South Philadelphia West: At OFC Philly, Kids Are Encouraged To Screw Up

Finding an educational yet fun activity for children can be a difficult task. Many times, kids aren’t doing more than coloring outside the lines and playing with dolls or trucks.

At OFC Philly in South Philadelphia, Nick and Erin Offenbacher are teaching local children how to build their own toy trucks.

The Children’s Woodworking Class finds its home inside a 3,000 square foot workshop split between two levels. The bottom floor is aimed at adults, a functioning workshop that mostly traffic in custom pieces using reclaimed wood to produce commercial reception desks, planter boxes, picture frames and more. The top floor is more akin to a kindergarten play area with a storytelling corner and a half-dozen miniature wooden houses made by younger kids.

Since transplanting to the City of Brotherly Love more than a decade ago, the founders of this woodshop and toddler carpentry course have worked to find their ideal fit.

Nick (pictured below) worked in insurance, but wanted to get out. Erin (pictured above) was happy as a pre-school teacher and has drawn on that experience in their new endeavor.

“We started thinking, what do we do every day?” Erin Offenbacher said. “We measure, cut, re-cut, put things together, figure out how it balances. We thought of those sorts of things and brought that down to a more simplistic level of what’s important for a kid to know.”

That simplistic approach allows children to get hands-on experience in a safe environment.

Pre-drilled holes in woodblocks let them practice tightening screws, repeating “righty tighty, lefty loosey” all the while. For some of the younger kids at a session, golf tees stood in for nails. For the youngest,Erin Offenbacher sat in a rocking chair and read passages from “Old MacDonald Had a Woodshop.”

“They are both really knowledgeable and personable with parents and the kids,” said Niaka Gruneberg, who came to a Saturday session with her son Christopher and his friend Osiris. “I’d love to see more structure going forward but otherwise what they do and are offering to the kids is wonderful.”

The boys’ freewheeling weekend enthusiasm did not deter the Offenbachers. In their eyes, that trial-and-error is the most important part of the learning process.

“We appreciate the fact that they’re just getting experience being in the environment, being with other kids, working together,” Erin Offenbacher said. “We want them to get messy.”

– Text, images and video by Kevin Rowley.

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