No teacher, just a bunch of kids sawing and hammering in the cloakroom—that is one of my dad’s favorite memories from Yoder School. And this was three-quarters of a century before the makerspace movement brought DIY and school together.
“We built tractors,” my dad told me, his voice warming to the memory. “cutting the designs out of plywood with a coping saw”
They even devised a way to make steering wheels work—connecting them to tractor wheels with insulation they stripped from electric wires.
There, under the straw hats hanging from wall hooks and lunch buckets lined on shelves, they also built bird houses and, while they waited a turn with the coping saw, used a handloom to make potholders for their mothers. The cloakroom was open at recess and lunch and anytime students had completed an assignment. At Yoder School there was no restless drumming of the fingers, waiting for the rest of the class to finish.
Like today’s makerspace initiatives, the cloakroom of Yoder School was more than a space. Makerspaces are a way of thinking. More than a shop, where you learned to use a hammer, they are an invitation for kids to stop consuming and start producing. Not subject-specific, makerspaces are more about a creative, problem-solving mindset.
So what happens when kids work with raw materials, not pre-assembled kits? What’s the good of kids working alone, without handholding? Making gives kids the chance to think independently, to self-direct, to take risks, and to learn to fail.
For many people, hands are the brain’s best friend. When hands are busy putting something together, the brain is engaged. This hand-brain connection also increases mental health, reducing stress hormones and increasing dopamine, the feel-good hormone.
So I’m glad schools are filling spaces with wood and cloth and wire and cardboard and paper. I hope they keep turning kids lose to move beyond consuming to creating. Because, for most of us, studying comes easier after the hands have engaged the brain.