The amazing benefits of carpentry on a developing child far outweigh the potential for the challenges involved in introducing woodworking to your centre. For children aged 4 and older, carpentry can be taught and safely experimented with, just as in any other area of the classroom.
While many pre-school professionals realise it's important for children to learn to use tools, few fully understand all the learning opportunities carpentry can have for a 4+ year old. Carpentry is truly learning through play.
- One of the most recognised benefits of carpentry is its effect on children's fine motor skills. Whether the child hammers a nail, uses a screwdriver or makes a hole in wood with a hand drill, they are developing hand-eye coordination and strethening the neural connections in the cerebellum. This is the area of the brain that 'calibrates' or fine-tunes movement, specifically, the delicate hand movements involved in carpentry. By 'turning on' the cerebellum through carpentry, children are learning control over their bodies and ensuring that their improving hand-eye coordination will transfer to other activities.
- Woodworking lets children express their creativity in a 3-Dimenional (3D) way. By being able to take random everyday objects and join them together, children are able to product a tangible finished product. This creation also has the added benefit of being sturdy enough to handle unlike a painting or drawing.
- Carpentry intrinsically supports conceptualisation. When children take a block of scrap wood and see a torso, or two bottle lids and see eyes, they are developing their conceptualisation skills. They take every day objects, see how they can turn them into a piece of art, then use tools to build their vision. This is the essence of conceptualisation… taught by carpentry.
- Carpentry also gives children a basic understanding of math's and science principles. By measuring and comparing dimensions children can grasp the concepts of length, width and depth/height. By seeing the different force it takes to bang a nail into a block of wood, as compared to a piece of polystyrene, children gain understanding of force and different textures and densities.
Minimizing Risk: When it comes to children using tools, safety is the main concern. To best protect the children in your care from potential hazards, look to eliminate risk smartly. For example if children are going to work with hammers and/or saws, ensure they wear protective gear. One fun way to ensure children play (and learn) safe, is roleplay. By encouraging children to 'be builders', not only will it be easier to get them to wear protective clothing, but they will actually want to "dress the part"! Check out a roleplay inspired carpentry safety set.
Safe behaviour and rules to discuss and remind children about as necessary
- No tools above head height.
- Never run with tools.
- Don’t remove tools from the workbench area.
- Use each tool correctly. (The children will need showing first, to know this).
- Always wear shoes when working with tools and at the carpentry bench.
Workstation: At early childhood centres a workbench is essential to ensure all tools and materials are kept together and accessible. A 120cm x 57cm can be used by up to four children safely, depending on the activity children are doing – if they are gluing and not sawing for example, more children may be able to stand at the bench. The bench should be around waist height for the children using it.
Tools: Carpentry play that encourages learning can be enhanced by using the right tools and equipment. At a minimum, a child should have access to:
- Hammer and Nails
- Screwdriver and Screws
- Vices and Clamps
- Hand drills
- Ruler or tape measure
- Carpentry pencils
This ensures they have a wide variety of play options, which as we know, are learning opportunities as well! For example, for older children who can recognise numbers, using a ruler or tape measure will introduce them to 'measuring'. In doing so they will learn to recognise the relationship between a longer piece of wood, and higher numbers, cementing the concept of measurement into their brains.
Having a variety of different pieces of wood and a good supply is important for children’s choice and imagination. Hardware stores such as Bunnings and Miter 10 may be able to provide off-cuts for free.
Do not use H4 or H5 treated wood as it contains arsenic salts, which are toxic when transformed into sawdust.
Driftwood is also a viable option in many parts on New Zealand, and is a great wood for learning to saw, as its softer than normal timber.
One way to start is by bringing out one type of tool at a time for a few days or a couple of weeks (depending upon frequency of use). This makes teaching the children how to use each tool not only safer but also easier as you can show several children together at the same time. Wait until the children have grown confident with the tools and how to use the tools safely before you introduce more tools.
It’s very important to think ahead of time about what should happen if you need to leave the woodworking area. The area needs close supervision at all times so never leave it short-staffed!
The next step is to take action within your own childcare centre! If you are not sure where to look for carpentry resources, check out our amazing range of high quality carpentry and woodworking products here.