Last month I began my VIP tour of our Education Programs with an up-close-and-personal account of “The Perfect Machine”, a grade K-3 science and social studies program that focuses on the First Nations canoe design, flotation, buoyancy & surface tension. Moving into Part Deux of this series, we’ll take a virtual run-through today of our Paddle Carving program for grades four+, bearing in mind that this program gives kids an experience that is actually just about as far as it gets from virtual — an arguably much-needed balance to all that screen time!
Yes, that’s a rather small paddle. I made one for my daughter when she was three (which, to be honest, didn’t see a lot of in-water action), but beyond that age, this size definitely serves as a souvenir or decorative paddle, or, in our household, as the official pinata-whacker and reacher-of-things-under-couches. Frankly, to make a full-size hardwood paddle from scratch takes adult focus and determination and a very full weekend (see our workshop info here); we also run a full-size, full-day paddle carving program for teens 15+ using prepped blanks (please contact me at [email protected] for info):
But the fantastic thing about the 24-inch poplar paddle is that our grade four to eight students can take it from the blank to a smooth, completed paddle in the 3-hour time frame that suits school scheduling, while learning the skills and process to apply to full-size paddle-carving later in their lives.
Before we get to the carving, the students gather in the Museum gallery for a hands-on, interactive exploration of current and historical paddle types, materials and design across Canada, using our handling artifacts, as well as observing some of the paddles in our collection. As with all our canoes and craft at the Museum, the paddles are a conduit of culture – each design telling a story of its maker, the landscape (or waterscape) it suits, the reason for its existence, the way it is or was used. The Voyageur paddle, the bent-shaft paddle, the whitewater paddle, otter tail, beaver tail… our students get to predict and interpret paddle design, and learn correct sizing and the vocabulary they’ll need to understand the carving instructions. Ah, paddle vocabulary — you can imagine just how hilarious it is to 9–12 year-olds that part of the paddle is called the butt. Shaft is a pretty good one too.
Moving right along: carving time. Math in action. I’m endlessly surprised, and moved, by what an eye-opener it is for many kids to realize that something they know – how to divide 11cm by 2, for example – is actually something they are going to use to make guidelines on their paddle. I love that we can be part of that moment when learning becomes meaningful.
There’s the measuring and marking, and then there’s the hands-on experience of the spokeshave, a woodworking tool most students haven’t even seen before, let alone learned to use. It’s sharp; it’s a real tool. Kids love that. And, for the record, in all our years of paddle-carving programming, we’ve never had to get so much as a bandaid.
We finish the paddles to a fine-sanded stage. Teachers and guiding/scouting leaders often plan to paint the paddles as a follow up activity later on, or sign up for our paddle-painting program, but the paddles are beautiful without additional finishing – to look at, and to touch. To be sure, there is inevitably a contingent that needs reminding that these are paddles not swords. But at the end of the program, what I see most often is students running their hands along the paddle they’ve created, pleased, proud, quietly amazed.