Building wooden toy boats offers many lessons

By Rick Palsgrove
Southeast Editor

Messenger photo by Rick Palsgrove
Gabby Wood (left) gets a hand from Matthew Koan as she wields a hammer while building a wooden toy boat at Metro Parks’ Slate Run Living Historical Farm on May 28. Koan said making a boat was new for Gabby, However, Gabby said she has built other things before, including a piggy bank.

Kids dived into buckets of scrap wood, grabbed handfuls of nails, and took up hammers to make their own wooden toy boats at Metro Parks’ Slate Run Living Historical Farm on May 28.

These 21st century kids were learning how children from the 1880s often made their own toys and that in doing so those pioneer children learned skills that would serve them throughout their lives.

“A task like this taught kids to learn how to swing a hammer,” said Dave Trotter of Slate Run Living Historical Farm. “Making a wooden toy boat was a way for 1880s kids to learn about carpentry, which is a skill they would later use as adults when repairing the barn or building fences.”

Added Slate Run Living Historical Farm’s Rachel Brooks, “In the 1880s, even having fun had practical applications for the kids’ futures.”

Trotter said 1880s kids often made other toys, some of which can be seen today strewn about the yard of the farmhouse at Slate Run Living Historical Farm, including wooden stilts, a hoop with a stick that was used to roll it, a hoop hanging from a tree and corn cob darts that can be tossed through it, and wooden checkers and a checker board.

Trotter said girls in the 1880s would create their own dolls and doll clothes, which taught them sewing skills they would use later in life.

“Many of those skills taught in the 19th century were gender specific,” said Trotter. “Nowadays things are not so predetermined and it’s good that kids now are more free to try their hands at all sorts of things.”

Trotter said some of the modern kids building the wooden toy boats had never handled a hammer before. A few had to learn that you have to swing the hammer to pound in the nails and not try to push the nails into the board with the hammer. But overall the kids looked determined as they worked and beamed proud smiles when they finished their boats.

“Building the toy boats teaches the kids how to use tools and gives them a sense of accomplishment. It gives them time to spend with their parents and teaches them to learn how to work together,” said Trotter.

Trotter said the concept of practical play evolves over the eras. He noted for instance that today’s kids play games on computers that teach them technical skills that will translate to future work they may do as adults.

“Every era has its skills,” said Trotter.

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