By David Cohen
Have you ever seen a three-year-old using a real saw? It is pretty remarkable, and that is kind of the point. Children are engaged in so many experiences, at home and at school, that are designed for their age group – Legos, puzzles, dramatic play; all excellent. When we observe these types of appropriate play, we provide meaningful feedback and recognition. We are truly happy to see them grow, learn and enjoy. However, seeing a child saw through a board, drill pilot holes and bring their creations to fruition elicits a reaction that is extraordinary. Children are smart. They know the difference between thoughtful reinforcement and genuine amazement.
As you walk into the Temple Sholom Selma Maisel Nursery School STEAM Lab (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), three- and four-year-olds with safety googles will barely notice you. They are too busy and too focused. Did I get the vice tight enough? Is the screw in properly to hold the wheel, but to avoid extra friction? You will hear lots of requests from children, such as different size hinges or mending plates to attach components of their projects. There is never a question of which project belongs to which child, as they are completely unique. This is a wonderland for creativity and skill building.
What about safety, you might ask? Not only have children been totally safe; they have learned how to use self-control and manage risk. We show each child how to use the saw safely (two hands on the handle and don’t touch the teeth) and then we let them go. Nobody is hovering; just monitoring and giving reminders. Even a child who is on the more challenging end of the behavioral spectrum knows that they are being trusted with real tools and that safety is in their hands. This ability to experience calculated risk builds more than a soapbox-style car. It builds self-esteem and cognitive skills. This does not mean that children should have unsupervised access to sharp tools and hammers. The situation requires careful forethought, a respectful adult-child relationship and some concrete rules. Set children up for success and they will not disappoint.
At the end of the day, your child might not become a carpenter or skilled artisan. However, through woodworking, they will have one more tool for life!