View Full Version : A Day in my Summer Shop Class

Aaron Koehl
09-12-2008, 1:31 AM
A Day in my Summer Shop Class
Article by Jack McKee (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/member.php?u=30813)

My summer class was set up in a double garage. The workbenches were inside but with the door open we were able to use the outside area in front of the garage, all in al a nice space. Although the class is woodworking, I always have a table of puzzles (mechanical, electrical, wood) my marble roll and builder boards. I bring these extra things so kids can have something to do before everyone arrives, if they finish their projects early, or if they just want or need a break. The class is two hours and there are 10 kids. It goes like this:

Kids will usually drift in over a 10 or 15 minute period. If a child comes early and has a project to finish or knows exactly what she wants to build she can go to work (except on the first day). Otherwise we wait till everyone arrives mainly because it irritates me to repeat beginning directions over and over. They have to be repeated enough as it is.

I have a “project of the day” set out on a table and kids can check it out. After everyone arrives we all sit down and I usually start with a short lesson. I think of woodworking as a series of very short lessons so I’ll take any opportunity to repeat something I’ve seen people having difficulties with. I might say, “I noticed some kids were having trouble with using the drill press so I just wanted to go over again how to use it.” Or, “I want to show you how to cut a larger piece of wood that won’t fit in the vice.........” Or “today I’d like to show you a tool we haven’t used yet, the clamp (or rip saw or spiral screwdriver etc.). Whatever little demo I choose, usually just short sections from the tool use section in this book, I make it short and too the point and directly related to a problem someone encountered.

After the demo I show the project of the day. A teacher can handle only so many projects. The way I keep a lid (or try to) on the number of different projects being built (while still offering kids a choice) is to have a “project of the day”. It works like this: today the project of the day is boxes (whatever). If you’d like to build a box come over here and I’ll show you how to get started. If you don’t want to build the project of the day and know what you want to build and know how to start, go ahead and start. If you need help getting started on a different project I’ll be with you in a minute. Meanwhile try to get the wood ready or try and figure the first step yourself.

Usually out of 10 kids 6 or 7 will want to build the POD. One or two kids will be happy on their own, without much supervision. After I’ve started the project of the day one or two kids will want a little help getting started so I’ll do that. Maybe one child will want to build something unrealistic (a working robot, a giant toy box) or too advanced for their skills so I’ll try to talk them into something more realistic. After everyone is started I go around and help whoever needs help. The problems children have for any given project are predictable. If everything goes well for the teacher, which it will after a little practice, projects will move along smoothly.

Every once in a while, especially during the first year or two of teaching, things will become hectic. Kids will need more help than you are able to give. Frustration, both yours and the kids will mount. This is almost always a result of trying to help build too many different projects, or projects which are too difficult. It’s easy to fall down this path before you realize its happening. After a while, when being stretched, I learned to say something like, “This project requires quite a bit of help. I got five different projects going now and I’m having trouble helping everyone. Could we save it for tomorrow? Maybe you could choose something you can do by yourself or without quite so much help.”

The first year I taught was rather hectic mostly because (I think) about half of the projects I'd thought up were too difficult. For begining students I still have to remind myself: simplify, simplify, simplify. The following years the class was still busy, often very busy, but deinitely under control. Every year kids dream up new things to build, and new ways to build, them eliciting in me the old, "why didn't I think of that," response. Sometimes I'm rewarded with the chance to just sit and watch everyone working on their own. All in all, woodworking with kids has been the most fun, interesting and meaningful woodworking I've done.

Norm Koerner
02-26-2009, 9:57 PM
I just read Aaron's description of summer shop projects for kids. How are you able to manage insurance to guard agains lawsuits filed by parents regarding an injury to their child?

And, are these free classes? Do you charge for materials?

Thanks in advance, Norm

Jack McKee
03-03-2009, 10:15 PM
My name is Jack McKee and I actually wrote the article and have the summer shop class. Aaron is the moderator who reviews articles before they are put up.

But to answer your questions: The class was sponsered by the county parks department. They paid me, not much, but something. I used their space and insurance. I've taught the class (and other classes) for almost 20 years and I've never had an injury or a complaint from a parent. The parks charged for the classes but we kept a space open for those who couldn't afford it. I obtained the materials, all free, but charged a materials fee to pay for my time of putting all the project materials together.

Hope that answers your questions,

Jack McKee

Ben Reish
03-17-2009, 11:00 PM

Do you think there is enough demand around for general woodshop classes to sustain a small (very small) business? I was also thinking about renting time in the shop out to individuals at a set rate. This would include having the shop open to the public evenings and weekends when most hobbyists are looking to do work.

Over and over people tell me the insurance is very expensive, but I think of go-kart racing, paint ball, barn swinging, and shooting ranges that all are dangerous, yet still exist. The insurance has to be manageable. I think a business as a small woodshop that had the tools urban dwelling hobbyists need but don't want to buy could take off. In the present economy, it might really grow with the do-it-yourself'ers.

My only reason for this is because I would use a place like what I am thinking of if it existed. Opinions?

Jack McKee
03-30-2009, 1:05 PM
Hi Ben,

Interesting questions and I really have no answers but a few thoughts. There is a bicycle co-op in town, and its been here for years, and I've always thought about doing something like it with woodworking would be a great idea. I find many are intimidated by the idea of woodworking and if you can just get them started building or fixing little things then half the battle is won. The community college here has woodworking classes (competition) but I think they jump right into the fancy power tools which intimidate many people. I think there are some woodworking co-ops around, maybe a google search.

If you were doing classes for kids and adults (which I think is a good idea. A mom helping in one of my classes for really young kids asked, "can I take this class") you would need separate spaces so there were no power tools around the kids.

I think woodworking is safer than riding a bike or playing baseball but its hard to convice people of it. See the safety chapter from Woodshop for Kids at: http://www.woodshop4kids.com/wfk_safetychapter.html

As for insurance I talked to several agents and they gave me either nothing or outragous rates. As long as I'm not using power tools and the kids are wearing eye protection I don't worry about it any more.

hope this helps a little