Woodworking is one of the skills that has been passed down through generations but sadly, it is a skill that has been lost over the past few decades. Shop classes have disappeared from schools and more and more parents are focusing more on teaching their kids digital skills than hands-on ones.
However, there is a huge amount of value in children learning woodworking skills. In a 2019 article on hundred.org titled The Importance Of Woodwork In Early Childhood Education, a long list of benefits is given including the development of strength and eye-hand coordination, the increased use of imagination and problem solving skills, a healthy and controlled exposure to risk and challenges which help them learn how to make decisions and judgments to protect themselves, and a positive impact on the child's self-esteem and confidence. This is a rare combination of skill development that isn't easily found in other activities.
Despite the many benefits of woodworking, many parents are still concerned about the safety aspects of it. Rest assured that woodworking is actually a relatively low-risk activity once safety precautions are followed.
So how do you keep your kids safe when woodworking?
Be a good role model.
When you are working with any tools that could potentially be dangerous, make sure that your kids see you following all safety precautions. This will reinforce the safety measures that everyone should be following and keep the work environment safer for everyone.
Always wear safety goggles.
Make that they are the correct size and will not fall off or slide down while the child is working. This will ensure that your child’s eyes are protected from dust and splinters of wood. Also, as mentioned, make sure that you are also wearing safety goggles correctly.
Be patient and do not rush.
As with most things, mistakes generally happen when people are rushing. Woodworking projects can take a long time and this is perfectly ok. Although it is great to see the finished project, the actual steps along the way are where kids learn the most.
Create a clean and organized workspace.
This can help cut down on missteps and distractions that could cause the child to lose focus on the task at hand. This will also keep tools safely out of reach until the child is ready to use them.
Know your child’s competencies
As with most things, it is impossible in woodworking to say exactly what a child should be doing by a particular age. You know your child best and it is important to consider not only the child's age but also their coordination, strength, decision making skills, and overall aversion to risk. You need to be confident that your child can make responsible choices when working with tools and only once you have seen them gain competence and confidence, should you begin introducing additional tools to them.
Use real tools.
Although it may seem wise to start off with plastic tools for young children, they do not teach kids how to properly use a tool. When they switch over to the real ones, they may be more likely to make mistakes.
It could also cause them to feel frustrated or discouraged either because the tools don't work correctly or they feel like the are being "babied" (and we all know that that doesn't usually end very well). This can then disrupt the learning process before the most important steps can take place.
To start teaching kids woodworking skills safely, make sure to have the following tools available.
Clamps can be one of the most important tools for maintaining a safe work environment so it is important to become familiar with different types of clamps and learn how to use them. The “C” clamp is a common basic clamp that helps you free up both of your hands so that you can remain focused. This is a must for any woodworking tool kit.
Sandpaper is one of the best tools that you can use to introduce children to woodworking and is completely safe to use. Children tend to be extremely engaged while sanding different scraps of wood and they are able to immediately see the fruits of their labor. To help kids get started, wrap a piece of sandpaper around a block of wood. This will help kids get a better grip on the sandpaper but be sure that the block of wood is the appropriate size for their hands. Next, clamp down the wood that they will be sanding so that they remain focused on the sanding movement itself.
Child-sized hammers are the perfect way to start teaching kids on how a hammer and nails can be used to hold things together. Make sure that you explain the different parts of the hammer and demonstrate how to use it and then let them practice on pieces of soft scrap wood. To make sure that little thumbs don’t get hit, use a clothespin to hold the nail at the base. By holding the clothespin rather than the nail, you keep fingers out of harm’s way and kids can start practicing independently.
As kids begin to master using hammers, sandpaper, and clamps, you can add screwdrivers, drills, and saws into their toolbox. Screwdrivers can be a little tough for kids to get the hang of so make sure that they keep practicing and don’t get frustrated. If they still struggle, try using a piece of stiff Styrofoam. This is easier to push into and there is less chance of a screw going sideways. Drills and saws must be used with close supervision and be extremely careful to only allow kids access to these tools when you know that they have the strength, dexterity, and maturity to handle them.
Woodworking is an extremely useful activity for enhancing development in children and as you can see, with a few safety precautions, it is easy to get them started. For more resources on woodworking, check out this amazing resource on Woodworking Safety for Children where you can find a compilation of great articles.
If you would like to help your child build a strong foundation of the necessary skills needed for woodworking, why not try one of our hands-on summer camps? Here, children will "learn by making" and by the end of camp, they will be able to use basic woodworking tools responsibly.
Join The Handwork Studio Summer Camp to Learn Woodworking.
The Handwork Studio, a fun, summer enrichment camp where kids learn by making. Since 2001, we've been the leading educators in teaching kids hands-on skills that you won't find in your school curriculum. Whether your child is interested in building, sewing, coding or design, we provide engaging activities for kids to embrace their imagination and think like innovators. Click below to find a summer camp location near you.