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book review The Work of Wool a Montessori Handwork Album by Carol Palmer reviewed by Beverley Paine The Educating ParentThe Work of Wool, A Montessori Handwork Album

Author: Carol Palmer

Book Review
by Beverley Paine

Parents frequently ask what activities their children can do for technology. Most people immediately think of computers and other information technology but my first thought is craft. Craft is defined as an activity involving skill in making things by hand. Learning to grasp something in our hands is one of the earliest skills we master: we're hard wired to use our hands to help us learn about and experience our world. Early education celebrates this but by about eight years of age the emphasis has switched from hands-on learning to using our eyes, and to a lesser extent our ears. Reading, writing and arithmetic become all important and the most efficient way to track learning in these areas is usually through screen or paper based activities.

However children still enjoy mucking about making, creating and building, using their hands to help them express their ideas and materialize concepts provided they are provided with the space, time and materials to do so.

The other important ingredient necessary is company. We don't learn in isolation: being around people who are busy making, creating and building helps children discover, practice and hone new skills. And this is where Carol Palmer's book helps: she noticed how little craft work takes place in schools. Recognising the importance of working with our hands to children's overall development, she also believes in the need to preserve the skills of our collective heritage, and to help pass them onto the next generation.

As a school kid in the 1960s I remember doing craft as a separate subject: mostly I remember learning how to embroider and sew, although I do remember making all manner of things that I'd take home and give to my parents as presents. At home I would busy myself making dolls' clothes and furniture, and model houses and layouts for my trainset. I enjoyed making and creating props for our various pretend and role-playing games, as well as ‘sets' for our impromptu concerts. I remember learning how to cut and polish semi-precious stones and make gem trees and rock critters. Some skills I remember being taught, others I seemed to pick up by osmosis. Fibre crafts – mostly knitting, sewing and embroidery – were taught to me at school and by my mum. As an adult I've learned there are so many more fibre crafts and that's why Carol Palmer's book, The Work of Wool, caught my eye.

The Work of Wool is a manual that sets out in clear detail how to introduce and teach fibre crafts to children. Carol is an advocate of Montessori philosophy and people with knowledge of that approach to education will appreciate the way The Work of Wool is structured. Those new to the Montessori method will find it very easy to read and use.

The beauty of the Montessori approach for home educating parents is that the lessons are explicit and structured, beginning with an introduction that can be read or told to the children giving them some background about the activity, concept or idea. How to talk to the children about the activity is modelled, with what to say at every step. Carol illustrates the text with clear photographs that help to make it easy to follow each step. The text includes what to say and what to do as the parent works with the child. There are also pages and illustrations that can be photocopied and used with the children.

The manual begins with an introduction to wool, beginning with a brief history, and then covers the science of wool to give the children an understanding into the nature of this fibre. Beginning with spinning the manual moves through chapters on weaving, making pom poms, finger knitting, knitting, crochet, nalbinding, felting and dyeing.

This isn't your typical lesson plan you'll find for craft activities online, with a list of materials and a brief ‘how to' description. This is a comprehensive study of the art of working with wool, building a thorough understanding of the nature of the material and what it can be used for and done with it. All too often the reasons why we teach our children anything – the context – are lost in our quest to cram as much we think they need to know and be able to do into those years before they become adults. The Work of Wool adds back that context.

It's 259 pages – not something you'll pick up and use all at once, or even get through in a year. And it isn't meant to be used like that. Take your time to work your way through this manual with your child. Read ahead and get a feel for how to present the activity and lesson and enjoy learning new skills alongside your child. Explore and practice each new skill before moving on. If you are already at working with wool you will appreciate the measured and thoughtful way Carol introduces the art to children; but if, like me, you are a relative novice and are a bit insecure, read and work through the lessons yourself, practicing the skills before introducing them to your child. I am planning on taking a couple or three years with my young grandchildren to get to the end of the manual.

As a teacher's resource the manual represents a fair investment and would probably suit sharing the cost among a group of home educating friends, or as a resource for a home educating cooperative.

Carol is offering readers of The Educating Parent a 10% discount using this code TEP2018.

“The satisfaction of creating something that is both useful and beautiful is part of human heritage… Children who are adept at handwork, who have the gift of fine finger control, have a world of possibilities open to them – they are our future surgeons, artists, and engineers.”

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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