Reese Entement: Tools for Tots
As a young girl, Reese Entement often felt bitter about what she perceived as a grossly unfair double standard, and in large part, that feeling is responsible for the path she eventually followed. "My father," Reese recounted, "was one of those rigidly sexist men who believed women should work in the kitchen, and men in the shop. From a very early age, he would bring both my older brother and my younger brother into his garage workshop and teach them to use tools, mostly for woodworking projects. I, on the other hand, was always banned, and had to spend my days learning sewing and cooking with my mother.
"Not surprisingly, the first thing I wanted to do once I left home was get my hands on some tools. I got a job right after high school, made enough money to move out of my parents' house and immediately enrolled in night classes at my local community college to learn woodworking. From the very beginning, I loved it.
"Eventually, I did become a professional woodworker, but the more I learned and did, the more my real mission moved to the forefront of my mind. I decided I would do just the opposite of what my father did; I would teach young girls woodworking. Though I set out to do just that, a friend pointed out that by focusing on girls, I was being just as sexist as my father, only in reverse. That opened my eyes, and instead, I became, if I say so myself, the leader of what I like to call the 'tools for tots' movement (www.woodworkingtoolsfortots.com). My focus was inspired by a friend's child.
"During frequent visits I watched my friend introduce her baby to swimming in an infant swim class, then to playing violin with the Suzuki method at age three. It dawned on me that we underestimate what children can do, and I decided to follow that lead and introduce very young children woodworking, starting at three years old. I was astounded at how quickly these very young children picked things up, and how soon they were ready to move from hand tools to power tools. More than 80 percent of my students are working on power tools by the time they are five.
"Naturally, there are challenges. Band saws, table saws and jointers are all made for taller individuals, so I had to build platforms for the tools so the little ones could reach the working table height. Other tools were less challenging. They use small bench top lathes, which can be set at any height, 'lunchbox' planers that can also be set low to the ground, and router tables at ground level.
"What the kids choose to make was also astonishing to me. Instead of the normal furniture, which some do make, most opted to reproduce in wood the common household objects they see around them. Since we use inexpensive softwoods, most paint their pieces to resemble the real thing, and many of their works don't look at all like wood. I try not to influence their tastes, but only guide them as to how to do it.
"Most start out, as in many summer day camps, making an ash tray, followed by a mailbox. From there they tend to move onto the things they see in use, like a clothespin, to things they want, like a baseball mitt. One youngster fighting childhood cancer made a series of medicine bottles, the object that drew so much of her attention.
"Granted, some people criticize me, saying it's dangerous for kids so young to be working on power tools, but if you could only see how amazing these kids are, it would change your mind completely."
This article originally appeared in the Woodworker's Journal eZine.
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Copyright; 2010 Woodworker's Journal
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