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Children at the Workbench
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Children at the Workbench
"The objects that are used for practical life... are the objects
used where a child lives and which he sees employed in his own
home, but they are especially made to a size that he can use."
--Maria Montessori, _The Discovery of the Child_
Believe it or not, even a very young child of two-and-a-half or
three years can learn to use real tools. It takes a little
preparation on the parents' part, but is certain to produce happy
hours of satisfying activity for the child.
One of the most traditional toys for the toddler is the
cobbler's bench with multi-colored pegs to be hammered down with
the wooden mallet. In fact, you probably grew up pounding away on
such a toy! Not only do children love to pound and hammer, but
they also have a keen interest in the work of adults, especially
when tools are involved. And, of course, they want to do what
they see adults doing.
Before using real tools, children need sufficient muscular
control. They need eye-hand coordination and the ability to
concentrate. Using the toy cobbler's bench is a good first step.
As coordination improves, your child will control the mallet,
hitting the pegs squarely and consistently. Screwing large wooden
bolts in a bolt block toy or using large nuts and bolts from the
hardware store helps with smaller muscle control.
Safety and Supervision
Children will have safer and more successful experiences when
they use child-size tools. Be sure to model and demonstrate the
safe way to carry, use, and store tools. Designate a separate
toolbox for your children's tools. The toolbox is not another toy
on the shelf for your child to choose, but rather a special
activity to do only with an adult. Safety glasses are a must for
any woodworking activity.
At the Workbench
It helps to plan, prepare, and practice any woodworking activity
so your child can safely experience success. First, gather the
supplies needed to create a hammering or sanding project for your
child. Make certain that everything works before introducing it
to your child. Keep in mind that your child enjoys the process as
much as the end result. Success means being able to use the
hammer to pound in a nail even if it's crooked or bent; or
sanding the wood just a bit smoother. Safety glasses should be
worn with all these activities.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
* For a hammering project, use big nails with large heads and a
tree stump (available from your local tree service or firewood
company) or 2X4 held securely on a flat surface. You might start
the nail, demonstrating how to hold the nail with thumb and index
finger, tapping lightly at first. Then your child hammers the
nail in. A thinner nail can be held in place between the teeth of
a comb lying flat on the wood. Hold the end of the comb securely
until the nail is set.
* Once they have mastered the skills, children enjoy nailing
two pieces of scrap wood together. You can prepare such a project
by pre-drilling the holes or using soft wood. Hold the pieces
together while your child hammers in the first nail.
* Sanding a piece of wood smooth is satisfying for your child.
After you've shown how to move the sandpaper back and forth,
demonstrate how to feel the difference between rough and smooth.
A sanding block can be used and the wood can be held in place
with a vise. Or, move the wood back and forth over a piece of
sandpaper that is secured to a flat surface.
* With the child-size drill (manual, not power-driven) and
fairly soft wood, children can successfully drill a hole. Be sure
to mark the drilling spots in advance and then show how the drill
works. A vise can keep the wood steady.
Simple Projects and Repairs
Even if you don't consider yourself "handy," there are many ways
you and your children can work with tools together. The
woodworking books in our catalog and on our website give specific
instructions for many simple projects, as well as for the above
After children show some competence, they are prepared to apply
their skills to real life situations. You might work together to
make simple repairs around the house, such as hammering a loose
porch board or screwing in a towel hook. With an older child, you
could plan and execute a simple project such as building a box or
birdfeeder. These projects might require learning additional
woodworking skills such as sawing, measuring, gluing and
clamping, painting, etc.
Remember to take the time to think through the process, have the
needed supplies, and make sure all the tools work. Demonstrate
the activity from beginning to end. Then stand by and watch while
your child works to become an accomplished, contributing member
of the family and society.
-- by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant
at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori
directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She
has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools,
Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with
developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps
individuals, couples, and families.
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