Wisdom of Hands

This blog, Wisdom of Hands, by a woodworker and teacher, has been a real treat to peruse–and an inspiration to me to get back into woodworking again this fall.  I’ve been enjoying the musings on the importance of handwork and the links between handwork and intelligence.  It’s very much aligned with what I believe as a Montessori practitioner.

Montessori wrote in The Absorbent Mind: “Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of the child’s mind comes about through his movements.”

“The hand is in direct connection with man’s soul, and not only with the individual’s soul, but also with the different ways of life that men have adopted on the earth in different places and at different times.  The skill of man’s hand is bound up with the development of his mind, and in the light of history we see it connected with the development of civilization.  The hands of man express his thought, and from the time of his first appearance upon the earth, traces of his handiwork also appear in the records of history.  Every great epoch of civilization has left its typical artifacts.”

And further:

“The nature of a person’s work is betrayed by his movements.  For his work is the expression of his mind–it is his mental life–and this has access to a whole treasury of movements which develop in the service of this–the central and directive–part of his inner being…The mental life of anyone who does not work at all is in grave peril because–although it is true that all the muscular powers cannot be used–there is a limit beneath which it is dangerous for those in use to fall.  When reduced below this, a person’s whole life is weakened.”

I think about this every time we ask a young three year old to hang up her own coat, or introducing flower arranging to the four year old, or the six year old in grinding herbs and learning how to sew.  These are all incredibly satisfying tasks that engage the child’s full self–physical, intellectual, emotional, social–in connecting her to humanity and its tradition of work with the hands in creating beauty and meaning.

In the elementary level, this is extended to handwritten research projects and other works of art and expression.  Many now wonder what the place of the computer is in an elementary classroom–should students be learning to type their papers at age nine or ten, in an effort to make them more competitive in a fast-changing global society? My inclination is to say no, not yet.  Not because I’m a Luddite (far from it), but rather because time spent at the computer at this age is time not spent doing other activities that develop and refine the movements of the hand.

Knowing how to type does not replace the process of learning how to illuminate letters–and along with that knowledge, acquiring the patience for detail and the appreciation and love of an art-form that influenced generations of literature.  Typing will come easily enough–many do so at home, with or without parent supervision.  The fine handwork, though–this is an art and practical life skill that should be kept alive in every classroom.

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