Have you ever watched a two-year-old with a hammer? I’m not talking about a brightly colored plastic hammer that makes squeaking noises when you hit something with it. No. I am talking about a real hammer – made of metal and wood. When you watch a young child pick up a real tool something amazing happens. That child becomes serious about their work and they know that what they are doing matters. With real tools children become enthusiastic learners and are able to engage in a much deeper way than they can when playing with typical kinds of commercial toys.
There are so many different tools that can be placed in the hands of a child. Yes, there are the obvious kinds of tools like hammers, nails and saws – but there are many other real-world tools that make learning more engaging for children. For example, you can provide a rope and pulley system in the sandpit for children to move the sand in new ways; you can provide real clay tools for children who are working with clay; even in the kitchen – children can use real knives and cooking implements under the close supervision of adults. Tools are everywhere in our lives and children must learn to use them safely and effectively, and this can start from a very young age.
It’s not surprising that real tools are far more interesting to children. They provide children with a sense of purpose and responsibility. When young children are trusted to use tools, it builds their self-confidence, develops their motor skills, supports concentration and helps them understand about their world. Learning becomes more relevant to the child and they thrive at the opportunity to be real constructors and engineers. When we view children as capable and competent learners, our whole perception of what they can or can’t do changes – and more importantly, their perception of themselves changes too.
The best thing about providing children with real tools is that they work better. These kinds of resources are usually of better quality and make it much easier to get a job done. A perfect example of the benefits of using real tools can be seen when you hand a four-year-old child a low melt glue gun. You will see a child build intricate structures and amazing creations that just cannot be done when using other kinds of glue. In essence, you are providing the opportunity for the child to really see what they are capable of.
Of course, safety is a factor that must be considered when giving a child a real tool to use and close supervision is essential. When we talk with children about the safety aspects of using tools we are able to set clear expectations and boundaries. By doing this, we are teaching children about responsibility and also showing them a great deal of respect. If we respect them as learners who can be innovative, creative problem solvers – then we must allow them to access the right materials to help their ideas and designs come to fruition.
After 15 years of experience within childcare and preschool programs, one thing I know for sure is that when you present a child with a real tool to use, it heightens their sense of self-awareness as well as their awareness of others around them. There are certainly very real consequences for mis-using tools and children learn quickly how to be safe with them. Appropriate safety gear is also essential, and you can purchase child-sized safety glasses, gloves and many other kinds of personal protection equipment that is suitable for children to use.
Providing children with real tools to use will give them a huge sense of satisfaction and pride in their work. By doing this, we are showing children that we respect and trust them and are allowing them to take risks in their learning. Whilst there are some amazing toys out there that provide valuable learning opportunities for children – they often don’t ignite the same sense of excitement and motivation that comes with using real tools. Try it with your child and see how they respond – I know you won’t regret it!