There are three rites of passage in the Wonder Studio: using the hot glue gun, working a hack saw, and learning to sew. The joyful expressions on students’ faces as they learn these skills are salve for my weary teacher’s soul. These small accomplishments remind me of my original purpose when designing the Wonder Studio. Student agency was key. I want to provide a safe place in which to make mistakes and grow confidence. Sometimes, I get lulled into the belief that it’s just a messy place where kids spill paint, smear glue, and don’t adequately clean up. And then there are those moments when Susie uses the hacksaw for the first time and loudly proclaims, “I just use the hack saw! It was fun!” Beaming from ear to ear, she lifts up two pieces of wood to show everyone her handiwork.
Sometimes, success takes a while, sometimes we need to overcome our fears first. This was the case for Liv, who needed to hot glue small pieces for an intricate wooden spinning fidget that she was constructing. She was afraid of using the hot glue gun, so I offered to glue the pieces. Liv was not satisfied with the job I had done: too much glue and not quite in the exact perfect spot. My big hands couldn’t execute the results she had desired. Over the course of the next week, Liv got up the courage to use the hot glue gun herself. She put together her fidget just as she had imagined.
Then she quietly came up to me and said, “I am so proud of myself.”
“Yes, it is beautiful,” I said.
“Not for making it, Mrs. Emery. I’m proud that I overcame my fear of the glue gun.”
I chuckled and slapped her a high five, “Hooray for you!” I said.
The once hesitant, shy Liv is now master of the glue gun. This experience of playing and experimenting with materials is essential for building confidence and character.
This week, Allie sat down next to me and expressed her desire to learn to sew. I agreed to show her. Allie wanted to make a small drawstring pouch in which to collect pom-poms. Doesn’t everyone? I first traced a circle on a piece of colorful fabric. Then Allie cut out the circle. I outlined in pencil the track in which Lynne should sew. I threaded a needle and asked her to watch me. Allie became agitated. She started to recount all the reasons why she couldn’t learn how to sew. Tears formed in her eyes, and she abruptly stood up ready to flee. I motioned for her to sit back down.
“I can’t do it! You have to show me,” she said.
“Allie, listen. Take a deep breath. That’s what I’ve been doing,” I said calmly.
“You have to show me!” she demanded.
“Yes, but you have to look at me. Look at my hands. Watch what I’m doing,”
She began to relax and concentrate on my hands.
I began to verbalize my actions, “Up, pull through, down, pull though,” over and over again.
Then I handed the needle to Allie. She began one stitch, two stitches, then over the edge of the fabric. Oh, no – a mistake. Allie froze, she stood up, and tears well in her eyes again, “I can’t do it!” she yelled.
I reached out my hand, “It’s okay. It’s okay. That’s a very common mistake. I made that mistake a hundred times when I was learning to sew.”
She looked at me skeptically.
“You think that I never make mistakes?” I asked.
“Yes, you are perfect,” she declared seriously.
I laughed,” I make mistakes all the time. It may look like things are easy for me because I’m old. But I couldn’t learn anything if I didn’t make mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities to learn.”
I pulled out the floss, threaded the needle again, and handed it back to Allie. She sat down and began again. She sewed all the way around the circle. I clapped and smiled. She grinned from ear to ear. I pulled the drawstring and the circle magically became a pouch. Allie put in her selected pom-poms.
“Allie, I’m going to help Liv. Make sure that you don’t cut the ends of the floss,” I said and left her for a few minutes.”
When I returned the floss ends were cut short. I looked at Allie astonished, “Why did you cut the floss ends?”
“Because I didn’t want the long strings hanging,” she explained, adding that another girl told her to cut them. The other girl loudly denied it.
“I told you not to cut them, Allie. I don’t understand.”
“I didn’t know why you said that. I didn’t know what would happened,” she replied looking scared.
“It’s okay,” I said, pulling out the thread and hold up the fabric circle, “Now you have the needle track to guide you. It will be easier this time.”
Allie dried her eyes and took the circle from me. She began again and made no mistakes. When she was done, we refilled it with colorful pompoms. I showed Allie how to carefully put the drawstrings and tie them in a bow so she could easily open and close her precious pouch.
Allie did learn to sew last Thursday, but she leaned so much more. She learned to never give up, to always try again, and to persevere even when things got hard, especially when things got hard. And most of all, always push past your mistakes and push through your fear.
Later that day, I was walking down the hallway past Allie’s class. And there she was, colorful pom-pom pouch in hand showing it off to her admiring classmates like sewing was easy, like she had known how to sew all along. And this is why I continue to love teaching. These moments, these times with students, these small important lessons help them grow and make me proud that I continue to be a teacher.