These are exciting times. The last few years have seen a surge of interest
in woodworking in early years education. Some settings are starting from
scratch, while for others it’s a case of dusting down the workbench and
digging out the tools after many years of neglect.
This is a welcome shift as the benefits of woodwork for children's learning
and development are astounding across all areas of the curriculum. Teachers
who provide woodwork regularly observe exceptional levels of sustained
engagement and intense concentration. Woodwork engages hands, minds and
hearts. Children become engrossed and develop persistence and perseverance
for challenging tasks – especially tasks with complex problem solving; it
is not unusual for them to spend all morning at the woodwork bench.
The growing popularity of woodwork is not surprising given the levels of
children’s enjoyment and the fact that it provides such a profound learning
experience. The renewed interest is perhaps a reaction to our increasingly
digital world, where children currently in nursery schools learn to “swipe”
before learning to walk. 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. In past years
there was a marked decline of woodwork in primary and secondary schools
with less than half of pupils ever using tools in their entire education.
Thankfully “making” is back in fashion, with a renewed interest in craft
and upcycling – maybe in reaction to our overly homogenised world. Woodwork
gives children the experience of building and repairing, countering our
current and prevalent culture of consuming and disposing. The rise of
forest school movement has also contributed: working with tools in a
woodland environment is strongly advocated.
Perhaps the biggest factor in moving towards woodwork has been the shifting
attitudes around risk aversion and over-zealous health and safety measures.
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 about embracing woodwork once again.
This is a significant shift in our culture, and though still in its
infancy, should be wholeheartedly celebrated.
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 work together to captivate young
We observe children working with their hands, tinkering, 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 activity for building self-esteem and confidence.
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 show satisfaction in their mastery
of new skills, taking immense pride in their creations. This sense of
empowerment and achievement provides a visible boost to their self-esteem
and 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 creating things. This supports a can-do attitude and imbues
children with a strong sense of agency, giving them a proactive disposition
towards the world.
When we analyse a woodworking session it is awe-inspiring to see just how
much learning is involved. Woodworking 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 endows
confident, creative learners with a passion for life-long learning.
Woodwork really can be central to the curriculum. It incorporates
mathematical thinking, scientific investigation, technological knowledge,
physical development and coordination, communication and language, personal
and social development, and a deepening understanding of the world.
Woodwork provides another media through which children can express
themselves. It is unrivalled in terms of providing children with problem
solving opportunities and challenge. Children are drawn in as they explore
possibilities, rise to challenges and find solutions. I know no other
activity that promotes creativity and critical thinking in quite the same
way that woodwork does, both in terms of imagination and problem-solving as
children make choices, find solutions, learn through trial and error and
reflect on their work. I believe this is really at the heart of woodwork’s
appeal and success.
Some children particularly flourish when working with wood:
three-dimensionally and with their hands. It is hard to predict who will
respond particularly positively as the skills are so different from those
usually used in the early years. The experience of woodwork can be the key
that unlocks some children’s learning.
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
With woodwork children can develop their learning at their own pace and
work through their own challenges. Once they have mastered basic skills,
they move into open-ended exploration - tinkering, exploring possibilities
and then they start making unique creations. Some teachers and parents are
surprised that we introduce woodwork to children as young as three, but it
must be emphasised that it is a low risk activity when introduced and
monitored correctly. We at St Werburgh’s have been successfully woodworking
with pre-school children for many years with no significant incidents.
Woodwork is one of the most popular activities and incorporates so much
learning. Let’s make the opportunity of woodwork available to all children!