Progress Schoolwood shop

Building meaningful education

Not many schools have wood shops these days, and it’s even rarer to find one populated by elementary school chldren. When I asked Jennifer Hobbs, who directs the Progress School in Central Austin, to explain why the wood shop is an important part of the learning environment there, she responded with this lovely guest post.

This crutch is an example of the Progress School students’ handiwork.

I love our whole school, but one of our most magical spaces is the wood shop. An open-air building, workbenches, shelves, cabinets. Hammers, saws, drills. Sandpaper, nails, glue. Brushes, canvases, paint. Books, paper, wood. The possibilities are as endless as the imagination of a child.  

We’ve made tables, chairs, cars, planes, castles, crutches, boxes, shields, birdhouses, bathouses, dollhouses, sculptures, board games—the list could take up the rest of this post.

Why build? Many skills are developed in wood shop projects: planning, problem solving, measuring, geometry, fine motor, hand-eye coordination, and so on. But one of the most important reasons to build is that the experience of building is so empowering. An idea, just a seed in your mind, taking root in schematics, then blossoming into form—you can touch it and use it and it works! It is more than an idea now, it is something solid and real, and you made it! The satisfaction from such an experience is worth more than gold stars and good grades.

This is meaningful education.

It starts with the student. She is playing a game, pretending her leg is broken, and she needs crutches! Another student learned about gladiators, and he must make a shield! And another loves the birds, so we make birdhouses!

It is nurtured by experiences. We found some pieces of pecan wood while taking a walk—what can we make with it? We visited an art exhibit—what kinds of sculptures can we make?

It inspires new growth. The skills from the last project will most certainly be useful in future projects. Whenever we finish a project, there’s a sense that we are really just beginning, always with the thought, “What’s next?”

So what do you want to build?

Jennifer L. Hobbs

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