My first time teaching woodworking to a group of toddlers took place almost two years ago. This opportunity to introduce the craft of wood to what is by far the youngest crowd I have ever taught was in my son’s pre-school class. If you’re the parent of a child who plows through the American school system you might be familiar with this tradition. Your child’s teacher asks the parents if anyone would be willing to come in and talk to the class about their profession. The consenting parent then performs a passionate address to a group of doe-eyed children, trying to thrill them about his or her vocation.
Since most parents these days are working behind a computer screen, hardly any kids are exposed to a parent or other close family member who is a craftsperson. Luckily for Asher’s class, the wanting ratio between regular jobs to artist/craftsperson breached the curve as there was not just one of us, but two of us there – Layla’s dad and me. Among the parents in Asher’s class, one was our UPS delivery guy, one mom (who was a neighbor and friend) was the manager of our family’s dentist clinic, one or two parents were in fiance/top management jobs while another dad was a medical tech. As a visual artist, Layla’s dad was the only other parent who created pieces with his hands. In light of the fact that most children today are brought up in an environment that is deprived of the sensational and tactile joy of making things from scratch, I felt that my talk had a very special mission.
I planed on giving the kids a taste of the maker’s world and perhaps spark a future woodworker in them. Sure, at some point they might work with a parent on a home improvement project, or with their grandmother, turning a bowl on her lathe, but the chance of meeting a parent during show-and-tell who legitimizes a profession that involves physical work is not something they will encounter often in their childhood academic careers. So when Asher’s teacher, Ms. Megan, asked me if I was interested, I felt that I was embarking on a very special mission that involved some planning and investment of both time and resources – after all we were sowing the seeds for the future here. And even if none of the kids would end up joining our ranks as amateur or professional makers, at least we might gain a future appreciator or an ally of our cause.
My plan was as follows: I would talk a little about trees and wood, then show the kids some simple projects that I was making in my shop, and lastly give each one of them a nice little relatable object to finish during our meeting. In the end, the kids would take home this little souvenir from Asher dad’s presentation which would be put to use for years to come, and constantly remind them of this miraculous medium – wood and the vast potential that it cherishes.
After sketching a few project ideas I decided to give each kid a small butter or cheese knife made from Hardwood. A practical small-size kitchen tool, I thought, was a perfect little project that would be put to good use by both kids and parents.
Meeting the kids was a real treat. They all listened intensely, offered their insight enthusiastically, and were eager to sand their knife and apply a coat of flaxseed oil on it. Asher was very proud of his father too. After the meeting ended and the kids took home their pride and joy butter knife, I heard back from the parents who told me how impressed they and the kids were.
As I was writing this blog story today I decided to ask Asher if he remembers my special visit to his class two years ago. The now six-year-old kindergartner looked up from an intense solar system painting project, thought about it for a second, and replied with an emphatic “nope!” Oh well, at least he was honest. Still, I’m quite confident that on that special day a seed was planted under the snow.
Next time I will talk about the way I designed and made a group of 16 knives in a short amount of time with the hope that my technique can be of help to everyone who is thinking of making multiple objects for sale or giveaway.