Woodshop at The School in Rose Valley is a weekly class for children from 3-Day Preschool and up. Children are motivated to work and learn because they may build whatever they wish. They learn skills and gain self-confidence as they go. The teacher offers instruction, support and encouragement as needed and nurtures the qualities of creativity, independence and discipline.
Since SRV’s founding, the Shop has been the heart of the campus and the purest manifestation of our progressive philosophy of education. In Shop, the phrase "learning by doing" remains alive in its original rich meaning. The program affirms the belief that knowledge is best attained through direct experience; that the most thorough and satisfying education occurs when a student is actively involved – seeing, touching, manipulating and experiencing. In Shop, the emphasis is always on process over product, with a product that makes the process both meaningful and worthwhile.
The Shop curriculum does not consist of a list of woodworking skills that we aim for students to acquire. Woodworking, while a valuable endeavor, is almost secondary to the experience of Shop. Most of the learning that occurs in the Shop is related to character. The overarching concepts of the curriculum are:
Acceptance of personal responsibility for their own work and for the physical and emotional safety of those around them; A respect for natural resources that incorporates an understanding of how their personal choices impact others; The intellectual skills and emotional resilience to solve problems and learn from mistakes; A belief in themselves that finds them consistently ending the sentence, “I can’t do that,” with the word “yet”; The understanding that true satisfaction from work comes from meeting goals they have created for themselves or have fully embraced as their own.
Students’ approaches to Shop work, choices of projects, and development of concepts and skills are as individual as the students themselves. There is a noticeable developmental continuum in Shop, but not all children pass through every “stage” at the same age level or even in the same sequence. For example, some preschoolers take on formal project work, and some Primary students do not. On average, though, many students demonstrate similar patterns of engagement at approximately the same age levels, and these are described below.
Preschool through Primary Years – When children are introduced to woodworking, their earliest efforts are generally centered around the tools in use. Learning to balance the hammer to strike finishing nails instead of fingernails, to bear down and crank with the hand drill or brace and bit, to trust that they can wield the crosscut saw, are the matters at hand. The wood involved is a mere vehicle or adjunct. The classic “project” at this stage consists of two pieces of wood, hastily snatched from the scrap box, flat-stacked one upon the other with a single nail driven through the center to hold them together. Unless prompted, children will generally verbalize little about the purpose of their efforts at this level, because their efforts are their purpose. “I hammered!”
Moving from flat-stacking to three-dimensional work, and exploring alternative ways to configure and join wood are common guideposts that often presage the next significant change that occurs in a child’s woodworking development. In a typical scenario, one child in a group announces that his or her two pieces of flat-stacked or otherwise assembled wood are something (a house, a plane, a chair). At this point, the children in the group generally get the idea that their work has the potential to be viewed as representational and each two-piece configuration becomes ripe with possible interpretations.
Doing informal project work, the child works from internal plans independently or with assistance. To minimize tool use, he/she will generally work with pieces carefully culled from the scrap box. If any measuring is needed, it is commonly done piece-to-piece with lines to be sawed drawn freehand. Plans are flexible enough to allow “close enough” fitting of pieces and for projects to evolve beyond initial concepts. Tools and techniques are introduced as requested/needed. The work is usually completed in one to four periods.
Middle and Older Years – In formal project work, the child works from personally developed or commercial plans independently or with assistance. Materials are selected, measured, marked and cut to specifications. Tools and techniques are introduced as requested/needed. Work can extend from one period to several years. Often during such extended efforts, facile enthusiasm is replaced by proud determination, and impatience is transformed into the character needed to see their personal visions through. The children emerge confident and self-sufficient, and invariably seeking bigger challenges.
Most advanced wood shop workers undertake complex and difficult formal projects that take months or even years to complete. These children have acquired the skills to bring their visions to reality, the confidence and sense of pride to wish to do their projects well, and the patience to see them through to the end. Most of these children are facile will all kinds of tools, including power saws and the lathe. Many advanced projects have moving parts such as cam wheels in a pull-toy or battery-powered motors in a model car. Others are useful objects, from desks with drawers to skateboard ramps. Advanced projects are often aesthetically stunning, including beautiful, laminated hard wood bowls and lamps.