Woodworking in My Classroom? You Bet!
By Linda K. Huber

I saw it the moment I walked into the campus laboratory preschool as a graduate assistant - a large, square workbench. Hanging on pegboard nearby were real hammers, screwdrivers, and hand drills to be used by three-, four- and five-year-olds.

This was my first exposure to a woodworking center. Although I was uncomfortable with a woodworking center in the early childhood classroom, I soon realized that young children can handle real tools.

Why are early childhood teachers so reluctant to provide woodworking centers? Below are some of the reasons given, as well as ways to overcome these concerns.

Woodworking Is Too Noisy
Noisy areas exist in every classroom. To find a location for a woodworking center, look for areas where noisy activities can exist and where ample space can be provided for children to move freely. An ideal location allows for two to four children to move and work comfortably. There should also be space nearby for storing the tools and extra wood. For those teachers who cannot deal with noise inside the classroom, consider putting the workbench outdoors.

Woodworking Is Too Dangerous

Injuries are always a possibility in a woodworking center. However, with proper safety, the possibility of injuries can be reduced. As with other play centers, some basic limits are essential.

  1. Everything has a place. When tools, nails, and wood are taken out, they need to be returned.
  2. Tools have their own special purposes; tools are used only for hammering, sawing, and building.
  3. Safety goggles must be worn at all times.
  4. An adult should be in the center when the tools are in use.

Woodworking Is Just for Boys
If a teacher discovers that girls are not exploring the center very often, suggest having a "girls only" day so that they will have an opportunity. When teaching how to use the tools, include both boys and girls in the demonstrations. Furthermore, display pictures and books with women as construction workers. It may also be necessary for the teacher to examine his or her own biases and determine if girls are receiving negative feedback about woodworking.

Woodworking Is Too Expensive
Good, high-quality tools are costly, but they are a long-lasting investment. Choose tools wisely by starting with the basics (i.e., hammers, screwdrivers, and pliers). Add more tools as money allows. A list of suggested woodworking equipment is provided below. Also, do not hesitate to ask parent groups to help purchase more expensive items with fundraisers.

Once tools are purchased, there is little trouble getting wood. Many contractors and local building supply stores or lumber yards have extra wood they are willing to donate or sell at a reduced cost. White pine and poplar are lightweight and soft, and hold nails and glue well.

Why Woodworking?
As children explore with tools and wood, they will use large and small muscles. Sawing, for example, requires large movement, while holding a screw in place requires small-muscle coordination. As children make decisions about design, shape and type of wood to use, they participate in problem-solving skills. If children are working together to saw a piece of wood to build a bridge, they practice social skills. These skills may carry over into real-world settings (Skeen, Garner, & Cartwright, 1984).

Woodworking also allows children another avenue for creativity. When children are provided with enough materials, technical assistance, and limits, they can experiment as they wish. As they become more skillful, they can use more advanced tools and develop their ideas accordingly. It is important, however, that children not be required to imitate models provided by others. Children may become frustrated when their resulting product does not resemble the model provided; they may give up rather than explore other possibilities. Remember, the planning and building process is more important that the finished product.

As children successfully complete their projects, even if the project is sawing a piece of wood in two, they are building self-esteem. When they use their constructions in other play episodes their self-esteem is enhanced. Children's work does not have to be complete in order for them to feel a sense of accomplishment. As with other successes, seeing some progress can keep a child going.

How Do I Begin Woodworking?
It may be best to introduce the woodworking center to small groups of children, rather than an entire class. Give children names for the tools and explain their use and care. Then give children time to explore these new materials. It is helpful for children to have practice with new materials while they have an adult to help guide them.

Provide some pictures of construction in progress for children to look at while they are in the woodworking center. These photos may give the children new ideas to try. If possible, take the children on a field trip to a lumber yard, hardware store, or construction site. Let children see how tools and construction materials are used in the real world. If the group cannot go to the construction site, perhaps a construction worker could come to the class to demonstrate the materials and explain how they are used.

How Do Children Develop Woodworking Skills?
Children do not come to the woodworking center and suddenly create wonderful masterpieces. Instead, they explore the tools and discover what each tool can do and how they can manipulate it. Once they feel comfortable with a tool, the real creating begins.

Woodworking may be a challenging play center to add to an early childhood classroom. However, children develop self-esteem, social skills, creativity, and physical abilities that may not be encouraged elsewhere. When I entered the campus laboratory preschool that first time, I walked in with fears, questions, and concerns. After watching the children explore the center and observing their developing skills, my fears were reduced. Now when I visit an early childhood program, I look for the woodworking center. If none exists, I look for ways to create one. Woodworking in my classroom? You bet!

Adams, P.K. & Taylor, M.K. (1982).Children's workshops: Ideas for carpentry centers. (ERIC document reproduction service number ED 242387).

Skeen, P. & Garner, A.P. & Cartwright, S. (1984).Woodworking for young children. Washington, DC: NAEYC.


Linda K. Huber is a doctoral student at Ball State University majoring in early childhood education. She is a former kindergarten teacher and child care administrator.

Basic Equipment for Woodworking Centers
Hammers, screws, pliers, vice grips, metal clamps, planes, pencils, levels, scissors, sandpaper, nails, safety goggles, crowbar, glue, files, Hand saws (crosscut, keyhole or compass), screwdrivers (standard and Phillips), drills (hand drill, brace and bits), rulers and tape measures.

Seven Developmental Stages of Children's Woodworking

Stage One - Acquaintance with tools and wood. This stage is an initial exploration of tools and wood. Through manipulation of these, the child learns about weight, balance strength, and texture.


Stage Two - Simple skill attempts. During this stage, children actively explore hammering, sawing, and gluing. Projects will be attempted, but few objects will be built.


Stage Three - Simple construction. With building confidence, children work at planning, sequencing, and creating a new object. They may select a piece of wood, for example, saw it in tow pieces, and then join them with nails to create a new shape.


Stage Four - Refinement. As children continue to improve their workmanship by creating several projects, they will begin to add finishing touches such as sanding rough edges and gluing before nailing.


Stage Five - Functional construction. The finished products at this stage may have a more realistic look because the children intentionally put pieces together to form a shape with a name and added reality.


Stage Six - Decorative combinations. Children at this stage use carpentry with the intention of creating something for use elsewhere. They plan, collect materials, and execute the plan to complete a project. The addition of previous planning makes this stage different from stage five.


Stage Seven - Emergence of craft. Children continue to try new ideas and refine existing techniques. Carpentry is used as both a functional and symbolic skill.