Carpentry at St. Bernard’s springs from the vision of each boy. All students in Grades I-IV take part. At the start of the year boys are given a vaguely general assignment (a clock, an animal with at least one moving part, a sculpture), and after that they choose their subsequent work. The results can be surprising. In addition to the utilitarian (desks, bookshelves, locked boxes) the students often go very far afield. The projects are dreamt up, designed, cut, attached, shaped, and painted by the students, with as little help from the teacher as practical.
Each boy’s vision lies at the heart of the program, but it is pushed through to development by bringing to bear motivation, self-organization, judgment, common sense, spatial imagination, and often a sense of humor. As work proceeds, boys develop independence of thought and action, good spatial awareness, math skills (especially use of fractions), and pride in careful work. They solve problems not found elsewhere in their daily routine, for carpentry is truly a process of the hand speaking to the brain.
Carpentry offers something different from but deeply complementary to traditional academics: a creative, challenging, expressive experience in which a boy can learn from his mistakes, learn to persevere, and learn in the process of creation. He exercises parts of his brain and parts of his body rarely stimulated in pencil-and-paper projects. The realization of an idea, from plan to concrete object, is a powerful process.