It all Began with a Stone Ax

The Kids’ Experience
(This Ocean Grove Charter School class was on 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 awakening, 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 younger kids had trouble cutting it thin enough. So we mostly used jute plant-fiber 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, we 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. 

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Mentor’s Background Thought:
Flintknapping and prehistoric stoneworking is a real artisan skill. Decades ago I made and sold very serious stone-tipped spears and precisely flintknapped arrowheads on hand-made arrows. I even wrote articles that were published in several national hunting magazines. I would really love to teach advanced flintknapping now. But I prefer to instead teach kids to make 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 human parents, we need to allow them to experience their human heritage. Our young stone ax students deeply imagined that their ax is all-powerful in their hands. This teaches both confidence and responsibility. And it teaches reality… like when their ax breaks and then they need to be a big kid and fix it on their own.

Student’s Thoughts:
A student of prehistoric stoneworking can do something almost as amazing as time travel. We can free our thoughts from the constraints of modern times. Quite amazingly, the students get to ponder their own DNA and origins, and attempt to understand how raw objects in wild nature can become useful tools within human hands. But this can’t really be explained with words. You have to go and do it. Inventors see ordinary objects outside of the constraints of time. Kids are born to be inventors and makers.

 
Technology  began a very long time ago, with hungry tummies and a sharp stone tied to a stick.

Technology began a very long time ago, with hungry tummies and a sharp stone tied to a stick.

 

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’s Thoughts:
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 our students for a life of creative engagement with the real world.

Thoughts for parents:
Lately, kids are clearly spending very little time outdoors. In previous centuries, childhood was entirely outdoors. What will this generation become without that?