Cool Schools

Perfect your maker skills on a DIY vacation.

Maker schools let you spend a day or a few weeks dabbling in a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, or acquiring a skill you can use for a lifetime. Think “hands-on,” instead of hands-free, like your mobile devices. Here are six great schools for your next trip that mix learning with fun.

Courtesy of John C. Campbell Folk School

John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, N.C.

Don’t just make memories on your next vacation. Make a basket, weld a sculpture or throw a clay pot. More and more of us are embracing the “maker movement” to escape our high-tech stresses. 

Nobody grades your work at the John C. Campbell Folk School, because the classes here are about learning for the pure joy of it. When you take a course, stay on the campus, situated in the scenic North Carolina Mountains, or visit for a day. MorningSong, a Danish custom of greeting the day with music, begins at 7:45 a.m. in the community dining room; then students head off to their studios to study illuminated lettering, blacksmithing, bead making and much more. You might trace your genealogy, felt a pair of boots, clog, sing shape notes or learn to fiddle. 

Driftless Folk School, Viroqua, WI

Image by Kate Parsons, Courtesy Driftless Folk School

Want to start homesteading? Let the instructors at Wisconsin’s Driftless Folk School help you learn how to timber frame, craft your own knife, graft a fruit tree, and preserve jams and jellies with honey and maple syrup, instead of just white sugar. Beyond the traditional arts and crafts, students explore alternative energy projects, like solar heating, and practice survivalist skills. Dip candles, try beekeeping, make an herbal medicine kit, or connect with a power animal and take a shamanic journey as you write in your journal. 

Snow Farm: The New England Craft Program, Williamsburg, MA

Courtesy of Snow Farm: The New England Craft Program

This New England craft school combines a 1700s-era farm and contemporary buildings in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. Classes at Snow Farm are small, limited to 6 to 12 students, and most accommodate both beginners and those with experience. If you take a weekend workshop in the winter, you’ll need to book a room at a nearby B &B or hotel. From April to October, workshops include room and board. Learn to create with mixed media, make natural dyes or turn a wooden bowl; there are many more arts and crafts choices.

Courtesy of Snow Farm: The New England Craft Program

Cedarroot Folk School, Washington

Get back to your roots at Cedarroot, where the “campus” is Washington State’s beautiful Olympic Peninsula. Some courses are also held on Marrowstone Island, near Port Townsend, WA. This is the place to learn about sustainable living and the rural arts, from making cheese, to building a root cellar, to swinging a scythe. You might forge your own knife, make a broom or a composting toilet, learn to grow mushrooms and tan leather, or construct a pair of snowshoes. Nature studies include wildlife tracking, primitive cooking and bird watching. 

Porcupine Mountains Folk School, Michigan

Courtesy Porcupine Mountains Folk School

Housed in an historic carpenter’s shop in Michigan’s largest state park, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, or “The Porkies," this school will inspire your creativity. Students lodge in the park or local inns or cabins, or take day classes to craft Native American flutes, learn to fly fish, or forge copper jewelry. Seasoned instructors at Porcupine Mountains Folk School teach square dancing, soap making, storytelling and more. Check out special events like the annual music festival and Midsummer Eve Celebration.

Adirondack Folk School, Lake Luzerne, NY

If you like Adirondack style, visit this school to learn about crafting your own Adirondack chairs and other rustic furniture and décor, from lampshades made with pressed ferns to birch bark frames and mirrors. Feeling ambitious? Carve your own canoe, or don snowshoes and track wild animals in the winter snow. Adirondack Folk School is a non-profit located in the southern Adirondack Park, where the instructors share the region’s arts and crafts, cultural heritage and natural beauty.

Kowana Valley Folk School and Lodge, Coulterville, CA 

Rest, explore or take a workshop at the Kowana Valley Folk School, nestled in a quiet valley about 8 miles from Yosemite National Park. Named for the Miwok Indian word that means “music,” the valley was once frequented by stagecoach travelers, assorted homesteaders and adventurous gold miners. Today guests come for workshops in Celtic music, bluegrass vocals, farm-to-fork cooking and painting. You can also learn about living off-grid, sustainable forestry and using wild edibles. Check the site; more workshops are being added.

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