These are exciting times. Currently, there is a surge of renewed interest in woodwork provision in early years education. This can be directly evidenced by the increasing sales in workbenches and tools from early years suppliers.

This is very welcome. Woodwork has a long tradition within early years education – dating right back to Froebel’s Kindergarten. The benefits of woodwork for children’s learning and development are immense across all areas of learning and children show the most extraordinary levels of concentration and engagement for sustained periods of time.

Following from Lord Young’s review of Health and Safety 2010: Common Sense Common Safety and subsequent guidance from the Health and Safety Executive( 2012), the DoE (2013) and recently from Ofsted (2017),  schools have felt encouraged to take a more balanced attitude towards risk, with many settings feeling more confident to embrace woodwork once again. This is a significant culture shift and, whilst still in its infancy, should be wholeheartedly celebrated.

Why woodwork is so popular

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 – these 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.

How woodwork helps build little personalities

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 a passion for lifelong learning. Woodwork really can be central to the 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.

About the author

Pete Moorhouse is passionate about encouraging creative thinking in Early Years Education. He has over 25 years’ experience working with schools and works regularly in Early Years settings as an artist in residence.

Pete is the leading authority on woodwork in Early Years education and has several journal articles and books published. Pete is an associate trainer for Early Education and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, currently researching Creativity and Critical Thinking in Early Years Education.

Find out more at http://irresistible-learning.co.uk/

Further resources


CPD and INSET available from irresistible-learning.co.uk

(Advice on the best tools can also be found on this website in the resources tab)

Open training dates 2018:

Early Education, London – 21st March  https://www.early-education.org.uk/
St Werburgh’s Park Nursery, Bristol – 7th March and 9th May http://www.stwerburghs.com/

Learning Through Woodwork: Creative woodwork in the Early Years (Routledge)  by Pete Moorhouse, available from Amazon

Read part 2 of Pete’s article here 


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