Our school PTA has recently given me a very generous sum to update the Handwork supplies in each classroom.
Aside from being tremendous fun, shopping around for the best deals on good quality tools and fibres and making decisions about priorities, it has sparked lots of conversations (with myself, in my head) around the choices of homemade vs handmade vs factory made.
From my own school memories, it was typical of teachers to show us a beautifully made tool, used for a very important task, and then invite us to make our own version out of stuff we would normally throw away.
On the one hand this is great, if children make their own tools they have a deeper understanding and connection to the process – they learn to appreciate and care for tools, as they understand the work that has gone into designing and building them. On the other hand, it gives them the impression that, whilst grown up craftspeople deserve real tools, they only deserve tools made from junk.
As an adult we understand the reasons for this – schools cannot afford to provide high quality materials or the tools needed to shape them (wouldn’t you love a wood lathe?!). Teachers don’t have the time to learn to use specialised tools and often the aim is just to give the children an introduction to the craft, not set them up with tools for life.
Sometimes, recycled tools can work well: a niddy noddy made from cardboard tubes is just as effective as a hand-carved wooden one. and a cardboard loom can produce some lovely, albeit simple, woven items. Other times, it is important that the tools are well made: a wonky spindle that it hard to get a good spin on, will leave children thinking that spinning is a difficult task.
I asked the Facebook group of Montessorians who are helping me with the creation of my Handwork Album what they thought about this dilemma a while ago and they offered some useful insights. Kerry, a 3-6 guide said, “working with 3 - 6 it's always "best for the smallest", we need beauty/perfect because we can not distract from what we would want to highlight eg: dimension.” Whereas Amy, an adolescent guide, who does lots of Handwork said, “With adolescents, the ability to make their own tools from recycled materials is very attractive because they are interested in environmental issues.”
As the 6-12s sit in the middle, the general feeling in the group was that, for this age group, we need to find a balance of the two ideas. 6-12 children do worry about the environment and therefore like to recycle; they are growing their independence so they appreciate being able to make things for themselves, but the act of creating their own tools must not increase the challenge of learning the skill.
It’s all about balance; I have chosen hand-turned spindles for my classes, but factory made wooden looms and knitting needles. These are all limited in quantity so children who are keen for more can make their own.
As Rachel said in the Facebook group, “I think that children are really excited when they can make their own tools. If/when they decide they care about the craft, then they can advocate for better quality materials.”
I’ve nearly finished spending all the PTA money and packages are arriving at my house almost daily My husband has given up on being able to walk through the dining room without tripping over piles of knitting needles and balls of brightly coloured roving. When I have sorted out all the goodies, I’ll post about what I chose and why.
I’d love to know how others make decisions about what tools to buy/make for their classes, please let me know in the comments or on the Montessori Handwork Facebook page.