Woodwork: Exercising the imagination

One of the silver linings emerging as we have been adjusting to many months of pandemic restrictions is that so much training has been made available digitally, becoming more accessible and cheaper than ever before.  But as Kathy Brodie counsels in this month’s Nursery World, “The online marketplace [for training] has exploded.. which is fantastic for practitioners” But “… you need to check out their website, books that they have written or other things they have done, to ensure they know their stuff.”

I am excited to share the news that Pete Moorhouse – who definitely knows his stuff about creative practice and woodwork – has risen to this challenge and managed to put his very practical training into an online form.  Introducing Woodwork in Early Childhood Education both extends Pete’s reach as a trainer and forms an excellent introduction to the magical world of working with wood for young children – in nursery gardens and further afield in woodland settings.

Pete Moorhouse is an early years creative consultant and artist educator.  Pete is the UK’s leading authority on woodwork in Early Years education and has written several books and journal articles, including Learning Through Woodwork (2018 Routledge).  He is currently working on his latest book – Creativity in Practice: Nurturing creative and critical thinking in early childhood education.  Pete won the national award (2019) from the Creative Learning Guild for his work promoting creativity in education, and he also authored Community Playthings’ two booklets on Learning Outdoors and Outdoor Environments.

Pete’s CPD woodwork training is normally available throughout the UK (when restrictions allow), but he is now also offering an in-depth online woodwork course – a set of 8 pre-recorded videos and a set of 14 handouts proving you with all the information you need to get started:  https://irresistible-learning.co.uk/woodwork-cpd-online-course/

In this post, Pete introduces this new online training by exploring the immense, all-round value of woodwork for young children.  I think you’ll agree that his photos of young children at work with wood say great deal about how motivating and absorbing these richly meaningful and satisfying experiences can be: woodwork works!

Pete also researches young children’s interactions with woodwork.  If you are already doing woodwork – please contribute the The Big Bang Research Project researching the impact of woodwork on young children’s learning and development.  Follow this link to complete the online research survey:  https://irresistible-learning.co.uk/woodwork/the-big-bang-research-project/. Your contribution would be very much appreciated.

Woodwork: Exercising the imagination  Creative woodwork in early childhood by Pete Moorhouse

There is something really special about working with wood.  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 imagination and to solve problems, the use of strength and coordination: all go together to captivate young children’s interest.

Creative and critical thinking skills are central both in terms of self-expression and problem-solving – as children make choices, find solutions, learn through trial and error and reflect on work.  Children develop learning at their own pace; once they have mastered basic skills, they start to explore possibilities and express their imagination.  Woodwork provides a rich multi-layered experience with many opportunities to build on previous learning, and the knowledge and skills gained can resonate throughout life.

Wood is part of our shared cultural heritage.  All cultures have a long tradition of working with wood: fires for cooking, wooden utensils and implements, fencing, furniture, boats, building houses as well as carving and sculptural work.  We have evolved through working with our hands and young children certainly thrive on exploring the world around them by being hands-on.  Hands, minds and hearts working together.

Children can experience working with wood both within a woodland setting and within nursery or school environments.  The rise of forest school in recent years has allowed many more children to have the experience of working with tools and increasingly we are seeing more and more settings establish a woodworking area within their setting.  Both experiences can complement each other, offering similar but different possibilities.

Working with found wood in the forest lends itself to a variety of possibilities.  Carving, whittling and peeling are different ways in which wood can be manipulated and transformed and this can be highly engaging for early years children and can be used in a more creative open ended manner.  Fixed blade knives, butter knifes and potato peelers can be used with the correct introduction and supervision so that children can use them correctly and independently.  There a several other tools that are appropriate for young children to use safely and independently, such as drills, auger, brace and bit, hammers, rasps and pull saws.

It is easy feel a little apprehensive about young children using tools, but with staff training and providing clear instructions, having clear safety measures in place reduces risk.  I remember observing a group of 3 and 4 year olds in Denmark confidently whittling away with sharp knives, deeply engaged and all very mindful of the safety measures that they needed to adhere to.  Clearly they all had had a very thorough introduction and initial support before working more independently.

Back in the nursery or school, a woodwork area can provide a wonderful way to extend work with tools.  Having a workbench with a vice increases the options and we can incorporate a greater variety of tools which children can then work with more independently.  Children can work with recycled wood, an assortment of other materials – such as corks, beads, string, fabric – as well as combining found wood such a sticks, bark, drift wood and so on.

The benefits of working with tools for children’s learning and development run deep across all areas of learning.  Practitioners regularly observe exceptional levels of sustained engagement, with deep focus, concentration and perseverance with challenging tasks – especially with complex problem solving. It is not unusual for young children to spend all morning at the woodwork bench.

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 medium for building self-esteem and confidence.  This is for a combination of reasons.  Children feel empowered and valued by being trusted as they take responsibility to work with real tools.  They accomplish tasks that they initially perceive to be difficult and problem-solve to resolve challenging tasks.  They show great 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.  This imparts a ‘can-do’ attitude and imbues children with a strong sense of agency – a belief they can shape their world.

When we analyse a woodworking session it is extraordinary to see just how much learning is involved.  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 medium through which children can express themselves.  Creative and critical thinking skills are central both in terms of imagination and logical reasoning 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.  I know no other activity that promotes creativity and critical thinking in quite the same way that woodwork does and I believe this is really at the heart of woodwork’s appeal and success.

With woodwork children can develop their learning at their own pace and find their own challenges.  Once they have mastered basic skills, they move into open-ended exploration – tinkering, exploring possibilities and then start making unique creations.  Their imagination, creative thinking and problem-solving skills really flourish as they meet and conquer new challenges.

Woodwork is one of the most popular activities and incorporates so much learning both in the woods and at the workbench. Let’s provide all children with this valuable opportunity

Pete’s book Learning Through Woodwork: Creative woodwork in the Early Years (Routledge 2018) goes into considerable depth and makes for an in-depth resource for any school.  Remember, you can get the book at a permanent 20% off and postage free from ECO collaborator Richard at Books Education, using the simple ordering method described in our previous blog here.  This coming week, Pete’s book will also be on offer directly on the Books Education website as their Book Of The Week – at 20% discount on the retail price.

Pete can be contacted through his websitehttps://irresistible-learning.co.uk

All photographs are copyright Pete Moorhouse and must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.


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