When The School in Rose Valley was founded in 1929, the first classroom built was a wood shop. Since that first year, the shop has been the heart of the campus. Then Principal Grace Rotzel wrote in 1934:
“The shop is the center of the school. Working with tools furnishes one of the best disciplines a school can offer. Up to this point in a child’s life, his discipline has come almost always from some person emotionally close to him. With things like tools, he is free to impose his own discipline. He wants the result, or frequently, in a very young child, he merely wants the satisfaction of the act of sawing and hammering. In any case, the desire to make things is so general in children that they are willing to go through much hard work to reach their ends. This is discipline.”
Children at SRV learn to use a variety of tools and acquire enough woodworking skills so that graduates are comfortable taking on a variety of projects in future schools and their personal lives. However, woodworking, while a valuable endeavor, is almost secondary to the experience of Woodshop at SRV. Some of the most significant learning that occurs in the shop is related to character.
The overarching concepts of the Woodshop 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.
SRV’s wood shop is a child-centered laboratory for woodworking and learning. A dominant feature of the room is the tool wall. At SRV all of the children use full-sized tools. Only full-sized tools are strong enough to perform real work. Also, using real tools is more effective in developing children’s muscles, strength, stamina, and respect for tools. On the tool wall, tools are accessible to all who need them, and putting them away – a responsibility instilled in the children from the time they are three years old – is easy.
There are power tools in the wood shop, and older children who have developed sufficient skill and focus to use them safely are permitted to do so. The lathe is especially popular. Children use it to make beautifully turned lamps and bowls.
The wood shop has a “tinker table.” Here, curious children may take old electronics and appliances apart to see how they work or attempt to repair them. Many children learn the basics of circuitry in shop class, and sometimes children use disassembled electronic components in their woodworking projects. Children have made battery powered flashlights, vehicles with LED lights, and motorized toys.
Children in Woodshop are permitted to make whatever they want, except for weapons. This means that children are motivated to work and to persevere when they encounter problems or become tired, because they care about what they are making. Children making complex structures from their imaginations create plans first. For children seeking inspiration, the Woodshop library has lots of great books with project ideas, instructions, and schematics.
One of the Woodshop program’s other project rules is that while they may take breaks from a project to rest or help another student, children must finish what they have started before they may make something else. This helps instill in the children with respect for the resources, teaches them the meaning of commitment, and develops their capacities to push through when they are tired or bored with something. Very young children’s Woodshop projects are usually completed in a single class period. As the children grow older, their skills develop and their ideas become more ambitious, they may take months or even years to finish their shop projects. The children quickly learn to store their unfinished pieces on the saving shelf, where they will find them the next time they come to the shop.
Of course, some projects are too large to fit on a shelf. In recent years, large projects that children have proudly taken home include go-carts, desks and chairs, and lemonade stands. A few children’s projects are so big, they must be assembled at home. For example, recently one child made a loft for her bedroom, and another built a chicken coop.