Teaching Blacksmithing to Middle Schoolers
When most people think about middle schoolers, the idea of putting them in a room with burning hot metal might seem crazy. Naturally clumsy and apt to distraction, these young adolescents don’t make the primary candidates for learning blacksmithing, a craft in which safety is a must. However teaching blacksmithing to middle schoolers can be done. You just need the right set up. You need a good forge!
Blacksmithing has been a part of Arthur Morgan School for over 20 years. A makeshift forge was initially set up in the school’s barn before it was moved to a shed that had once been used for glass blowing. The workspace was cramped, so use was limited. However it remained a popular activity with students. Any time a blacksmithing course was offered, students fought over who would get a spot in the class. Wanting to respond to their students’ interests, the staff recognized AMS needed a new forge.
Many Hands make Light Work
For several years, invested staff members have been planning and collecting tools knowing that eventually the school would build a larger, intentional teaching space for blacksmithing. This year, with the support and help of numerous local blacksmiths, this dream became a reality. Local blacksmiths of the South Toe Valley helped set up our new forge, providing supplies and knowledge about how to make the space useful and safe. The Arete Project, a summer seminar program for college aged women, did a lot of hard labor while Tal Galton, a former staff, supervised the construction.
Beyond assisting in setting up a new shop, the local blacksmiths also invited students to visit their work spaces. Local blacksmiths, Don Walker and Paul Lundquist, showed off their work and demonstrated how to accomplish it safely. Haven, an eighth grader described the experiences as inspiring. “It was cool to see all their tools and how they made things. It made me want to try making stuff myself!”
What Teenagers Learn from Blacksmithing
As a teenager, hammering hot metal on the face of an anvil is empowering. The material itself is strong, durable, and tough as nails. When given the tools and knowledge to manipulate steel, the process brings youth more in touch with those powerful elements in themselves. They build confidence in their capability to forge strong and lasting work while honing an awareness of safety in the work environment. At a time when young adults are figuring out their identities, and encountering the challenges of greater responsibility, pounding iron draws them back to a place of personal power.
Blacksmithing also provides students with academic opportunities. Understanding the crystal structure of metals and how heat affects them makes for fun and engaging science lessons. Learning how blacksmithing tools shaped history is a great way to study social studies. Having hands on experience brings these lessons in life and demonstrates the important applications of their research.
Teaching blacksmithing to middle schoolers has a been part of AMS’s art program for a long time. Now with a new forge, our ability to introduce students to this craft has improved. Students have access to the tools and specialized instruction necessary to safely learn blacksmithing. If inspired, they may one day become blacksmiths in their own forges.
The AMS community would like to offer a special thank to the Arete Project, Tal Galton, Paul Lundquist, Paige Davis, Don Walker, Paul Dover, and Elizabeth Brim for helping make our new forge a reality.
-by Rebecca Snavely and Nicholas Maldonado