Blog James Lochhead My ECE website© 2016

Once upon a time in a Kindy far far away, well First steps Waiuku early childhood centre, there was an issue with woodwork back in 2014.

The main issue was although we had a work bench and tools, these were all under loved.

The hammers had seen better days, the saws were rusty, the screwdrivers were AWOL, the vices and the drills were all broken. The work bench had been used as a piece of wood and had way too many nails hammered into it over the years (quite a few of these poked out of the bottom).

The response back in 2014 was to fix the table by fitting a new top and (what we thought was a good idea) adding a galvanised 1mm steel sheet to the top.  (I will get back to why this didn’t work later.)

We looked at buying the tools from educational suppliers, but found in a local hardware store they were a lot cheaper and a certain brand carried a lifetime warranty. So we re-stocked the tool bag and found a local supplier of un-treated wood off-cuts. We also fixed the small vices we had as the clips had been broken by children using a hammer to tighten the vice.

Then we noticed a problem with the boys using saws. Once they got good at sawing they would use their entire body weight to drive the saw forward. This meant if they slipped or they cut through the wood, the saw would continue as the child’s weight would drive the saw across the table and past the other side. Our solution to this was to make a second work bench for sawing with a back on it, so if the saw continued moving forward the back would stop the saw.  

For more tips, click here to go to an article on setting up woodwork for children

Fast forward to March 2016, despite our extensive review back in 2014, woodwork had become forgotten and the tools un-loved again. This was not because of the teachers not liking woodwork, it was environmental. Our issue was containing nails, the only concrete area we had was next to the sandpit. This meant nails were ending up in the sandpit on a regular basis, causing a safety issue. So, the woodwork bench had been moved to a grass area, which again was unsuitable as the nails were difficult to pick up. Also both these areas were exposed to the elements and being Auckland, that means very wet and humid conditions.

As a team we brainstormed making a decking area or concrete area and this was talked about at great length. Our favourite idea was building a mini workshop, the ideas were debated at length. Then I noticed we had a playhouse which had been donated some time back, the playhouse wasn’t really working for us and the children. So as a team we decided to extensively modify it. We made the door bigger, extended the roof, added a large perspex window to the end and left a large opening on the side for observation and intervention should we require it.

The two work benches we already had fitted perfectly – one went by the door and one at the other end with a nice big space between them.

The design is a balance of vision and quick access versus keeping inside like a workshop and the rain out as much as possible.

Blog James Lochead myece websiteBlog James Lochead MyECE website

It was then decided to paint the surfaces of the building so the children could identify work benches, as work benches and not drill and hammer the workshop building.

Introducing tools to the area was done slowly and one type of tool at a time.

We started with just getting two hammers out and a limited amount of nails, then replenishing the nails as they ran out.  Gradually we left more and more nails out and added another 2 hammers. This process took about a week and a half.

We then removed the hammers and added 2 saws. The saws were a lot more challenging than the hammers, as they were used to hit the wood not saw. We kept reminding children that saws aren’t for hitting/ banging and after two weeks this hardly ever happened.

At this point in time we put the hammers back so there was a choice of tools. Our children were so responsible that we decided to add two drills whilst the other tools were still there.

Two months since the workshop took shape, the tools are out all of the time, and the children are using them safely and expertly. 


There are a few interesting quirks I have noticed

Blog James Lochead My ECE websiteBlog James Lochead My ECE website1. Girls visit the workshop the same number of times as boys but stay for almost twice as long.

2. The workshop has been in almost constant use for several months and we have had just one argument between children inside it.  There have been a couple of whacked thumbs with the hammer but these have been self-inflicted. This tells me that having woodwork out isn’t as dangerous as some early childhood professionals argue it is. With the introduction in April of the 2016 Health and Safety at Work Act, I fear some early childhood service owners and teachers might over-react and restrict children’s free access to woodwork. But, the Act isn’t designed to stop activities with a predictable amount of risk. The fear of woodwork by teachers is very real and is normally articulated as “A might get hit in the head with a hammer by B.” Whilst this is true, A might hit B with a wooden building block or a spade but these tools are still out every day. 

3. The steel topped workbench, didn’t work because the steel was not thick enough to stop nails being hammered through it.



Since writing this article I have discovered and learnt that: 

  1. It's pointless to worry about how it looks, the children have glue and paint now.
  2. Nails are a constant house-keeping issue.
  3. WD40 stops the tools rusting with a quick spray once a week.
  4. Never leave a little gap between the fence and workshop as tools get posted down it.