things for each other.

– Joshua


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