An Open Letter to Parents

The teenage years could be argued are the most important of a humans life. It’s during these 7 years, as all the cells of the body morph into adulthood, the brain pathways formalize and a persons psyche and morals formalize. In order to influence our teenagers future we work to provide stimulation and knowledge that steers them to become our ideal of a good citizen.

Participation in sports encourage persistence, determination, analysis, action and overcoming obstacles. Team Sports encourage collaboration, strategy and leadership. Music encourages mathematics, higher reasoning, pattern recognition and such. Social clubs encourage interaction, politics, and communication.

Parents recognize this and promote participation as best they can. A kid tosses a dog biscuit across the room… lets try out for t-ball. Another sings off key… time for piano lessons.

Continued participation in such activities throughout the teenage years cements the ancillary ideas of these activities into the consciousness of the future citizen via sheer repetition, practice and refinement of the activity.

Now lets talk about the woodworking craft (same argument could be applied to other crafts too). I’ll be up front, I don’t understand why society has deemphasized this area over the past half century. I don’t understand why working with your hands and building things has dropped in importance. I don’t understand why there isn’t a small woodworking school next to every single Karate Club, Dance Studio, Baseball Diamond or swimming pool.

Like many of the extracurricular things we enjoy woodworking is one of those where it is easy to pick up the basics and with only a little practice most people can excel at it. Yet it’s also one where you can never truly master, even after a lifetime of work. There is always something more to learn, a new challenge to conquer, a new skill to acquire.

Consider this, Tiger Woods is still working on his golf swing…

Sure in the beginning it can be frustrating as you struggle to saw a simple straight line. You are the equivalent of a Kindergartener in the woodworker realm. Could you color in the lines then. Yet your learning curve was steep. By the time you were in second grade not only were you coloring in the lines you were drawing those lines too. Same with woodworking. A little practice and sawing a straight line is an afterthought on you way to building something from your imagination.

In the beginning its all about learning techniques: sawing, chiseling, smoothing, finishing, joinery, etc… Then you go thru the step of copying other designs be it a chair, chest, table or art. And as you enter the intermediate stage possibilities truly explode. The learning curve here is huge.

Now put yourself in the mind of a teen and what those stages teach. In the beginning with techniques you are practicing eye hand coordination and conceptualizing 3d images as much of your work is happening inside the wood. You repeatedly look at the whole situation when making decisions instead of just the task on hand. Analyzing the wood, tool, angles, and outcome before making any move. Thru trial and error you explore possibilities and anticipate outcomes. When they don’t turn out as expected you analyze and modify.

Then when you reach the level where you understand what the tools do, how they interact with wood and can anticipate what wood will do you progress where shape, form and function come to prominence. Most of the time this is where plans are followed, directions carefully scrutinized. Other peoples knowledge begins to be pilfered and thru practice you make judgments about validity and purpose.

Past that, form becomes meaning, function and expression. You see something as basic as a tree, understand it’s cellular structure, how it can be used to harness kinetic and static energy utilizing strength and weakness to accomplish a task designed to last centuries. Other peoples plans become stepping stones to be improved upon or secondary to original concepts. Creativity becomes purposeful.

So without realizing it kids are grasping and utilizing advanced concepts in physics, mathematics, biology and geometry. Training the brain thru repetition and preparing it for more. They are developing a sense of work. That quality takes effort. They are taking to heart the idea of design, durability, function and efficiency. All aspects they’ll apply elsewhere in life.

This is woodworking, this is craft. When you think back to our “Greatest Generation”, the ones who built America’s reputation for innovation, determination and entrepreneurship. Is it no wonder that during their teens not only where they participating in sports, fun and frivolity they were also building.

Woodworking as a teen can be used as a contributing tool to quality development of a good citizen.

The other great thing about woodworking. What you learn as a teen, you can practice all your life. And when you’re 70… you can be better than ever. This sport is a lifetime sport. Doubt you can say that about Karate, Football, Soccer, Ballet and the like.

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