A philosophy of handicrafts

Mason, like most Educators of her day, advocated the use of handicrafts in her schools. Also like most, she used a specific model of handicraft called Sloyd. Sloyd was not merely a type of handicraft, however, it was an entire philosophy of education. Originating in Finland, popularized in Sweden by Otto Salomon (and it is still part of the curriculum there), and exported from there to all over the western world.

Some educators and imitators eventually made the work strictly utilitarian, and then it disappeared from our schools altogether, but Salomon’s vision was far from utilitarian, and sloyd is still part of the curriculum in Sweden.  He wanted students to create useful and beautiful items, from start to finish, for formative reasons, here listed:

  1. To instill a taste for, and a love of labour in general.
  2.  To inspire respect for rough, honestm, bodily labour. (obviously, for more advanced work in areas such as woodworking).
  3. To develop independence and self reliance.
  4. To train in habits of order, exactness, cleanliness, and neatness.
  5. To train the eye and sense of form. To give a general dexterity of hand and to develop touch.
  6.  To accustom to attention, industry, perseverance, and patience.
  7. To promote the development of the physical powers.

from The Theory of Educational Sloyd: The Only Authorised Ed. of the Lectures … By Otto Aron Salomon

Mason, of course, shared that vision.  A few  others in America do as well. Read More »

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I wish I’d said that

From an 1890 Journal of Education:

“Sooner or later the classicist argues, “Whatever the value of science, it is not indispensable, for I am wholly ignorant of it.”

” My dear Sir, one longs to say, “you are the very man in whose interests I am arguing. It is you who would he so much wiser, so much less conceited, so much more conscious of the limits of your knowledge, if you had been scientifically educated. You are far from stupid, and not uncultivated, but you lack what I consider of great value, you imperfectly understand me and your depreciation of these studies results from your want of proper education. You would have more power in your own subjects and an infinitely wider range of ideas and interests if your classical education had been less unmitigated than it seems to have been.”

Now tables are turned and what we hear are varieties of utilitarians, many who don’t even know that is what they are, saying the same thing but about the arts, or literature, or history, or all manner of liberal arts topics, “I never learned that/read that/studied that, and I turned out just fine.”

I am almost never in agreement with that comfortably arrogant assumption, but one can hardly say so.

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Early Morning Meander: Boys & Reading


child-316510_1280“When we hear the words: ‘It’s a boy!’ we should immediately thrill to the expectation that our son(s) will adore being read to and will fall in love with books just as quickly as the other half of the human race.”

When I read this sentence in Mem Fox’s fun and encouraging Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, I wanted to shout out a loud and hearty AMEN!

The way modern American culture seems to often so casually accept as truth the notion that boys just won’t be into the language arts floors me. How can we ignore thousands of years of world history like this? The Greek philosophers? Erasmus? John Milton? Shakespeare? Jonathan Swift? Sir Walter Scott? Charles Dickens? C. S. Lewis? The entire collection of men who built the American government?

And this is only a smattering of authors from Western civilizations; it ignores Asian writers and dozens upon dozens of others.

Of course, it’s true that women did not receive the same educational or professional opportunities that are afforded them today. There’s a forced, strong imbalance in favor of male authors over the course of most world history. But male DNA did not suddenly change when we started teaching women more.

We owe both genders the expectation that reading will grant them pleasure, expand their minds, and make their world a better place. This might mean rethinking how we’re teaching reading to boys. It might mean rethinking standardized testing. It might mean reconsidering academics and our school system in general. Maybe it means all of these things. Maybe it doesn’t.

What it means most, though, I think is this: that we must make it a priority in our family to snuggle up and read a lot when they are young. Ask daddy to read books aloud when he gets home from work (this is an interesting study on fathers and reading). Experience the joy of reading together and serve books generously. Let them look at books in bed. Pull out special books on rainy days, rather than extra episodes of a TV show. And know without a shadow of a doubt that they can grow to love reading ~ there’s a long line of male readers going on ahead of them, their own cloud of witnesses, cheering them on. 🙂

(p.s. has anyone read Raising Boy Readers by Michael Sullivan? It just came up while I was looking this topic up and looks interesting. I know I can highly recommend Dr. Sax’s Why Gender Matters for understanding how boys & girls might need to be approached differently, from an educational perspective).


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Ideas for building narration skills

Narration is a journey. You progress a step at a time.

Narration is a journey. You progress a step at a time.

“What do you see?” is a good question to ask while playing outside, going to a park, looking at a butterfly or a flower. Asking “I wonder…..” why it looks like this? does that? what it’s doing. how it does that. what will happen next. how it got here?
Bite your tongue and count to 10 before talking and filling in the silences.  Give children time to think, to process ideas and words to share them.

Let them draw some narrations, act some out, and recreate others in 3-D with blocks, clay, toys (I learned to give a time limit on how much time could be spent on this). Keep a scrapbook and take photographs of those projects. Use the narration jar idea.
You narrate sometimes and ask them to add any details you missed.
Write down some of his narrations and keep them in the folder, scrapbook, for you, so you can see progress.
Keep lessons really short.
Do some ‘scaffolding’ or preparing the lesson- introduce a reading by asking a review question, which could be as simple as, “Where were we?” and then say something to salt the oats, like, ” I wonder what he’ll do next? I wonder if we’ll learn why that happens? What do you think will happen next?” and sometimes read a bit ahead and give a hint, “remember when you cut your hand last week? Well, today in our reading we will meet somebody with a hurt hand. let’s see what happened.” Or “do you ever feel frightened and worried and you don’t know what to do? We’re going to read about a time Betsy felt like that. Let’s see what she does…”
Limit screens. Go experience parks, zoos, museums, and include much singing and snuggling.
Give yourself, and your child,  some grace and don’t be discouraged. Remember the adage that slow and steady wins the race.  Steady, small steps add up to progress over time.
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Great Grandmother’s Journal, week 2 of April, 1951

Roger is the youngest of her four children. He was a bit of a caboose, and seems to have been most able, due to age and proximity, to be a prop to his mother when their father died. He died the year before she started this journal.

Saturday, April 7: Roger and I went over town. Cashed my S. S. and interest check, paid gas and lights.
Mine 7.75
Rogers 5.96 (he rented from her, I think)
Invited to supper at Rogers.

She also paid the water bill on what had been called their ‘cottage, the 3 bedroom house we used to call The Rattery until it was fixed up, and is now the Spiffery. Pip is very bitter, because the water bill was only $2.00, and it seems now that town has the highest water bill around.

Sunday, Arpil 8
Our baby baptized (this was Roger’s second)
Philip Roger. I wonder if dad was with us (she always refers to her husband as dad in her journals) was with us- and the Philips before him.
Anne’s were at the church (Anne is my wonderful grandmother, who died when I was a young adolescent).
All here for dinner. It was good to have half my family together. Have so much to be thankful for.

April 9, MondayLeave this morning with the D’s for Betty’s. (she rode back to New Jersey with Roger’s in-laws to visit her daughter Betty, who was married to their son).
Stopped between Canton and massillon (?)- got two lonely 3A cabins. Went over to Adam’s place (a relative). Found out Ruth had passed away in the morning- went to the funeral parlor. Ruth looked very lovely I feel so sorry for those 4 children, especially Judy and the littlest boy.

April 10th, Tuesday. Got into Caldwell in the evening. Betty was so upset that I wasn’t going to come. I guess I was needed more than I realized. Staid overnight with the D’s. We had a wonderful drive over the Penna (?) turnpike.

Wednesday, April 11
Went to Betty’s. The boys sure have grown. The baby is a darling.

The next 3 days are a blank, except to note that she had her birthday (April 13) at Betty’s. I imagine those boys who had grown kept her pretty busy.

On the ‘cottage’ – I found an old newspaper article of social news from a town an hour north of us, which says my great grand-father and his wife: “ENTERTAIN LOCAL SCHOOLMEN
Last year when …, a member of the local school board, and his wife invited the principals of the Twin City schools and their families to a picnic at their cottage… , everyone had such a good time that the event was repeated this year. Sunday 30 guests including members of the school board gathered at the … cottage to enjoy a picnic luncheon at noon. The later hours were spent in visiting the well-known William Gumm peony farm nearby and (a Chautaqua park). Next Sunday [ relatives from out of town], numbering around 25, will enjoy a similar affair at the cottage. ” June 9, 1937

the location makes it clear that it’s our Rattery which was the cottage.

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