Nailing down woodwork

Children learn woodworking and electronics in the Super Brain Bridge classes.

Children used to learn woodworking in school. They grew up knowing how to handle a hammer, saw and drill. Unfortunately, these days, not all schools offer woodworking class, preferring to equip children with IT and robotic knowledge. While learning how to code is very good, many parents still want their kids to also know how to hammer in a nail without breaking any fingers.

After all, woodworking is one of the life skills that will help children become more independent. Sewing and cooking are the other life skills that are important.

If you don’t want to teach your kids woodworking at home or lack the tools, then Super Brain Bridge might be the solution for you. The programme is run by Mervin Raj and Manivanan Ponniah, two really helpful and friendly guys. They teach children from ages 10-13 how to build wood-based items.

The class, conducted in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, started last July. On any Saturday morning, about 10-12 kids can be seen in the classroom, ages ranging from 10 to about 14. The younger children wait for guidance and help in sawing and nailing wood together, while the bigger ones work on their own.

Mervin, who has a background in graphic design, explains why he and Mani came up with this programme:

“Kids these days can’t think out of the box, they can’t solve problems. This generation is always on their gadgets so they are good with their fingers yet they lack motor skills. So, we thought, this is where we can help them develop their motor skills, while teaching them to be creative and problem-solve. We have both worked with children and we thought this class would be a good way to teach kids to use wood and electronics.”

Mervin Raj and Manivanan Ponniah (left) want to help children improve their motor skills and be able to build things out of wood.

Mervin and Mani met when they were both teachers at an international school. While Mervin no longer works there, Mani still teaches physical education in the mornings, leaving his afternoons free for Super Brain Bridge work.

In the TTDI class, children and teens are taught measuring (including how to convert measurements), sawing, sandpapering, nailing, drilling, making adjustments, painting and varnishing. The tools they use include hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, wire cutters, drills, electric saws and the different rulers.

It’s not just a matter of going to class and building random items. Mervin and Mani have developed a syllabus, with each child working on a project for about four to five weeks. As the children join the class at different junctures, each child might be working on a different project every week. It is up to Mervin and Mani to monitor, guide and keep an eye on them.

There is no end to the programme either, because Mervin and Mani are constantly coming up with new projects for the children to work on.

How safe is it? Mani says that safety is important and the children are briefed on the do’s and don’ts before they even start using tools. He and Mervin study the children first to see if they know what they are doing before handing them any tools. “We don’t simply give them all the tools. We make sure they can handle them and then, when we let them use the hammer and saw, we keep an eye on them,” he says.

Normally, the items the children build are functional such as a tool box and a water dispenser. Sometimes the children are taught a combination of woodwork and electronics, for example, if they build a table lamp.

Unlike some classes where hot glue is used more than nails and screws, in Super Brain Bridge’s class, hot glue is always the last option.

“Mostly, it is nailing, drilling, bolts and nuts,” volunteers Mervin. Glue is only used when they need to join small parts.

According to Mani, they also teach the children leather crafting – cutting leather, sewing it and engraving words/names on it.

Mervin and Mani explain that the projects each child undertakes depends on their capabilities. “Some can do it even though they are younger, while others can’t do it even though they are older. Age is not a factor here. It depends on their motor skills. Some of them may start a bit slow, for example, when using the hammer. They may need a lot of guidance then. As they practise, they improve and get better at it. Then, they become very independent and we just need to give them the measurements and they are able to cut the wood themselves and nail it together. That is the goal we want to achieve.

“Sometimes if there is a problem, for example, if the wood is too long, they have to think of how to modify the project. That’s where we tell them, ‘This is the situation now. It’s a bit off. How do we solve it?’ We get their input and then we solve it together with them. After a while, they themselves will know that there is something wrong and they will take the tools and try to modify it,” explains Mervin.

Super Brain Bridge is inclusive. Mervin says that they have had children on the autism spectrum and those with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). “They can be quite artistic,” says Mervin. “They are good with their hands although they may be socially awkward. In fact, we are looking at working with companies to bring these classes to children with special needs.”

Besides the class in Taman Tun, Super Brain Bridge also has the woodworking and electronics programme as an extra-curricular activity in a few schools in the Klang Valley and Penang.

In addition, Super Brain Bridge also conducts school holiday programmes.