My children have always enjoyed playing at working wood. I’ve taught them to handle some basic tools, like braces, spokeshaves, and even gouges, but they’ve mostly contented themselves with playing in the sawdust and shavings as I work.
But recently my oldest two daughters, K. and A., have turned their minds toward making a little money, so I offered them a deal. If they helped me sand down some wooden spoons, I would pay them a small portion of the profit as I sold the spoons. Or they could try their hand at making something themselves and come with me to the next craft show and try to sell it.
A. is a practical child, so she quickly volunteered to do some sanding. When I pulled out my spoon-making tools, she sat down with a sheet of sandpaper and a spoon and went at it.
She kept bringing it back to me to see if it was done. I would feel it and point out a rough spot, and she would dutifully sit back down and sand where I told her to.
I thought she would surely quit after she finished the first one, but she asked for a second one. And a third. And a fourth. After she had sanded FIVE spoons, she decided she was done. She smiled when I pulled out my wallet and handed her a few dollar bills.
Her big sister K., on the other hand, was more ambitious. She opted to try making a spoon all by herself. I found her a piece of walnut sapwood–easy to cut and not too likely to splinter–drew her a spoon with a template, and let her go at it with a gouge, a small drawknife, and a spokeshave.
It was a day-long process for her, and several times she got frustrated with the tools and had to go do something else for a little while. But she came back to it. And with a little hands-on coaching from me (i.e. her holding the tool with my hands wrapped around her hands) she managed to make a utensil that looks an awfully lot like a spoon. She even put a label and a price-tag on it.
That’s the way children learn to work: first they observe an older person working; next they play at the work; finally they do the work itself.