Woodwork in Early Childhood Education
'Woodwork is active learning at it's best'
Woodwork = wood play! - Child initiated exploration and creation
The Big Bang Project was established promote the re-introduction of woodwork into early childhood education around the world by providing free resources that anyone can access. These resources are currently being developed and extended as funding becomes available. If you can help do get in touch!
We have found that many schools want to introduce woodwork and we are trying to help make this possible. Anyone who has witnessed young children deeply engaged, tinkering away with tools will know just how magical it can be.
Wood works in ECE! Extensive research from the University of Bristol and action research from St Werburgh's Park Nursery School, Bristol have highlighted the exceptional learning and development that occurs through working with wood as well as impact on well-being. Woodwork combines a wide range of skills and is truly cross-cirricular.
In terms of sustainability, with woodwork children learn to make and repair as opposed to consume and dispose. They are also developing skills to be come future designers and innovators for our rapidly changing world.
Today grow up in an increasingly digital world. We are seeing a new generation of children that have learnt to swipe before they can walk, and woodwork can be seen to engage children’s hands and minds, allowing them to explore their physical world. Globally there has been a huge upsurge in ‘making’ as can be seen from the rise of the Maker Movement and the many hack spaces and tinkering studio’s that have sprung up in cities all over the world. Woodwork provides the foundation for maker education.
There is something really special about woodwork. It is so different from other activities. The smell and feel of wood, using real tools, working with a natural material, the sounds of hammering and sawing, hands and minds working together to express their imagination and to solve problems, the use of strength and coordination: all go together to captivate young children’s interest.
Woodwork really stands out for me because of the high and sustained levels of engagement and the sheer enjoyment it provides. It is hugely popular with children and provides a profound learning experience. To come into a setting and hear the sounds of children happily hammering and sawing away, and to see them deeply engaged is a real delight. Visiting teachers always comment on their deep levels of concentration and engagement, and are further surprised to find the same children still deeply focused working on their creations an hour or two later. It is not unusual children to spend all morning at the woodwork bench. Woodwork really engages hands, minds and hearts.
Initially we observe children working with their hands, constructing models, and working on projects, but in fact the real transformation is inside the child – personal development is at the heart of woodwork.
Woodwork is a powerful medium for building self-esteem and confidence. This is for a combination of reasons. Children feel empowered and valued by being trusted and given responsibility to work with real tools. They accomplish tasks that they initially perceive to be difficult and they persist at challenging tasks. They show satisfaction in their mastery of new skills and take immense pride in their creations. This sense of empowerment and achievement provides a visible boost to their self-esteem and self-confidence. Children have a natural desire to construct and build. They learn how things work and discover that they can shape the world around them by making. This imparts a can-do attitude and imbues children with a strong sense of agency – having a proactive disposition towards the world – a belief they can shape their world.
When we analyse a woodworking session it is extraordinary to see just how much learning is involved. It encompasses all areas of learning and development and invites connections between different aspects of learning. It supports current thinking on how children learn best, embracing all the characteristics of effective learning and thus fostering confident, creative children with passion for life-long learning. Woodwork really can be central to curriculum. It incorporates mathematical thinking, scientific investigation, developing knowledge of technology, a deepening understanding of the world, as well as physical development and coordination, communication and language, and personal and social development.
Woodwork provides another media through which children can express themselves. Creative and critical thinking skills are central both in terms of imagination and problem-solving as children make choices, find solutions, learn through trial and error and reflect on their work.
Children are drawn in as they explore possibilities, rise to challenges and find solutions. Woodwork is really unrivalled in terms of providing children with problem solving opportunities and challenge.
Some children particularly flourish when working with wood, enjoying working three-dimensionally and working with their hands. It is hard to predict who will respond particularly positively as the skills are so different from those usually used in early years. The experience of woodwork can really be the key that unlocks some children’s learning.
Essentially woodwork is a ‘win-win’: children greatly enjoy it and remain engaged for extended periods and it provides a rich multitude of associated learning and development.
Children are surrounded by complex technology but this has limited their experience of basic technology, with fewer opportunities to watch and learn and to understand processes. Today many children may never use tools throughout their entire education and in recent years there has been a marked decline of woodwork in primary and secondary schools.
The confidence to work with tools provides a skill set for life. Many children will need practical skills for their future work and woodwork in the early years could well be children's only experience of working with tools. Fortunately working with tools leaves a deep memory – so even if early childhood education is their only experience of working with wood it will leave a long lasting impression. Many adults recount that experiencing woodwork as a child is one of the memories from early childhood that still really stands out.
With woodwork children can develop their learning at their own pace and find their own challenges. Once they have mastered basic skills, they move into open-ended exploration - tinkering, exploring possibilities and then making unique creations. Their imagination, creative thinking and problem-solving skills really flourish as they meet and conquer new challenges.
Working with wood has a long tradition in all cultures. In early childhood education woodwork has a long tradition ever since the days of Froebel over 180 years ago. Right from the onset of nursery education in the UK woodwork was firmly embraced and there was even a monthly journal – Hand and Eye – published in London between 1882 and 1902, dedicated to promoting woodworking and other craft-work in kindergartens.
The majority of countries around the world do not offer the opportunity of woodwork and in many that did it is no longer available. Woodwork took a back seat in many countries during the 80s and 90s due to fears over potential accidents, fuelled by litigation culture and over-zealous health and safety restrictions. Fortunately today many education departments are taking a much more balanced view of activities that do incorporate an element of risk. In fact they now often highlight the importance of young children experiencing risk in a controlled environment as part of their learning to self-manage and make decisions.
This innovation solves the problem of young children not experiencing working practically with tools and experiencing the joy and learning that this brings
The innovation is very practical and has been tested in many schools and its effectiveness has been researched
This innovation is scaleable - it can work in all cultures - and it is spreading successfully around the world from England to Bahrain, Bhutan , Japan......