Woodworking stimulates activity that requires thought organization, decision-making and problem solving as well as coordination between hands and head. For the motivated child (or adult) of any age it is an excellent medium in which to learn the relationship between actions and consequences. If you continue to drive nails or drill holes near the edge of a thin piece of wood it’s going to split While young children need to be guided to the safe and effective way to accomplish a task there is much they will learn by practice and I believe in the value of mistakes as long as the child is not in paramount danger. So my philosophy in teaching young children is to provide the rules and guidelines and at the same time encourage them to be creative in what their boat or car or plane looks like. I do provide sample projects so the non-visual learner can see how the pieces might look in a particular arrangement and most beginners do follow the pattern but I am constantly encouraging them to consider how it might look another way. I also believe your hands are tied inseparably to your self image and to bring the product of your mind to a tangible form builds that up and develops self-respect.
Hands-on education is nothing new. It has been advocated by theorists for centuries, from Comenius and Jean Jacques Rousseau, to Pestalozzi and Froebel, then to John Dewey and Howard Gardner. It was Rousseau who said, "Put a young person in a workshop, their hands will work to the benefit of their brain, and they will become a philosopher while thinking them self only a craftsperson."
Through Wisdom of the Hands, I've discovered huge benefits for the children. Woodworking has become a favorite activity throughout the school. The counting, measuring, and problem-solving that goes on in the woodshop helps the kids in all their other classes. I describe this experience in a regular blog. You're welcome to visit and follow my discourse on the significance of hands on learning, but you may not need it. We woodworkers seem to grasp the relationship between the hands and learning. We don't need experts to tell us what we know so clearly from our own experience.
However, it seems unlikely that there will be a renewal of woodworking in schools any time soon. The decline of woodshop courses began long ago, when the so-called Russian system was widely promoted to supply the demand for a largely unskilled workforce. But as the U.S. economy moved away from an unskilled manufacturing base, school woodshops became the dumping ground for unsuccessful students. Stripped of their original mission, woodshops have foundered.
But by reexamining the origins of woodshop, we gain a renewed sense of possibility. At Willie's Woodshop, we hope the Wisdom of the Hands program provides an example for other schools to follow, but if you want your child or grandchild to have the creative opportunities and growth that woodworking offers, you will need to take matters in your own hands.