Amanda’s Gift

I was teaching “shop” to kindergardeners and as new teacher I found children loved activities I was able to create from the world of tools, building and fixing. We took apart VCR’s, patched bike tires, put faucets, flashlights and locks together, used the hot glue gun, and, best of all, did woodworking. One day five year old Amanda made the car pictured below:

I try not to compliment projects because I want the reward to come from the work of building not from adult approval, but this time it just came out and I told Amanda how cool I thought her car was. And she tried to give me the car, but as a teacher I just didn’t feel right about taking it, and didn’t.

In the back of the room we had a shelf where kids put projects to take home or projects that needed more work. Amanda “forgot” her project and left it on the shelf. Over the next couple months, even though we talked about it several times, the car stayed on the “take home” shelf. She kept “forgetting it.” Eventually the term was over and Amanda moved on to the first grade. The car remained on the shelf so I took it home and remember it as Amanda’s gift. Which taught me how much kids love to make presents.

At Christmas time kids at the Montessori school made pencil holders for mom and dad. This involves taking a branch, cutting 2½ or 3 inches off, drilling some pencil sized holes (with my hand operated drill press) sanding it up, and then oiling with mineral oil.

A cedar pencil holder


Using the drill press to drill holes for the pencils



A locust pencil holder


A birch pencil holder

Another project the young ones liked to make as presents was the mom and/or dad sign.

The dad sign. This one doesn’t have the usual yarn to hang it up.

It took me a while to figure out how to make this project so kids could do it. The idea began when one child asked, “I want to make a sign of my name with nails.” It seem like a good idea, and not really thinking about it, said, good idea, go ahead. Not surprisingly, his name ran off the board so I offered to do the writing for him. This got him started, but as often happens with woodworking one problem begets another: spacing the nails.

If you have been pounding nails for years its easy to space nails, say, ¼” apart, but for the little persons not so much. I showed him how to use a pencil as a spacer, and that helped, but then another problem appeared: when he went to hit the second or third nail he would knock the first one down. It was frustrating and not very successful.

The mom jig. The jig is on top and the actual sign on the bottom.

So I made a jig. I wrote MOM and DAD on separate boards, plywood is best. Then I drilled 1/8 holes in the letters every 1/4” or so. The kids take a finishing nail (smaller than the hole) and set it in the hole and pound it in. The jig takes care of the spacing and holding the nail straight. All a kid has to do is pound the nail. Its great pounding practice. After the nails are in, and I’ve pull a couple bent over nails out, I pry the jig off the top of the sign. Its works pretty well. The nail pounding is real work for them, as there are quite a few nails. Some of the younger kids needed a break before they finished.

The last part of the project is to drill two holes up in the corners and tie yarn between them so the sign can be hung up.

Here are two other present projects:


The whale. My son Ben made this whale for my mom when he was in the 6th grade.

And I made this for my mom when I was in the 6th grade. She had it on her desk for 45 years.

The sailboat letter holder.

Which goes to show you how important it is for kids to make presents.