Open Connections

  • ch 1 wood
Real Work, Purposeful Projects

Real Work, Purposeful Projects 

Those who know me know how enthusiastic I am about older youth spending time in the Open Program (OP). I have shared in the past about the benefits of having multiple years to explore and create in these spaces of the OP. I have encouraged many youth to continue to be a member of the OP, knowing that they will benefit from new experiences and learning. Some of the greatest examples of this continued growth can be seen every day upon entering the OP Woodshop. This space is constantly bustling with youth eager to put their creative thoughts into projects, into practice, into Real Work experiences.


Younger youth of the OP focus on the safety of the tools, themselves and the workers around them. They start out by learning the purpose of each tool and what to use it for. Many times there is no “product” as the youth take the time to figure out which way to turn the vise to tighten it or which way the screwdriver needs to turn to get the screw to go into the wood. Other times youth leave the Woodshop satisfied with a piece of wood into which they have hammered three nails or shortened an inch with a saw. This is just the beginnings of an Open Program woodworker. With each passing year there are new opportunities, further growth and an expanded development of skills.


The Woodshop in the OP is one of few spaces that require an experienced adult to be close by. Real saws and drills are in the hands of our four-year-olds. By sharing the purpose of each tool as well as the proper way to hold/navigate each tool, we can insure that our youth can keep themselves and the tools safe. The first inclination of many adults who would be working with a youth for the first time is to direct the youth on what to make, how to make it and the step-by-step instructions of what to do next. While such adults have good intentions with this traditional approach, our goal in the Woodshop, as in all other spaces in the OP, is to trust the process and only offer instruction if we feel it is for safety reasons. This is the heart of Invited vs. Uninvited Instruction. Think of the response of “No! I can do it!” when an adult steps in as a youth is pounding away on a nail that appears to be staying in the same spot. The good intention of wanting to help has robbed the youth of practice. It also has given the youth a sense that we don’t think they can do it. At OC, as a rule of thumb, we never step in when a youth continues to work and is not asking for assistance. Other times the youth may ask for help; I always respond with “What’s the part you feel like you can do, and what’s the part where you want help?”


When I notice what appears to be frustration after a youth has worked for 10 minutes on the same nail and it will not stay upright for the youth to get a good tap on it, I might ask, “May I offer a suggestion?” Again, we do not want to rob the youth of the experience, so perhaps I can hold the nail in place with a pair of pliers, allowing the youth to tap away until they eventually achieve their goal of getting the nail into the wood. Sometimes, while it may appear to me that there is frustration and a desire for some help, the youth will respond with a simple “No, thank you,” and the youth will continue to work away. This is when I know my advice is uninvited and I step back. You would be surprised at how often it is that the youth who appear to be struggling are the ones who stick with it. Guided by our emphasis of process over product, OC Facilitators know that some of the most impactful learning occurs when the youth are immersed in the process and are not being driven by external factors, but rather by their intrinsic motivation.


Over the past 14 years as an OC Facilitator, I have noticed that it is the older Open Programmers who seem to work on projects to a finish. It takes time, concentration, problem solving and focus to complete a purposeful project. It takes flexibility, determination and confidence to get it done. This year three of our older youth in the program chose to create purposeful projects with the skills they have developed over their years in the OP. I have asked these youth to share their stories. Seeing the projects through the eyes of the youth puts things into perspective. As you read through their stories you will notice that many life skills are practiced in the OP Woodshop such as decision-making and problem-solving. I often see youth entering the OP at age four, who are still developing their decision-making skills. It can be as simple as “Which project should I join, or which feather should I choose?” Throughout the day in the OP there are multiple opportunities to put decision making into practice. The Woodshop gives clear examples of decision making around the size of a project, the tools used to construct each design, what will be made, etc. Problem solving is another primary skill set which is consistently practiced in the Woodshop: “Why is my screw sticking out of the bottom of my wood?” “Why are my pieces not lining up?” Through daily life youth will be presented with opportunities for creative problem solving, a skill that they hone every day at OC.


Madeline has been in the OP for 4 years. She has always had a love for the Woodshop; I remember her working with tools during her first years in the OP. Over the years I have seen her confidence grow and she has become quite the woodworker. Last year Madeline started creating very large projects for her dog, Teddy, whom she loves very much. This year Teddy received many gifts from Madeline as she worked from one to the next throughout the entire OP year. Here is Madeline’s story.


“I knew I wanted to make something for my dog Teddy this year in the OP Woodshop. Last year I made him a house so this year I decided to make him a car so he could go inside of it and ride around in it. I had to figure out how big the pieces of wood would be so it could fit in my car. I went out to my car and measured it. Then I measured the pieces of wood in the OP Woodshop. I drew lines on them so I would know where to cut them. Then I cut my pieces of wood to the size that I measured. I cut each piece and attached them where they had to go. I used screws to attach all of the wood together. After I finished the car for Teddy I brought it up to my car. It was too big and it would not fit. I decided to take three pieces off, re-measure them and cut them again. I chose to make it one and a half feet tall. When I got home my sister Abby, my brother Connor and I went inside the car to test it out. It was sagging a little so we took it apart and built it with longer screws and tightened all of them. My dog Teddy went inside of it and laid down and we pulled him around outside. He loved it! I am happy with how it came out, but if I did it again I would cut less off the legs when I made it shorter to fit in my car.”


What I appreciate most about Madeline through this process is that she never got discouraged. When Teddy’s car was too big to fit in her car she just carried it back down to the OP and made adjustments. When she got home and the insides were sagging down a bit she made repairs. Teddy also received a playhouse, a vending machine and a dog jump; he is one lucky dog!


This year I also had the pleasure of working with Amalia as she designed, prepared and constructed her Guinea Box. While this was Amalia’s first year in the OP as she came in as a sevenyear-old. Amalia was encouraged by the others’ projects to try one of her own for her beloved guinea pigs. It was such an enlightening experience learning and growing alongside Amalia. Here is her story.


“I have 2 guinea pigs. Their names are Cookie and Nutmeg. They were a present from my mom and dad for Christmas to my sisters and me. My sisters‘ names are Lacey, Kyra and Cadence. When my sisters and I are cleaning out our guinea pigs’ cage we put a blanket in the living room so they can run around. We put things around the blanket so they can’t get out while we are cleaning their cage. They always like to get out of the space anyway, so I thought maybe I could make a little box for them so they would have more space to run around. Most importantly, they would be safe. We could also carry them around in it like outside or something.


“I started by drawing the design for my ‘Guinea Box.’ I drew two walls, a bottom, a top, a back and an opening so they could get in and out. I chose five pieces of wood. I used the measuring stick to see how big I wanted it to be. It could not be too big that it would not fit in the space it would go. I wrote down my measurements so I would remember how big to cut the wood. After I had all of my pieces I measured them and drew lines so I knew where to saw. I had to do a lot of sawing. I sawed every piece before I started putting things together. One of my pieces of wood was not big enough but I wanted it to match the others. I decided to saw two pieces and attach them together with wood glue to make them one. After I sawed all of the wood I drilled holes so the wood did not split and then I drilled in screws. It took me many weeks to make my box. The last step was to decide how I wanted to attach the door. I found two pieces of wood that would work and I decided to attach them together with another piece of wood. I found hinges and attached the door with two hinges. I left an opening at the top of my box so my guinea pigs could have light and air. Then I found a latch to keep the door secure. I am so happy with how my box turned out. I can’t wait for my guinea pigs to use it. I had a lot of fun working on my Guinea Box.”


Amalia’s story gives us a clear example of flexibility. When Amalia noticed that she did not have 4 pieces of wood the same length and type she chose to create her own piece using smaller pieces by glueing them together. There was no instruction guiding her on this path; it was her own Flexible Thinking that brought her to this decision. Because of her flexibility, there was no frustration on her end. Having the ability to be flexible will give her skills through her life to cope with change at ease. Margot’s story is a bit different.


Margot has been in the OP for four years. During Margot’s time in the OP she has spent very little time creating in the Woodshop. She has chosen to spend her time working on other skills around the OP space. Last winter Margot shared with me that she had a specific reason she had been staying away from the Woodshop. This was an invitation for some strong encouraging and support to help her feel comfortable and confident in the space. Here is her story.


“When I was younger and I went into the OP Woodshop, it was really hard to saw without my arms hurting. This made me afraid to work with the tools again. I did not go back into the Woodshop until this year when Michelle brought me in and we talked about why I did not feel comfortable in this space. I shared that I was nervous about getting hurt. Michelle shared more about the tools and how to stay safe. She also shared that the more I worked the stronger my arms would get and they would hurt less. I decided to try the Woodshop again. We talked about making a special project. I decided to make a hutch for my rabbit, Nutmeg. I drew a picture of how it would look so Michelle could see what I was thinking. I used a measuring tape to decide what the measurements would be and we wrote them down so we would not forget. I then chose all of my wood. I measured the wood and drew on lines so I knew where to cut. Then I sawed and sawed and sawed and sawed and sawed some more! All of the sawing was so hard at first and it made my arms tired and sore. I sawed some each week, and each time I sawed it felt like my arms got stronger. I think it took about eight or nine weeks to saw through all of the wood. After I sawed all of my pieces I measured the wood to make sure the measurements were right. Then I screwed it all together. Next I had to decide how to make a hole in the top to attach the ladder and the tunnel. I wanted to have a ladder for Nutmeg to climb up and a tunnel for him to slide down into the hutch. I decided to use a cardboard box for the tunnel. I cut the top off and taped it to make it strong on the ends. For the ladder I first decided to use bamboo. My friend, Cade, helped me screw the pieces onto the wood. When we drilled it onto the base, though, it started to crack. Then we chose a dowel and measured and sawed to make steps. Then we drilled them on to the base. Cade helped me saw and screw on the steps to the ladder. For the hole on top I chose to make it square instead of round because we did not have just the right tool to make it round. I drilled a large hole into the wood and then sawed from each end to make a square. That was the hardest part! When I first put the tunnel in, it was too long so I had to cut it again. I made a fabric curtain and tassels at the bottom of the curtain and stapled it to the bottom for my bunny to go in and out. The tunnel was ready to be put in place. Next I attached the ladder with hinges so it could fold up and down and fit in my car and in my bunny’s space. When I first started making my bunny hutch, I had trouble sawing and I had trouble making the holes. I think I learned how to be in the Woodshop without getting hurt and how to be safe with the tools. I feel good about my hutch and how it turned out. My bunny likes climbing up the ladder and going on the top. I really like my project a lot. I like going in the Woodshop now. I am glad I was encouraged to go into the Woodshop and make something for my bunny.”


I appreciate how Margot pushed through her fear of getting hurt in the Woodshop. She pushed through each week even though her arms were so sore from sawing. Margot created this purposeful project for Nutmeg with focus and determination. I can’t wait to see what she creates next.


The Open Program Woodshop has given these youth the opportunities and time to explore and create at their own pace. It has given them time to develop problem solving skills, patience and precision, as well as time to create purposeful projects. As we kick off another program year, I’m eager to see what exciting projects the OP youth have in mind!