When I was training to teach and after I qualified, I remember most Nursery and Reception classes that I visited having a workbench as part of their provision. As time went on and the world got a little bit Health and Safety crazy, they all seemed to disappear. The skills that children can learn whilst carrying out this sort of play and exploration are invaluable – so I am really pleased to see that workbenches appear to be on the rise again!
This week I am really pleased to have a guest blogpost from Pete Moorhouse who, amongst other things, is a woodworker who works with children…
Woodwork provides a unique learning experience for young children. It is rich in so many areas of learning and development and it is an activity which children really enjoy doing, being absorbed for extended periods of time. It encompasses creative thinking, maths skills, scientific investigation, physical development and coordination, developing language and vocabulary, and much more.
It is wonderful for building self-esteem and confidence. This is for a combination of reasons; through being empowered to use real tools, by being given responsibility, accomplishing tasks that they initially feel to be challenging, gaining new skills and finally taking pride in their creations.
I’m passionate about the depth that woodwork has to offer. I have worked as an Artist in Residence in early year’s settings for many years, introducing children to many different provocations to encourage creativity. I have found woodwork has consistently provided the children with a profound experience. With the decline of woodwork in primary and secondary schools this could be children’s only experience of working with tools. Woodwork provides a wonderful medium to explore creative thinking and creativity, increasingly important qualities in our changing world as are the skills to make and repair.
The first thing visitors notice when they observe our children working with wood is their deep levels of engagement and concentration. Secondly they comment on how long the children seem to remain absorbed in their explorations. Many people are surprised that we consider introducing woodwork to young children, largely with concerns over safety. We have been successfully introducing woodwork safely to pre-school children for many years with no serious accidents.
Woodwork has much to offer children as it is so rich in learning opportunities and has many possibilities for creative exploration. It is essentially a huge win win. It is an activity that they greatly enjoy, being deeply involved and concentrating for sustained periods and it provides a rich multitude of associated learning and development.
Children immediately feel valued. Once involved, the delight, satisfaction and pride in their own work and learning is clearly visible. This sense of empowerment and achievement provides a visible boost to their self-esteem and self-confidence.
At first the children are “taught” in a traditional sense how to use the tools and try techniques in a safe and appropriate way. As they make their first few tentative taps with the hammer you can tell that they are often a little apprehensive and question if they will be able to do it, but very quickly they are banging in nail after nail with confidence and delight. As soon as they have mastered this basic skill they can move into open ended creative exploration, joining various sections of wood to make all sorts of creations.
Woodwork allows the introduction of new layers of learning as new tools and skills are introduced once the children feel confident – starting with hammers, screwdrivers, and a saw, then moving on to introduce drills, clamps, wrenches, pliers, spanners and so on. Children develop through their own learning at their own pace and find their own challenges.
As the children explore the tools and their possibilities their creative thinking and imagination really begin to emerge.
Practitioners and parents are often concerned about the potential risk and possible litigation. Woodwork is actually a low risk activity if it introduced and supervised correctly. It also provides children with an opportunity to experience risk in a controlled way, allowing them to make judgements and naturally self-risk assess. Of course there will be small injuries from time to time such as banged fingers or a small cut but certainly nothing more than other playground injuries. The biggest risk is not allowing children to experience risky play and learn about their own limits so they can then make informed judgements when facing other life situations.
Many school activities were affected by over zealous health and safety policies in the 80’s and 90’s. At the time the feeling was that health and safety was paramount but this was at the expense of opportunity irrespective of the benefits. This climate of risk aversion was heavily influenced by the increasing litigation and compensation culture. Fortunately the climate is now changing as pioneered by the Lord Young Review of Health and Safety. The recommendations of the review, “Common Sense, Common Safety” were immediately accepted by the Government in October 2010. The emphasis of the report was to encourage settings to embrace risk in a positive sense and not to allow it to limit valuable opportunities available to children. This sentient was echoed by subsequent reports from the Health and Safety Executive (2012) and the Department for Education(2013).
Working with real tools has the potential to offer children many new experiences. It provides another medium for children to express their creativity and explore problem solving. It may be their only chance to experience woodwork in their entire education as fewer schools offer woodwork in primary or secondary. Woodworking is a kinesthetic experience that embeds a deep memory. Once having experienced and learnt how to use tools it becomes a part of their vocabulary.
It would be wonderful if every child could have these experiences. As a practitioner, it is such a joy to see them so engaged in an activity. It is a delight to watch their creativity and see their pride in their achievements – it always leaves me feeling uplifted.
My book on woodwork published by community playthings can be downloaded here or hard copies can be ordered free directly from community playthings:
I deliver CPD and inset training throughout the country:
You can also contact me at:
So, dig out your workbenches and lets get to it! Have a great Bank Holiday weekend.