Information: tool use & traditional crafts
Information on the theory and practice of tool use & traditional crafts outdoors – from case studies to policies, examples of forms, documents & handouts, research and articles, and much more to support your theoretical explorations into the outdoors.
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Reports, articles, research etc are, as much as possible, arranged in chronological order, most recent at the top.
Tool use & traditional crafts
Pete Moorhouse is the UK’s leading authority on woodwork in Early Years education and has written several books and journal articles. We asked him to introduce himself:
“I’m passionate about encouraging creativity in education. I’m a professional sculptor (www.petemoorhouse.co.uk) and have also been working in education as an artist educator for over 25 years. I’m really interested in developing children’s creative and critical thinking skills thorough various open-ended explorations and investigations.
I am also a research fellow at the University of Bristol, focusing on how creative progression can be monitored and developed. I explore many mediums with children but woodwork has always stood out as being particularly special. It engages children so profoundly, throwing up countless problems, and children have that intrinsic motivation to persevere and resolve their work – there really is a special magic! My practice is inspired by Froebellian principles and the practice in Reggio Emilia.
I am an associate trainer for Early Education and deliver training and keynote presentations both nationally and overseas. Pete.”
Pete shares a little more of his knowledge and enthusiasm below.
Woodwork in early childhood education
These are exciting times. Currently there is a surge of interest in woodwork provision in early childhood education right around the world. In an ever increasing number of settings we can here the tap-tapping of hammers and the sawing of wood. Woodwork has a long tradition within early years ever since the days of Froebel over 180 years ago.
Woodwork was almost eradicated in the 80s and 90s due to fears of litigation and overzealous health and safety concerns but is now making a comeback due to more balanced attitudes towards risk. Health and safety measures are there to help children do activities safely not prevent them and deny opportunity. It is important young children get to experience risk in a controlled environment contributing to their development by learning to self-manage and make decisions.
The rise of woodwork provision is very welcome and it is good news for children – as they really enjoy it. Anyone who has witnessed young children deeply engaged, tinkering away with tools will know just how magical it can be. 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.
The renewed interest, is in part a reaction to our increasingly digital world. We are seeing a new generation of children that have learnt to swipe before they can walk, and woodwork can be seen as a wonderful medium to engage children allowing them to explore their physical world with real tools and authentic materials. Globally there has been a upsurge in ‘making’ as can be seen from the rise of the maker movement, with the creation of makerspaces and tinkering studios in cities all over the world, providing spaces where children can be curious, inventive and develop their creative and critical thinking skills. Woodwork can provide a foundation for much of this exploration. Woodwork also provides children with an experience of making and repairing as opposed to our prevailing culture of consuming and disposing.
Engaging hands, hearts and minds
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, minds and hearts working together to express their imagination and to solve problems, the use of strength and coordination: 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. 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.
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.
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.
Pete’s new book is available in the Muddy Faces shop:
Learning Through Woodwork: Introducing Creative Woodwork in the Early Years
“Every so often a book is written that helps practitioners to develop their work in deep and far reaching ways. This is that sort of book.” Tina Bruce CBE
“The Definitive EY Book for Woodwork. Destined to be a classic.” Juliet Robertson
For more on woodwork with children sees the tabs to the left.
‘Tool play is so important for children, and develops many key skills and abilities. Using tools in forest school allows children to experience danger in the form of risky equipment. It helps them to manage risk, and become completely involved in the activity that they are doing…’ Early Impact, 2019.
“The next generation of craftsmen are putting traditional skills to new uses … Meet some of the carpenters and carvers who are changing the way we think about wood.” The Guardian, 18 February 2018.
Explaining The Crafts Council’s manifesto: Our Future is in the Making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making, which sets out why craft and making is vital to our society, culture and economy, why craft education matters and why it is crucial that we secure it. Folksy, 17 April 2015.
A theoretical and practical guide exploring the inherent fascination that children have with sticks, and the learning opportunities that wood whittling can present. Simple, clear and easy to use, for anyone working with children from 3-11 years old. Available from, Muddy Faces.
Forest School Leader’s Guide
A useful, handy-sized book with practical guidance based on recognised good practice & Forest School Training Network recommendations. Deals sensibly with popular misconceptions & sets out the legal position of using & transporting knives for educational purposes. Produced by, and available from, Muddy Faces.
Introducing creative woodwork in the early years
Clear and comprehensive support for those looking to introduce creative woodwork into early years settings. With theory, practical advice, stunning colour images and case studies, the book will inspire practitioners to embrace woodwork and encourage children’s independent creative learning. Available from Muddy Faces.
A thorough guide which features the poem“Whittling” by John Pierpont. Sections on: What You Need: The Knife and the Wood; Keeping Your Knife Sharp; Whittling Safety; Whittling Cuts, and What to Whittle. From The Art of Manliness (meaning the intro is male-focused)(US), December 12, 2011.
Comprehensive online guide includes the dos and don’ts of whittling plus: How to perform the basic whittling techniques, The best type of wood to whittle with, The best types of knives to whittle with & how to keep them sharp, and How to carve – wood safety tips. From My Open Country (US).
The Crafts Council manifesto sets out why craft and making is vital to our society, culture and economy, why craft education matters and why it is crucial that we secure it. It was developed with and on behalf of makers, businesses, students and educators – and embraces craft and making in all their forms.
The Froebelian Occupation of Woodwork: A symbolic language of shape, form and space
Examining the history, ideas and theories of woodworking with children – from Froebel, founder of the kindergarten movement, whose influence travelled to Scandinavia and beyond, to it’s current resurgence. Pete Moorhouse, February 2018. (pdf)
‘YLP works with young people aged 17-21 from ‘disadvantaged’ urban backgrounds. About 15 per cent of mainly task-focused activities take place in woodland, for example coppicing, coppice timber processing, tree planting. The research investigated what factors were associated with wellbeing.’ Part of the Good From Woods Project, 2011.
‘Research focus: to find out why outdoor/practical/woodland work is important to students and how it can promote their development. Research examples can be used as evidence to substantiate what college staff believe anecdotally about the benefits of coppice work.’ Part of the Good From Woods Project, 2011.
Woodwork & learning
From woodwork in the early years expert Pete Woodhouse
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 passion for life-long learning. Woodwork really can be central to 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.
Woodwork provides another media through which children can express themselves. Creative and critical thinking skills are central both in terms of imagination and problem-solving as children make choices, find solutions, learn through trial and error and reflect on their work.
Children are drawn in as they explore possibilities, rise to challenges and find solutions. Woodwork is really unrivalled in terms of providing children with problem solving opportunities and challenge. Because children follow their interests, making what they want to make, they have the intrinsic motivation to persevere to resolve problems and learn from mistakes.
Some children particularly flourish when working with wood, enjoying working three-dimensionally and working with their hands. It is hard to predict who will respond particularly positively as the skills are so different from those usually used in early years. The experience of woodwork can really be the key that unlocks some children’s learning.
Essentially woodwork is a ‘win-win’: children greatly enjoy it and remain engaged for extended periods and it provides a rich multitude of associated learning and development.
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. Today many children may never use tools throughout their entire education and in recent years there has been a marked decline of woodwork in elementary and high schools.
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 really stands out.
Keeping woodwork safe
From woodwork in the early years expert Pete Woodhouse
Some of the most important health and safety guidelines:
• Safety glasses should be worn at all times. With hammering, there is a very small risk that a nail could rebound toward the eye or an item being hammered may shatter. Wearing safety glasses eliminates this risk. If we believe young children are old enough to do woodwork then they are also old enough to learn about looking after and taking responsibility for their bodies with appropriate safety protection.
Goggles (as opposed to safety glasses) are more problematic as children find them uncomfortable and they are distracted by constantly repositioning them and their peripheral vision is also restricted. This results in children having a diminished experience of woodwork and being potentially more likely to injure themselves. Small-sized junior safety glasses are now readily available that fit comfortably on even the smallest of heads.
• Ensure all children are given proper instruction on the correct use of all tools. Draw attention to sharp edges/points of tools. Keep a checklist of who has learnt to use which tool to ensure all children get correct instruction. Remind children woodwork equipment remains in the woodwork area.
• A good sturdy workbench with a vice is essential to hold wood securely for sawing and drilling.
• When hammering into wood children will be using considerably force. They should hold the nail with finger and thumb and use gentle taps to get the nail started- until it is standing up on its own – then importantly hold the wood well away from the nail before hammering hard to get the into the wood. Short, thin nails are a lot easier to hammer in!
• Sawing should be monitored 1:1 – This is particularly to ensure no children are watching from or passing in front of the sawing area. Child sawing with Japanese saw or pull saw to hold the saw with two hands or with European cross-cut saw with one hand – the hand not holding the saw to be well away from the saw and holding the bench. Wood must always be clamped tightly in a vice when being sawn. Staff to ensure wood is clamped tight in vice. After use immediately place saw out of reach (but visible to children).
• Check wood for splinters. Avoid very rough splintery wood. Rough wood can initially be sanded. Sand edges after sawing if rough. Caution: Splinters can be a source of blood poisoning. First aid guidance varies so check your local guidelines – common sense would suggest if the splinter is protruding to remove it. Either way parents should be informed of splinters so the splinter site can be monitored for possible infection.
• Ensure all nails and screws are picked up from the floor afterwards – a large magnet can work a treat for this – and there will be no shortage of volunteers to use it!
Recommended woodwork tools
From early years woodwork expert Pete Moorhouse.
Having the most suitable tools makes a big difference and can reduce risk. The four main woodworking tools are:
The best hammer is a “stubby” ball-pein hammer. They are designed for adults to hammer in awkward places but they could not be more perfect for young children. They are a perfect weight for young children, have short handles so are more controllable and have a large hitting surface making it easier to hammer the nail.
Schools used to use long pin-head hammers which made it much more likely children would miss the nail.
Buy a ball pein hammer from Muddy Faces.
Saws that cut on the pull stroke are so much easier for young children, being more controllable and require less effort. There are many pull saws available these days. I am a huge advocate of Japanese pull saws – these are light, have thin blades and everyone who uses them is taken aback but how easy they are to use. These are used with both hands holding the handle.
Buy a pull saw from Muddy Faces.
The best hand drills are those with enclosed mechanisms as there is no chance fingers can get caught in the exposed cogs. Ensure work is clamped when drilling. Short drill-bits are less likely to snap.
Buy a hand drill from Muddy Faces.
Use a stubby pozidriv screwdriver. Short-handled screwdrivers are easier to control and the Pozidriv “cross” shape means the screwdriver is less likely to slip out from the screw.
Buy a screwdriver from Muddy Faces shop.
In December 2018 Pete shared this excellent pdf of 20 woodworking tips.
And here are Pete’s Top 5 Woodworking Tips!
- Start with balsa wood and then move on to pine
- Short, thin nails are a lot easier to hammer in!
- Glue a sheet of sandpaper to a board for easy sanding
- Collect lots of corks (adult to slice up) – they make great wheels and are soft to hammer into
- Allow children freedom to follow their own interests