Woodworking for Kids? - DuPage Children's Museum

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Woodworking for Kids?

April 14, 2016

Last week Dan Swick, one of our Public Program Facilitator Team Leads, highlighted our extraordinary partnership with both Home Depot and Kiwanis. Their continued support is instrumental in keeping the Construction House, one of our most popular exhibit areas, running smoothly.

The Construction House, while seemingly simple, beautifully demonstrates all of the philosophical underpinnings of everything that we do here at DCM. While one might think that this area is just about kids hammering nails, woodworking naturally promotes a connection between all aspects of learning and development – math, scientific investigation, physical coordination, language and vocabulary. It also supports the development of creative thinking and problem solving: “How can I join these two pieces together? How do I get this nail out?” In fact, many countries include woodworking as a part of their early childhood curriculum including Japan, New Zealand, and countries throughout Scandinavia.

Woodworking also supports:

Personal, social, and emotional development – When children feel trusted and respected they are empowered. They gain a sense of confidence and responsibility when allowed to work with real tools that makes them take their work seriously.

Increase in sustained attention and persistence – two layers to their concentration – First, they have to concentrate because the use of real tools requires it. Second, the construction of something you have planned in your mind requires a deep-level of problem-solving.

Developmental Stages of Woodworking:

Safety first! The first stage, after a child demonstrates interest in woodworking, is becoming acquainted with the tools and the rules of how to handle them.
Learning technique – In the next stage, children work on specific skills. Children hammer for the sake of hammering, drill for the sake of drilling, and saw for the sake of sawing! They still may not “build” anything at all.
Open-ended exploration – At this point the child has the hand-eye coordination and the basic understanding of how to use the tools to do things such as attach two pieces of wood together.
Making unique creations – Now the simple construction begins. Children combine materials by using the skills they’ve practiced–nailing together two pieces or attaching bottle caps to a block of wood. As an afterthought, the child might label the object or call it an “airplane” or “car.”
Higher level thinking and creations – Finally, as children begin to take pride in their ability to master increasingly complex tasks children become “builders.” Children have a real idea in mind of what they want to make and purposely gather materials to form a specific shape. They often decide to change their first plan or they may even abandon it. However, that is when special opportunities for creativity arise—as they adjust and revise as they build.

How Adults Can Offer Support
In order to support the development of persistence and problem solving skills, we encourage adults in the Construction House to follow the lead of the child and provide support when needed as they build and create.
What does “following a child’s lead” mean?

  • Respecting children’s ability to choose what and how they play. When children are allowed to choose, knowing you accept that choice, they learn to develop and trust their own judgments.
  • Understanding and respecting a child’s capacities and limitations (knowing when to challenge and when to practice again).

The following scenario was observed in the Construction House. Think about ways this parent follows her child’s lead during play in this exhibit.

“How do I put this on?” asks a child. The child looks at his mother while holding a plastic cylinder against several pieces of wood that he has constructed into a flat surface.

“Well, I’m not sure. What do you think?” says the mother. The child shrugs his shoulders. “It looks like the cylinder is very thick. What could we use to attach it?” asks the mother. The child picks up a small nail and holds it up to the cylinder, comparing the length of it to the width of the cylinder. “Will that work, do you think?” says the mother. The child shakes his head and looks in the nail and screw boxes for something else. The child then holds up a longer nail and again measures it against the width of the cylinder.

“Long one,” the child says. “You think the long one will work? Good call—I think you might be right,” answers the mom. He takes a hammer and holds the nail to the cylinder and then tries holding it up to the cylinder in another direction. “Which way do you think you will hammer it?” asks the mother. “Here on the sides,” says the child. “I can’t wait to see how that works,” says the mother. The child hammers the nail into each side holding the cylinder in place. “Did it work?” The child spins the cylinder and looks at his mother. “It spins!” says the child.

While this parent followed her child’s lead by asking questions, making suggestions, and offering encouragement, the goal (getting the plastic onto the wood) was initiated by the child.

Woodworking is a fantastic open-ended, creative learning activity. We hope you will join us here at DCM to experience it first-hand!

What are your favorite woodworking memories? Share them with us here or on Facebook!