As a kid growing up in country NSW, I was completely unable to concentrate for more than what seemed like a few seconds. I physically couldn’t sit still and my mind was on everything at once but not focused on anything.
I loved the act of reading and writing because it often told a story and reminded me of being tucked up in bed at night and being read to sleep. I loved the idea of stories. Especially listening to Dr Zeus and Peter Pan or the Just so Stories by Rudyard Kipling. But I was hopelessly inadequate at reading and writing and even worse at maths.
Early Primary School Years
Going to early primary school and sitting in a class where I couldn’t experience any success was confusing and made me feel displaced and disengaged. I hated school and had to be dragged there by my mother every morning.
Then, for some reason, we got to go outside for a few hours a week and spend time with a teacher who showed us how to make stuff. Overnight I went from feeling like the worst student in the class (it felt like I was useless at everything), to feeling like I at least could create things from concepts that my friends found difficult grasp.
I made a plywood and tile cheese board (my mother said she still has it but hmm…) and a balsa wood ship in a glass bottle complete with rigging, flags and sails!
I Was Good At Making Stuff
Unexpectedly, my teacher and my friends looked at me as though I’d done something remarkable. It was the first time I had ever been complimented for any school related task and I felt as if people were treating me differently. They were kind of impressed and surprised in a good way.
I’m not saying I became an “A” grade student from that point on (I would have been happy with “B” grade) but I now had a place in the class to occupy and call my own. I was good at making stuff. And as long as I got to do this I was more engaged in the rest of my classes and even more focused on the things I wasn’t good at.
I knew what success felt like at school!
Fast forward a couple of decades and I soon realised that my own children learned well by doing too. They were always welcome in the shed where I’d show them a few techniques, then leave them to their own devices. They made furniture and creations (not all of which resembled anything in particular) from anything laying around the place. Or they experimented in the kitchen concocting their own recipes.
As a scout leader, I applied the same principles. Let children grow and learn by doing. Do it with them but not for them. Otherwise all they learn is that you can do it better than they can.
Help them navigate and they will surprise you and themselves. The free and creative process is a great educator and new ideas, principles, concepts are made even more special and memorable if we all learn together.
Learning With Balsa
Inspired by my personal experience as a child, watching my own children learn and working as a scout leader for 23 years, I designed and made the Learning with Balsa range. My hope is that children will use Learning with Balsa hands on learning aids and feel successful, like I did. I want them to become confident and resilient life-long learners who recognise that learning by doing is a valid approach.
Learning with Balsa Models and Teaching Aids are available from Balsa Central.