My favorite activity (by far!) at Conclave this year was found on the OAX (Order of the Arrow eXperience) at the pioneering station. When I first arrived more than an hour had passed by before I knew it because this was the hands-on mecca of this years event.
Here the kids and a few adults worked with intense laser-beam focus making rustic wood hammers and stools... but for this posting I want to focus on the hammers. Several times before on this blog I have more than stressed the importance of hands-on activities for kids as an important catalyst in development of their character, spirit, and worthiness while finding their place in the world. This pioneering station was one of those perfect hands-on activities that scored ten-fold on all counts.
Seen in the picture to the left is one such Scout that I traveled with to Conclave. It was a joy watching him saw his wood, drill his hole, then learning to set his handle into the hammer head with such intense focus.
Throughout the remainder of the day he carried his new wood mallet everywhere he went and showing it to everyone with gleaming pride. In campsite that evening he was still latched onto it like the velcro on my knife sheath.
Since I was the woodcarver in the troop he politely asked if I would carve something on the handle for him and he was sure to tell me that I had full creative freedom. He was very anxious to see what I would come up with as I rustled around gathering up my carving knives. As you can see in the picture above I ended up carving a nice little woodspirit into the handle which only generated more pride in the tool that he'd made. Off he went again showing it off to anyone who would listen to his story and look at his hammer.
All the way back on the drive from the beach to the mountains I believe that he held onto that wood mallet all the way. Before departing his father expressed his gratitude to me for helping his son with his hammer and the woodcarving. That must have been the proudest kid in North Carolina and I'm anxious to see if he hangs it on the wall in his room or if he wears it out using it. Either way it will be okay because the power of a simple hands-on project worked its magic and really made the difference in one child's life today.
The first step in making a pioneer mallet was to decide the size of it, then choosing the appropriate wood for the handle and the head. Some would choose to make the biggest mallet possible while others opted on the smaller side. As seen in the picture above they would then use a band saw or a crosscut saw to trim the wood down to usable proportions. For a while I enjoyed helping the Scouts saw their wood and everyone of them gave me a sincere thank-you which was encouraging. Finally they would size up their handle to decide which size drill bit to use then hand-drill their hole into the head.
As seen in the pictures above the next task was learning to manipulate a wood file on the tip of their handle until it would fit snug in the hole. When a good fit was found a notch was sawed into the handles tip to help it dry and fit tightly as seen in the pictures below.
When your mallet was completed some of the kids chose to take it to the blacksmith station and burn a fantastic symbol of their choice into the wood.
As seen in the picture to the right is one very proud Scout as he branded his mallet then showed it off for the crowd. This kid is smiling but what you can't see is the live-action trembling in the core of his soul from being so proud of the mallet that he'd made with his own hands. It just don't get any better than this!
I'm not sure exactly how many kids went through the pioneering station on Saturday but the area was at full capacity from opening to closing. What is for sure is that a LOT of kids are a little better off today because some caring adults had the patience to ensure their success and the vision to make it happen. From such a simple hands-on activity I saw the confidence in a lot of kids boosted upwards and the world seemed to become a somewhat gentler place to be. If you want to ensure that the next generation has the best opportunity to succeed then help a child use their hands in a constructive way. You won't be disappointed.
Living in the mountains of North Carolina I have spent almost 30 very
rewarding years working with at-risk kids in a wilderness camping program as a counselor, outdoor educator, and woodshop teacher. To learn more about what my blog is all about, just scroll down this sidebar to "About my blog..."
1. Woodcarving/Woodwork: Working wood has been a lifetime obsession for me and I enjoy sharing what I know. It is my belief that hands-on and experiential learning has a direct and profound effect on the development of a child's intellect, confidence, and character. Projects of mine (and my students) will be posted as they progress and I will occasionally include a video tutorial. All of my videos can be found here .
2. Bushcraft/Primitive Living Skills: Finding ways to live closer to the land has always fascinated me. Whether it's building a shelter, fire starting, animal tracking, or just making rustic furniture... you'll eventually see some of it here.
3. Long Distance backpacking, canoeing, & bicycling: Some of my long distance adventures include thru-hiking the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail, Mexico to Canada and I solo paddled the 1,800 mile Yukon river across northwest Canada and Alaska to the Bering sea. More detailed accounts of these and many other adventures can be found here
4. Sustainable Living: I'm always looking for better ways to do more by using less. It's not so much an "environmental" thing to me as it is a quest for personal independence from material things and finding a path to more substantive living .
5. Scouting Activity: As a scoutmaster of 6 years (and currently assistant scoutmaster) I'm actively involved with the troop and "Order of the Arrow" where it is a joy to volunteer hundreds of hours each year because investing in the next generation insures a better tomorrow for everyone. In an era when most schools don't value hands-on learning, outdoor education, and the arts... scouting soars in meeting these critical experiences for boys.
6. Profiles: Behind everyone's success you can usually find a trail of some very significant mentors and teachers along the way. And sometimes you don't completely understand how someone affected your life for the better until many years later. You'll find some of those stories here.