I believe there are huge benefits of woodworking with young children but I'm constantly reassessing what woodworking looks like in our home. My main source of information is Pete Moorhouse however, Pete's work is based on woodwork in early learning centres. So while I have a lot of information in front of me I'm considering how we can apply the same principles in our home environment.
It's not easy to set up a woodworking environment at home. We've been working on building skills using specific woodworking activities. Now we've introduced a woodworking tray or container for free woodworking construction. The tray contains a few well-considered tools and consumables for tinkering and open exploration.
In our woodworking tray, you will find:
- nails - we use bright (uncoated), flat head, 25mm nails.
- screws - 20mm timber screws
- balsa wood - this is a super soft wood and the nails go in easily, it allows the child to master the basics of hammering before moving onto other softwoods like pine. It can be expensive and we try to reuse most of our balsa wood pieces.
- eye protection - we started with eye goggles but now use child-size safety glasses. We've found safety glasses more comfortable and a better fit for the child.
- magnet - we include a large magnet to collect nails and screws during clean-up, this can help make clean-up fun.
- hammers - ours are short stubby claw hammers, these can also be used for removing nails.
- palm drill
- wood glue
- tape measure - we have a small fabric tape measure that is easy and safe for young children to use.
- craft sticks - including paddle pop sticks.
- lids - from milk and juice cartons.
- craft wood pieces - these come in lots of different fun shapes including circles which are useful for children who like to make vehicles or faces.
- pencils, markers, or paint - for decoration.
- mosaic tiles - for gluing once the woodwork has finished.
Other items we could include in our woodworking tray:
- set square or carpenter's square
- hand drill
- pieces of scrap fabric
- branches or found things from nature
- cork or cork slices
Have you wondered about woodworking with three or four-year-olds? It is possible! I would only try woodworking with a young child one-on-one, or with more children, if the other children (like siblings) are older. Our woodworking tray isn't freely accessible, the children need to ask for it, and often I will put it outside on a work table like a provocation. I find my three-year-old will work longer and in more detail when he is doing woodwork with his older brothers.
Pictured here is Otto (41 months), he can hammer a nail in on his own when using balsa wood. When hammering through harder items like lids or cut-out shapes I will get his nails started, about a quarter of the way in and he is happy to hammer in the rest. Our woodworking sessions usually last between five and 30-40 minutes, depending on the day, I don't go in with any expectations.
If the children are focused and taking care I am happy for them to work with the hammer and nails however if they start being silly or lose concentration, it's time to pack the woodworking away. This is freedom within limits!
"The thrill of being allowed, in a secure way with clear boundaries and support, to use woodwork tools when you are only three or four is probably never forgotten. This is high quality learning." - Tina Bruce, in Learning Through Woodwork.
"Tools should be introduced to children gradually one at a time. We need to teach children the safe use of tools - it's a slow and deliberate process. Start by having a discussion about the safe use of tools, highlighting any potential hazards such as any sharp edges, and thinking together about how to keep safe. Discuss their function, share knowledge and think about potential applications."
"Working with wood is not about what the children make but what actually happens inside the child. Many educationalists have advocated that it has the potential to develop a sense of self and how children feel about themselves."
"Children immediately feel valued and feel a sense of responsibility when given the opportunity to work with real tools. They feel valued by being respected and trusted. When children are engaged with real experiences it develops their sense of autonomy and they feel empowered. This has a visible impact on their self-esteem. The fact that they are taking responsibility in working with real tools also seems to be reflected in their desire to take their work seriously." - Pete Moorhouse in Learning Through Woodwork.
Notes on safety glasses
We started using safety goggles but now use child-size safety glasses (which were hard to find in stores). We've found safety glasses to be more comfortable and a better fit for the child. Otto (3yrs) wears the UV Wraps - Junior Safety Glasses (AU), these look similar (US) but please do your own research. Otis (9yrs) wears the UV WRAPS Trimax Safety Corp Junior Safety Glasses (AU). Montessori Services also have child-sized safety glasses.
Notes on nails
In Learning Through Woodwork Pete Moorhouse recommends using bright, flat head, 25mm nails. Flat head nails provide a larger hitting surface and are easier to lever out. Once the children are comfortable with the 25mm nails we can then provide them with a wider range of nails to use. He also recommends starting children with a short-handled ball-pein hammer, as it is safer than the claw hammer for children.
For interested parents and teachers, I recommend Learning Through Woodwork: Introducing Creative Woodwork in the Early Years. This has been my guide when introducing woodwork to my children, it is very detailed, practical, and easy to apply. It also has a lot of lovely photographs of young children using different tools and working with wood.
Usually, our woodworking takes place outside however, due to prolonged rain we are temporarily woodworking inside. Many areas of NSW are experiencing an extreme flooding event, I hope you are safe and dry.
In the UK we found many child-size tools including our hammers at Muddy Faces. In the US Montessori Services has a good range of child-size tools.
Recommended reading: Three Starter Wood Working Activities - for 3 years +.
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