One cold winter’s morning, on the banks of the Swan River a simple stick lay lifeless on the ground. Now this was not just any stick. Over the previous few days this stick had taken on many forms. It was a sword, a cross beam for a raft, a digging tool. It was even a musical instrument but today it was to experience a different adventure. Little did it know it was about to undergo an extreme transformation.
It was a cold day. The group of spritely children attending KIN Village had planned to light a fire to help them keep warm and also cook lunch. One boy, about 11, who gazed out over the river, at the dark stormy clouds was drawn by the call for volunteers to be head firelighter. This boy LOVED the power of fire and had become an expert Fire Keeper over the past few days learning the intricacies of this magical element. He revelled in the pride he felt using flint and steel to light it with his bare hands, he was hypnotised by its glow and ember.
Having attended previous KIN Village days, this boy was well aware that the day concluded with marshmallows. We all know you can’t have a campfire without roasted marshmallows. So, today he had a plan. His previous attempts at roasting marshmallows had ended with gooey mess. Sometime even dropping some of his precious treats into the coals and flames. This day, he was determined to make a tool to assist him in roasting the “perfect marshmallow”. Crispy. Gooey. Sticky. Warm!
After passing the role of Fire Keeper to one of his friends, he went in search for the perfect roasting stick… Stick in hand, the tool of choice was a whittling tool. He wasn’t fooled by the fact that this tool was actually a potato peeler. However, it did the job he required. Having attended before, the boy returned to the act of whittling comfortable with it’s purpose and the skill required due to the time he was given to explore with tool and material. Whittling without a product in mind previously had given him the confidence to return to the tool with purpose.
His aim, to whittle away the end of the stick, to smooth and shape it to a point. Stroke by stroke he worked, sitting in the dirt, revealing new layers, colours and personalities of this stick. The time spent working on the stick gave the boy an opportunity to get to know it. Also, to listen to its story. With each ribbon of bark and wood peeled from the stick, a new layer of the branch it once was revealed itself. This humble stick, once a branch on a mighty tree became a natural teacher. It imparted knowledge about itself, an opportunity for learning disguised in a simple action.
Conversation with those around him ebbed and flowed. But all the while his attention was on the form of his stick. As if in a state of mediation, he worked for what seemed like hours. Whittling and sanding, peeling and smoothing until he achieved a certain level of perfection. It seems time is fluid when surrounded by nature, friends and endless possibilities.
Many times throughout the day he returned to his stick to re shape or re smooth. As a result the stick became not only the ultimate marshmallow roaster but an important element of play. The boy was proud of his work. He treasured the tool and kept it close all day.
Finally the time came and the marshmallows were revealed. It was time for his handiwork to be put to the test. A look of accomplishment and joy appeared on his face as his shoulders rose and chest expanded. That humble stick, picked up by a boy with a mission, now had a new life, a story and became a memory.
Whittling is a very important element of all our programs at Educated by Nature, from our mud pies playgroups where it is a wonderful activity to support gross and fine motor development, allow children the opportunity to explore with pressure, force, power and develop muscle strength and coordination, all the way to our older programs KIN Village where we like to call it ‘meditation for boys’.
We are always amazed by the ‘zone’ that children – especially boys – enter when working with a stick in this way. They show their ability to sit and focus for large periods of time and we all know conversations with boys is much easier if their hands are occupied and we sit beside them rather than in front of them. There is something tribal about the art of whittling that ignites the innate flame within us and the best part about it is it takes TIME!
When we allow children TIME to explore materials, experiment with resources and trial new skills we empower them to be creative, to extend themselves, to attempt new tasks and to play. Viewing TIME as the most important resource in your classroom, centre, family or your own personal life is the first step – but the tricky part is seeing ‘mucking around’ or the process of becoming bored as CRUCIAL elements that leads to creativity. It’s a cycle that needs to play out. TIME is the key.