ABC Sunshine Coast By Megan Kinninment
Posted Originally May 2017
Children as young as 10 have been awarded their own builder’s licences and taught to use power tools in a free-range kids’ art project on the Sunshine Coast.
The “A Village Called…” project involved children aged between 10 and 15 building their own village from timber pallets and other recycled materials during The Planting Festival at Woodfordia, home of the Woodford Folk Festival.
They were taught how to use drop saws, screw guns, drills and jigsaws as well as sewing machines to create their own township inside the festival grounds.
The Planting festival started as a working bee 23 years ago to maintain the 203 hectare Woodford Festival site, and has since grown into a fully-fledged festival itself with a focus on developing skills in the arts and environmental sciences especially practical skills such as building and humanitarian and social development.
A Village Called… producer Tim Monley said festival organisers wanted to create an experience for children who were either too old for the younger children’s activities, or too young for the adult’s workshops.
For tweens and teenagers often used to online entertainment, the festival offered an alternative “real world” creative outlet he said.
Trained in how to use tools
“A festival is a very powerful real world experience. It’s about being in an environment with people and sharing experiences,” he said.
“For this age group, it was about finding a way to get them engaged in a very physical way.”
Before the children were set loose building their multi-storey cubby houses and forts, they were instructed in the safe use of the tools, Mr Monley said.
“When they came in they were given a little village licence, which has symbols for each tool which were hole-punched as each skill was mastered.
“First, they were trained in how to use a hammer, then a saw, then a drill, then circular saws and drop saws that can be used under supervision,” he said.
The village-building idea was inspired by an initiative in the Netherlands called Houtdorp in which hundreds of children in annual holiday camps build their own township from wood pallets.
“We wanted the kids to be allowed to deal with risky situations and to be given the power to create things on a bigger scale,” Mr Monley said.
“Particularly when they go into their teenage years and they have a lot more ability than they are allowed to express.
“We wanted to create an environment where there is risk, but we are managing it in a way that allows them freedom to try things. We are there not to restrict them, but to give them the skills.”
A perfect age to learn
The project’s free-range approach is one senior lecturer in psychology at the University of The Sunshine Coast, Dr Rachael Sharman would like more risk-adverse educators and parents to embrace.
“The age of 10 is the perfect time for this type of activity. From 10 years on children have this explosion of fine and gross motor skills development,” she said.
“A hundred years ago boys would be indentured to a trade by the time they were 14. They are perfectly capable.
“The more exposure to these activities, the better for their development.
“Cognitively they are learning how to plan and measure things.
“Psychologically it’s helping to build autonomy and teach independence and that’s what you’d hope any parent wants to achieve — an independent adult.”
Dr Sharman described education systems and parenting styles in Australia as over-protective.
“In Europe, there is a movement of teaching in nature where children as young as four are shown how to use real knives, for example.
“Children need to learn through failure and taking risks. It gives them the confidence to persevere and grow.”
She said schools often restricted activities because of the fear of litigation, but this was doing more harm to children’s development than good.
“We are not meeting the developmental needs of our children in this country by wrapping them in cotton wool.”