Tools of the Trade
If you’ve ever been told ‘A bad workman blames his tools’ then you’ve probably felt the smarting blow and indignation of this oft chimed proverb. Whether on the giving or receiving end, like all sayings which easily trip off the tongue, truth and lies blend into one. In our blame-dominated culture it’s all too easy to attribute our failings to equipment, weather, wrong leaves or heavy traffic, you get the idea, but in reality its rarely that simple. No-one would expect a plasterer to magic walls as smooth as a new-born’s skin with a butter knife, or a builder to create strong and straight structures without a spirit level and plumb line. Certain trades require specialist equipment and this equipment needs to be well maintained, after all a bent tape measure, blunt chisel or plaster-clad trowel are simply not fit for purpose or conducive to taking pride in a quality job. The frustration of having to work with imperfect tools can leave us feeling bad enough without the bruising from glib sayings like these.
Like well parroted old wives’ tales, proverbs are infused with shreds of truth as we may blame a bent nail on a knot in the wood or the heavy traffic on being late, rather than accepting responsibility for rushing because of poor time management. Dried up paintbrushes (my DIY Achilles heel) are an expensive and inconvenient reminder of the importance of having well-maintained tools. I’m thinking of a French plasterer that we hired for a restoration project. With the crumbling walls made good and lined, all that remained was to plaster and paint all fourteen rooms – yes it was a big project. Returning to France to inspect the work we were disappointed and dismayed to discover that instead of silky smooth plaster, every wall featured arcing scratch lines, perfectly highlighted by the fresh paint, as his trowel had evidently been faulty!
Reflecting upon children’s experience of tools is an eye opener. As concerned parents, we think nothing of giving children inadequate plastic eating tools to avoid possible dangers. Who hasn’t felt frustrated and dismayed by the inability of children’s scissors to actually cut anything?! A case of health and safety gone mad, its tools like these which set our children up to fail rather than supporting them to learn. Not trusting in their abilities, we fall into the trap of offering useless or undermining alternatives which inevitably frustrate and hamper progress. I remember receiving a call from my daughter’s nursery telling me that she’d had an accident – turned out that a curious child, never previously exposed to real scissors, had had two attempts at cutting her finger off, only to be surprised at the appearance of blood! My daughter in contrast had been proficient in using and safely carrying real scissors from an early age and so was the victim not protagonist in this episode!
With time, support and the right equipment children can succeed in their drive to mimic adults and develop skills and mastery. Yes of course we may be able to pair up the clean socks quicker, bake a lighter cake or use less soap when washing-up but all of these chores are also wonderful and potentially fun learning opportunities as children develop mastery. Parenthood provides ample opportunities for reflection over what we could have done more, less or better - such is the cross we bear. What’s important is giving children ample opportunities to observe safe handling of tools and time and patient support in mastering these skills.
Using the right equipment is just as important for creativity. If children are given quality pens, pencils, paint brushes, paints and paper as well as instruction on essential techniques, they can wow and amaze us with the complexity and maturity of their creations. My mother-in-law illustrated this perfectly when recounting an Ofsted visit to a pre-school. An array of daffodil paintings were displayed for the inspector to view on large sheets of paper. So good were these pre-schoolers endeavours that the inspector was overheard to comment ‘oh they must have been helped my adults as they’re too good for children!’
At times like this a well-chosen proverb, (aptly about equipment) seems to fit the bill. ‘Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open!’ a message to adults, rather than children, I dare say!