Pilot Program in Rome Uses Urban Wood to Curb Kids’ Digital Addiction

By Franco Paolinelli
Silvicultura Agrocultura Paesaggio, Rome, Italy

A school asked the Silvicultura Agrocultura Paesaggio (SAP) (Forestry Agriculture Landscape) association to conduct three laboratory activities for the manipulation of the “Wood of the Trees of Rome,” with primary school students during the 2019-2020 school year.

Project assumptions:

  • To a greater or lesser extent, children 6 to 10 years of age have ready access to electronic devices including computers, video gaming devices, smart phones, etc. They spend much of their free time with these digital tools playing games individually or in digital communication with other players. In many cases these activities are becoming the “focus” of their recreational and social life. Moreover, these kids, in their homes, have plenty of toys, but have limited opportunities for free manipulation and discovery of their potential manual abilities.
  • Consequently, a sort of “digital addiction” is going to afflict millions of kids in developed nations.
  • Having mainly adults with great skills in the virtual world but poor skills in the real world is risky for these communities.
  • Therefore, providing children opportunities to develop manual and creative abilities assumes social and cultural relevance.
  • Workshops may help to open kids’ minds to manual skills acquisition to be, eventually, added to digital ones.
  • Schools can contribute to this perspective, also considering that, as claimed by eminent pedagogical scholars, doing with the hands is an excellent way to “incorporate” knowledge. In fact, all manual activities can offer learning opportunities, in different disciplines.
  • Urban trees and forests may provide huge amounts of wood, in their original form of branch or trunk segments, and other materials such as pine cones and other fruit, berries, leaves … suitable to carry out manual manipulation activities.
  • Furthermore, using these materials leads to positive environmental and economic collateral effects: reduction of materials to be sent to landfills, creation of carbon stocks, jobs, etc.
  • On these assumptions, shared by the school, the described project was born: Rome trees’ wood workshop.

Participants:

1st group: 10 children of both sexes considered “hyperactive,” from various classes;

2nd group: 1 class of the 2nd year, about 20 children of both sexes; and

3rd group: 1 class of the 2nd year, about 20 children of both sexes.

Activities:

  • Handling segments and sections of branches of various shapes and sizes, weighing never more than 400g (14 ounces);
  • Transformation with manual tools such as saw, rasp, gimlet, chisel, cutter with blade length of 1 cm, clamps, wheel brace hand drill.
  • The activity has so far been directed towards the creation of collective objects.
  • Before Christmas: Creation of a Christmas tree with segments and branch sections.
  • In progress: Creation of a train with branch segments 20cm long and 4cm diameter on average.

Origin of the materials
Branches of various sizes coming from urban trees’ pruning and removal. Often, in Rome, companies doing maintenance contracts for public green areas leave debris at the base of the pruned trees for many days. So, up to now, it wasn’t difficult to collect branches and produce laboratory segments.

We added these with segments of boards produced with a chainsaw frame and a small portable sawmill, both available in SAP’s synergy network.

Conducting the workshops
At least three teachers were always involved, but, so far, observers came as well, bringing to a minimum of four adults present each time.

The basic training of these teachers is different, ranging from architecture, agricultural and forestry studies, to artisan experience. The common focus is the willingness to follow the kids in their discovery, each with his own pace and possibility.

Purpose of the activity:

  • Stimulate children to discover their manual skills;
  • Stimulate command / action coordination;
  • Reduce physical world fear;
  • Stimulate group work;
  • Convey to the school community messages, on the importance of trees, including their role in counteracting the greenhouse effect and the possible future development of an “urban timber” economy.

Current results of the project
In educational terms, in line with previous similar experiences, with kindergarten children and scout groups, the activity seems to arouse kids’ enthusiasm. They are fully involved and each tool; each new piece of wood is a discovery. Actual results are encouraging.

The use of wood done so far allows us to estimate that at the end of the course at least 1.5 quintals) (about 150 pounds) of wood will have been given a symbolic value, then removed from the landfill destiny.

We can only begin to guess how many quintals of urban wood could be salvaged on a city scale.