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Guest Post: How Woodworking Shaped My Life

April 15, 2019 by

Francis Wardle’s early years were spent on a farm in the border country between England and Wales. As a child at the Bruderhof, he attended the community’s early childhood program, where he had many opportunities to explore the farm and wild countryside. His interest in early childhood programs can be traced to these early years.

Boys from the Bruderhof, an intentional Christian community in the UK

My first woodwork lesson as a young boy is a vivid memory: our teacher, Owen, showed us how to make toast boards. Mine was not very square and the rounded corners looked odd. But I was hooked on woodwork!

As I grew up at the Bruderhof in the 1960s, I enjoyed other woodwork classes taught by different teachers. I also loved to wander into Harry’s carpentry shop, smell the rich aroma of newly carved wood, and watch his gnarled hands magically transform a nondescript piece of wood.

My favorite class in high school was woodwork, which took up all of Friday afternoon. I learned to make fancy dovetail joints, design furniture, and turn beautiful bowls on the lathe. I even passed the GCE O Level in woodwork!

And when I was older, my carpentry skills were furthered making toys for Community Playthings.

Fast forward to my career as an early childhood teacher and administrator: I discovered that my love of carpentry could be used to design and build playgrounds for young children. I built playgrounds for hospitals and a variety of childcare centers in Kansas City, MO, as well as in three Colorado locations: Denver, Greeley, and Commerce City.

I also designed and built a playground for a Crèche (a nursery or childcare center) in the middle of Brazil! Was that an adventure! I couldn’t speak Portuguese, I was not familiar with the metric measuring system, and the wood used for construction in Brazil is totally different from what I was used to. But eventually, with the help of local volunteers and funding from Partners of the Americas, we built a playground using Ipe wood and eucalyptus posts, car tires, chain, sand, and slate (to retain the sand).

Another great joy throughout my life has been photography. When I was about twelve years old I somehow got hold of an old Kodak box camera. Later, my brother Chris and I purchased a new camera by collecting and recycling old beverage bottles.

In 1976 I found myself in the middle of the Highland of Guatemala, working with the local Maya Indians after a devastating earthquake. I went as part of the construction crew, but also took my camera and lots of black and white film. White Roots of Peace, the group sponsoring our work, had an official photographer, so I was not needed. But one day he went off to the bright lights of Guatemala City and never came back! So I ended up shooting the group’s various projects, including organic farming, designing and building earthquake-proof houses, and digging fresh-water wells. My photos were later used in a variety of official project reports and publications.

After I returned home to Kansas City, I made a darkroom by duct-taping black plastic over the windows of a back room in our apartment. Then I printed out the best of my photos from Guatemala, and put together a photo exhibit that was displayed in several cities across the US. Some of these photos have also been used in my books, and in a variety of other educational publications.

As I look back at my life, I realize the important things that have shaped it. At the top of the list are my wife and family, of course. But then playground construction and photography are high on the list. Both were spawned at the Bruderhof!

Book cover image of Oh Boy! written by Francis Wardle

Dr. Wardle has a PhD in child development and early education from the University of Kansas. He has been a Head Start volunteer, education coordinator, director, and national reviewer. He has taught preschool, kindergarten, and grades 1–4. Currently he teaches for the University of Phoenix (School of Advanced Studies) and Red Rocks Community College (Early Childhood). Dr. Wardle is also a very active member of Partners of the Americas, an organization that supports exchanges between the US and the rest of the Americas. He is the president of the Colorado chapter, and a member of the international board. He has visited Brazil on many occasions to study their early childhood and education programs. During a recent summer he observed a Partners’ sponsored program in Paraguay that focused on reducing child labor in the sugarcane industry.

Dr. Wardle writes extensively for a variety of publications. His most recent book, Oh Boy! Strategies for Teaching Boys in Early Childhood, was published by Exchange Press in January 2019.

Bio courtesy of Community Playthings.


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