When I was a preschooler, my nursery school had a room known as The Block Room. Just as the name suggests, there were a variety of wood blocks in the room as well as a functioning woodworking area where a four year old version of me once hammered real nails into real wood making a real couch for a real pet rock. This was the beginning (and until very recently, also the end) of my woodworking career...and I still have all my fingers. In our house, the toy tool box is one of the most often revisited toys. S loves to hammer and tinker and build and fix things. If there is a household repair that needs to be done, he's first in line to help. He was enthralled when he discovered a Dollar Tree purchase gracing his tool box one day: 3 real screw drivers! Before Sukkot, I had a vision of beginning some creative woodworking with him and although we started with a bang (literally), the scrap wood and hammer have been collecting dust and taking up space in our pantry closet for months. We simply do not have the space for a wood shop in our apartment!
S's interest in building did not wane at all. Over the last few months, he's enjoyed playing with his tools, doing woodworking craft kits with his Tatty, even hammering holes in a giant cardboard box we kept for him to play with for a couple of days before it made it to the recycling. If there's something to be "fixed," he will find it; if there is nothing to be fixed, he will find that, too! And as I have been working with our outdoor space and play garden, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect new home for a woodworking station! With a collection of items we already had at home, a few small additions and a little bit of set up, we had an afternoon of child-led tinkering, creativity and fun. S is already planning another afternoon spent "working hard to build with wood" today!
What Will I Need to Create a Woodworking Station? Creating a woodworking station need not require a lot of money. You may have much of what you need already at home. The rest can be inexpensively acquired at second hand stores, discount/big box stores or even garage sales. Many hardware stores have scrap wood and materials they would be happy to donate rather than throw away. Perhaps a friend or relative has some things sitting in the attic or basement they are looking to part with. There were very few items I actually purchased just for the purpose of our woodworking station. One was the toolbox itself as I wanted something durable that could remain outdoors. That said, it is the least expensive model from Walmart! Here's a peek inside and some ideas of what you might include. Choose items that you have or can easily access, add in a few ideas of your own and keep in mind that less is more--you can have a fully functioning and exciting woodworking station with just a hammer, nails and wood!
|Some safety goggles are a playful and functional addition. A notepad and pencils are on the ready for recording blueprints, ideas, capturing memories or taking important notes along the way (even for pre-writers). We had a bunch of brightly colored zip ties leftover from building our sukkah this year and I thought they would make a fun loose part for S to explore.|
|Practicing using a screw and a screwdriver...|
What are the benefits of woodworking with children? Woodworking like other handcrafts is a great way to nourish childhood creativity and curiosity. Using their hands to create meaningful work builds confidence, competence and a sense of reverence for resources and materials. Using real tools and materials shows children that their work is valued and respected. Surely, toy tools are fun and have their place as well, especially for little builders like mine who could hammer in the morning, hammer in the evening and even at suppertime...
Many teachers and parents are concerned about safety and age appropriateness when it comes to using tools with young children. What I have observed in my years of teaching and as a parent is that when children use "real materials," they inherently also recognize the value in using them carefully and appropriately. Children love to feel more grown up and using our tools nurtures this feeling. There is definitely a need for adequate supervision and support and you may wish to start with some simple activities beforehand to gauge your child's readiness for using a hammer and nails. Here are a few ideas:
- Use a plastic hammer and golf tees in playdough, clay or floral foam or Styrofoam. Practice setting up the "nail," and hitting the head to push it in. Playdough would be the easiest of materials to work with, followed by clay that is a bit thicker and finally the foam, which would require a bit more fine motor coordination to get started.
- Hammer and peg toys and toy tool sets are also a great way to practice the general movements associated with woodworking. You can often find these at thrift stores.
- Nails with a wider head are easier to manipulate for little hands. Roofing tacks are great. Softer wood like balsa is a good starter base.
For sure, there is a huge fine motor component with woodworking. There is also a lot of gross motor development involved in hauling lumber, swinging the hammer, building and constructing and beyond... Here's a shot of S hauling wood to his work site. Lifting and moving large objects is such a rewarding and valuable task for young children and they are oftentimes drawn to activities that encourage this, like moving furniture, pushing strollers and shopping carts, etc.
For sure there is a science component to woodworking and exploring force, trajectory and a variety of engineering concepts. When we talk about STEM with preschool aged children, there is often a focus on "modern" technology--but let's not forget about the technological value of tools!
Finally, woodworking involves a great deal of critical thinking, concentration and focus as well as problem solving. These are important aspects of social development at this age and stage. And even if the "product" does not resemble a functional structure, I encourage you to work with your little carpenters to create a functional way to use them!
S sat with intense focus and concentration to create "a rose" out of some colorful zip ties. He was so proud and excited by his work experience. He is eager to return to his work and having a woodworking station allows this to be an activity he can take his time with. There's no push to produce or perform. There is no agenda. When children see that we value their work and tinkering, they value it as well. This morning on the way to preschool, S told me "People do hard work."
"Yes, that's true! Big people and little people do hard work!" I responded.
"I worked hard building with wood!" he continued.
"Hard work can be fun, can't it?" I mused, and S agreed. When I think about work ethic, I truly believe it begins with inheriting a sense of value and meaning in our work--and that begins in childhood. When adults value the work that children do through play, they intuit that it is important and meaningful. S may not grow to be a carpenter (or he may!) but I do have high hopes that he will grow to love his play and work, wherever that will lead.