Lab sheets, calculations, essays, debates; so much of what students accomplish during their school day exists on the mental plane. All of these exercises, and their affiliate subjects, are crucial in molding a child’s critical thinking and quantitative reasoning skills. These are undeniably valuable when considering the scope of one’s academic career, but how often are students able to appreciate all that they are accomplishing? For developing students, the constant mental focus used to excel can be draining. Pair that with the fact that more and more students are trading in their free time for screen time, and suddenly you have an environment where mental fatigue and burnout thrive.
Many schools are recognizing this trend and actively introducing programs to combat it by motivating students to put down their cell phones, give their brains a break, and work creatively with their hands instead. Programs like studio art, wheel-throwing, cooking, and woodworking are fantastic examples of areas in which schools have been investing in the holistic growth of their students. Each program presents a unique product outcome from which the student can achieve a tangible and immediate sense of accomplishment, but working with your hands in any capacity will afford the same fundamental benefits.
It retrains us to focus
In the age of technology, focus has become a rare and sought-after skill. While writing at a computer, how easy is it to simply open a new tab and become immersed in all that the internet has to offer? This technological distraction can make even minute tasks drag on and on. Working with our hands forces us to unplug and provides the most straightforward avenue to focus and live in the present moment.
It is purposeful
Working with our hands and creating something gives us a sense of purpose with the time we spend as opposed to either passively scrolling through social media or working on something ephemeral that quickly gets overshadowed by the next task. It also results in a permanent product that the creator takes pride in as opposed to an abstract product.
It teaches discipline
Working with your hands establishes a certain “cause-and-effect” relationship with whatever you are working on. Simply put, there are no cutting corners when creating a piece of art, playing an instrument, or building a structure in a woodshop. Instead, one must think critically to come up with creative ways to work their craft and then execute them fully. The satisfaction of persevering through this process to create something you are proud of is unique and inspiring.
It benefits our bodies’ development when working with our hands
It grows our brains in unique ways. One article titled "Working With Your Hands is Good for Your Brain" explains the relationship between creative handiwork and our brain's health:
- "Sitting in front of your computer all day doesn’t count as working with your hands. Unclogging a drain doesn’t count either. We’re talking about something much deeper than that, something that requires you to use your neural connections and boost your neuroplasticity."
- "How do you do that? Creation and transformation. You should engage yourself in some kind of process that has a satisfying end result. Anything from sculpting, modeling clay, knitting, drawing, or just planting a flower can have a major, positive impact on your emotional life."
The article goes on to quote Dr. Kelly Lambert, "The goal is to find manual tasks that light up your brain’s reward centers through cognitive effort, concentration, and the pleasure you get out of the task." In this way, one can actually rewire their brain to gain a greater appreciation for their own creativity and a job well done.
At Sanford, our programs are multi-disciplinary, creative, and incorporate hands-on projects to promote student learning academically and artistically. This holistic approach provides our students with skills that prepare them for life-long learning.
Troby Roosevelt is a Technology Associate, Upper School Health Instructor, Visual Arts Instructor, Upper School JV Soccer Coach, and Upper School Winter Track Assistant Coach.