Tool Time: Ideas for Woodwork with Kids

I bought a friend’s three year old one of these for Christmas…

woodwork with kids
It’s a Micki Tool Belt from The Kids Depot with child sized versions of REAL tools. We gave it to him with a pack of balsa wood and some wood glue. I think my friends thought I was a bit cuckoo! And I admit, you don’t want a three year old running around the house with a real screwdriver! But children between the ages of three and five love to hammer (balsa wood is soft and easy to hammer) and they love to make things. By giving them real tools and real wood to work with, they feel a real sense of achievement. It is a lot like home corner play; children enjoy playing at cooking but truly LOVE it when you actually do cooking with them.

Opportunities for ‘Real Work’
One of the things the children at my child care centre loved was our wooden frame cubby house. A Dad, who was a builder, made it for us and it was literally just the wooden frame. Which was fantastic because we could make it into whatever we wanted. The children worked tirelessly to nail hessian all around the frame to make a pirates den. They hammered vinyl (the type used for window blinds) in place and painted on it when they wanted it to be more like a house. At other times it was a witches den, the Wiggles House and a dinosaur cave. You should have seen the determination of children as young as two years of age hammering away with real nails into real wood with real (but child sized) hammers.

The woodwork table was always a popular activity when I taught preschool and kindergarten as well. Talk about problem solving in action! There are few other activities which allow children to work with their hands to design, plan and make, which involve solving real problems along the way (as well as requiring the patience and perseverance to do so).

One of the activities I remember hearing about a million years ago when I trained at university was a kindergarten (4-5 year olds) “pull apart table.” A table where children had access to real, child sized tools and real (albeit no longer working) household objects to ‘pull apart.’ I never actually gave this one ago although I find the idea fascinating.

What do you think? Would you give your child real tools to use under supervision? I would love to hear about any woodworking activities readers have tried.

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  1. Cathy @ nurturestore says:

    We have a kit with a child sized hammer, nails and small pieces of wood the kids can hammer onto a board to make pictures. They really enjoy using it. We should definitely let them explore tools and machines, with supervision. I don't think anyone would hesitate to let them join in with kitchen and baking things. These construction tools should be treated in the same way. If we're trying to raise competent kids there are lots of skills they can learn from a bit of D.I.Y.

  2. My little boy is the same age as Immy, so we're only just heading into this area of play, but I have vivid memories of doing a lot of woodwork play in the shed with my dad and with my neighbour (who was like a grandpa to me). My dad passed away when I was 7, so a lot of this happened in pre-school years.

    I had a small hammer that I thought was mine (but it turned out it was just a small hammer). My mum still has it, and looks very similar to the one in this kit.

    We'd spend hours in the shed making stuff. Hammering nails into wood, using off-cuts, wood glue, putting things in the vice and sawing them, painting them. I loved it! Even if we didn't make anything, it was all about the process.

    Sanding wood is a great activity for little ones. Rounding off corners, seeing the different results that you get from rough and from fine sandpapers.

    I've assembled quite a lot of ikea type furniture lately, and my 23 month old, even a couple of months ago, had a terrific time putting small pieces of dowel into pre-drilled holes. I gave him a little screwdriver and he had such a good time helping mummy.

    We had plenty of toys and activities when I was growing up, but my strongest memories are of being in the shed with my dad, and in the kitchen with my mum.

  3. canuck_grad says:

    My little guy has been playing with real tools – adult sized ones! – since he was about a year old (under strict supervision of course!). We are living in my husband's "family" house (his grandmother lived here until she went into a nursing home a few years ago) which is owned by his father, who is renovating it while we are living here. My little guy loves to "help" Papa with the renovations. He loves measuring tape, levels, etc. He'll also play with screwdrivers, taking them to any place in the wall where he can see nails or screws and "screwing" them in. Sometimes my father-in-law would start a nail and then help our little guy hammer in it. Of course, he has his play tools too, and will do the same things with those – he'll go to our coat cabinet, open the door, and "screw" the hinges in, etc. – but nothing beats helping Papa with the real thing!

  4. Well we loved it, and Master 3 also loved it (once he worked out what it was all about), and no your not cuckoo! The one item he loves from the set is the ruler (I know….strange considering there was hammer in amongst the set). It was jointed so it could fold up. He has made so many shapes out of it, measured things and even used it as a ramp for Lightening MacQueen to make his way off the couch and onto the carpet…..impressive!

    A previous neighbour had given the kids little build-it-youself kits last Christmas. Miss 4 got a small set of draws and Master 3 a
    tiger moth aeroplane. Dad and the kids spent a whole day building, gluing, hammering and finally painting each piece. They were (including Dad) very proud of their little constructions.

    Now if we could just use some of that glue and a few nails to fix Master 3's fractured arm he might be able to make something!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Both my one and two year old boys love screwdrivers, and i let them play with a real one under my direct supervision. (They have a play one that they can have whenever.)

    My daughter started cooking at 2.5, and she was able to use tools under my supervision at that age as well.

    I love that tool kit. I just might have to get one for my budding fixer-uppers.

  6. Teacher Tom says:

    We do the "pull apart" concept at our school, but I'm totally fascinated by the "wooden frame cubby house." I really want one of those!

    Real tools are always better than pretend ones. There's nothing more frustrating, for instance, than trying to dig in real dirt with those plastic shovels. And our "toy" tweezers and tongs (the ones you can get from educational supply places) break almost instantly.

    I'll never forget the time I was working in the garage with my then 2-year-old daughter. She picked up my hammer and started for the car, saying, "Hammer." I caught her just in time. Supervision is important!

  7. Infant Bibliophile says:

    I love that! I may not be the one to ask, because we haven't child proofed our house (my 2 year old goes to get his stool, climbs up, and helps to take the knives out of the dishwasher and load them into the knife draw with me! I have taught him to only touch the handles). This parenting style works for us since I am with him 24/7, but it might not be so great when we have more than 1 child running around. Anyway, I would definitely let my son play with that. He has access to my screwdriver. I really don't think he's going to jam it into his eye. He just picks it up and tries to pretend screw wherever he last saw me using it. :) I also like the idea of letting kids hammer golf tees into styrofoam.

  8. My 4 y.o. son has his own tools and we are always looking for opportunities to use them – he usually helps whenever their are screws to be undone (he was busy at Christmas putting batteries in everything!). I also let him take apart any old unworking stuff.
    We haven't got into hammering yet but I am looking for some projects in that line soon.

  9. katepickle says:

    Oh you should so give the pull apart thing a go when Immy is bigger! I first came across the idea when I met an amazing kinder teacher online who later came out to visit me at my centre and he taught me SO much! My kids all (even the two year old, with help) LOVE to pull stuff apart. Old computer are the fav cause they are full of cool looking things!

  10. Christie - Childhood 101 says:

    Loving your ideas, keep them coming. I do however need to ask the obvious question of those who are part of the "pull apart" crew – how do you teach them which things it is ok to pull apart?

  11. Wow! What fun ideas! I have a 2 and 4 year old, both girls. We do not have child-sized tools but I feel like maybe I should get some. They do love to practice with the screwdriver (which is only out when I'm there) so that makes sense that they would love to take apart appliances. I had never considered this although I, myself, LOVE to take things apart and see how they work (when I'm fixing them…not a lot of time otherwise).

    I also want to make one of those lock and key sets. Get a variety of locks in a bowl and a big key ring with the keys on it. My girls would go nuts! They love stuff like that.

    Great ideas!

  12. PlanningQueen says:

    All of my little ones to date have received a tool kit with real (small) sized tools. Last April for my three year old's birthday party I even set up a hammering station. It worked amazingly well and kept the kids occupied for such a long time and there was no accidents. You can see some photos here:

    We need to do more of the pulling apart thing though, as the kids do really love it.

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