It all Began with a Stone Ax

The Kids’ Experience
(This Ocean Grove Charter School class was April 24, 2017):

The students smashed up a pile of simple river rocks and slate stones to acquire the triangle or ax shape that they each wanted. Some kids said in various words that smashing the slate stones was somehow satisfying, and even “stress relieving”. Next we cut branches to make handles, and some of the students became obsessed with using chunks of broken stone (technically “hand axes”) to scrape and cut the green branches. We tried learning how to cut rawhide into binding cords, but the kids had trouble cutting it thin enough. So we mostly used jute cord to “haft” (or lash) each child’s stone to their handle. The result was amazing. Looking at the tool that each child had made, I pondered how this was the original technology (even before fire and cooked meat) that fed the large caloric requirements of early humans with large brains. 


The Mentor/Parents’ Analysis:
Flintknapping and prehistoric stoneworking is a real artisan skill. Decades ago I made (and internationally sold) very serious stone-tipped spears and precisely flintknapped arrowheads on perfectly arrowsmithed and fletched arrows. I even wrote articles that were published in several national hunting magazines. I would really love to teach advanced flintknapping now. So it might seem surprising that I prefer to instead teach little kids to make super-simple stone-and-stick caveman axes. This is because I value the child having a manageable experience with flintknapping, not perfection. This is THEIR life-journey into artisan skills, not mine. Kids need things that they can do with their own hands, to build their own confidence and skill. And as parents, we need to allow their imagination to soar. Our young stone ax students deeply imagine that their ax or stone dagger is all-powerful in their hands. This teaches responsibility. And it teaches reality… when their ax breaks and they need to be a big kid and fix it on their own.

Thoughts and Questions:
One day, people may find a way to time-travel. But for now, a student of prehistoric stoneworking can do something almost as amazing. We can free our thoughts from the constraints of time. Quite amazingly if you really ponder and dig deep into your own DNA and origins, and attempt to understand how stones that you find can become useful tools within the grasp of your own hands… it is at some degree… mind-blowing. But this can’t really be explained with words. You have to go and do it. Inventors are this type of time traveler. They see ordinary objects outside of the constraints of time. And it all began a very long time ago, with many hungry tummies and one stone ax.


Pioneer Tower and Pole Lashing

A key part of these short blogs is our shared parent/teacher analysis of what the children are getting out of our programs at TWA. It would be great to hear your thoughts and wisdom in the comments. Our local parent community wants to raise kids who can thrive in any world future. 

The Kids’ Experience:
The kids in the video below had fun being the pioneer architects of our camp. They built the original grand Academy pole structures which held the shade tarps and supported hammocks around the campfire. We started with a huge tripod, with the bottom ends anchored in deep holes for stability. The students became obsessed with trying to climb that first tripod. It seemed impossible, so I set the standard by slowly walking up one pole to the top. That set the challenge straight. The goal was now to climb with controlled balance and grace. Soon one boy mastered running up one of the poles to the top. It was awesome! Later we added a 4th pole for the younger students. And then we engineered a durable design with a second large tripod and cross-beams as seen in the video. These kids will forever know that they are capable of building a large shelter with simple materials.

The Mentor/Parents’ Analysis:
Children learn to be creative doers by using their hands. As you can see in the photos and video below, the kids are doing manual labor that requires them to engineer a workable design on the spot. This kind of problem solving does not just bounce around inside the child’s head, and then end up only on a piece of paper. Real-world thinking creates real-world solutions. Outdoor learning conditions students for a life of creative engagement with the whole wide world.

Thoughts and Questions:
Lately, kids are clearly spending very little time outdoors. In previous centuries, childhood was entirely outdoors. Were outdoor adventures part of your childhood?