Woodworking and 3-year-olds typically aren't two concepts that go together. Although adults should not expect, or allow, a young child to use sharp or dangerous tools, there are many different activities that preschoolers can do with wood. Woodworking projects for little ones should be simple and safe, yet challenge the child to develop new cognitive and fine motor skills.
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Before introducing woodworking to your 3-year-old, or a classroom full of preschoolers, it is best to familiarise the children with the tools. If you are teaching a large group of children, divide them into groups for easy instruction. Show basic, child-size and safe tools one at a time and provide the kids with the appropriate tool name. Find a variety of photos, or a non-fiction book, that depicts real woodworking situations. Ask the children to describe what they see in the pictures, including tools, safety procedures and clothing, and woodworking products. Provide a list of easy-to-follow safety rules (such as no hitting friends with the tools) and give each child enough time to adequately handle and explore each item with your direct supervision.
Many commercial retailers sell pint-sized woodworking kits online and in stores. Although many of these kits are age-graded for an elementary schoolchild or older, some are appropriate for a 3-year-old. Before buying a kit, carefully check the manufacturer's age guidelines. If the kit does not say it is safe for a 3-year-old, do not use it. Many kits for young children will include a variety of different wood shapes that can be built together to form a small box, train, bird house, or other simple item. While some do have a child-sized hammer and nails, kits for the very young typically have a non-toxic glue as a primary adhesive. Look for kits that are both child-safe and allow for exploration. Instead of requiring the child to build a specific form, encourage experimentation with the wood products or blocks.
Decorative Wood Projects
If you are looking for a woodworking project that results in a special gift for a holiday or family member, try a simple decorative project. Provide the child or children with a basic wooden box or holder and small, thin wooden shapes. Invite the children to attach the wooden shapes to the box with a clear-drying, non-toxic glue. Add a layer of tempera or finger paint for a more finished look.
Safety and Woodworking Projects
Safety should be key when doing any activity with children. Before planning your woodworking lesson or craft, think about the specific child or children's developmental level in relation to their age. Not all 3-year-olds are capable of completing the same tasks. Some 3-year-olds may listen well and follow rules, while others may have little to no ability to do this. Adjust any plan, or even pre-made kits, for the child's developmental level. After you have done this, provide the children with an easily understandable list of rules. It may be helpful to have the children repeat the rules back to you. While woodworking, only use non-toxic items, child-sized tools, and never use any product that does not specifically say it is made for the child's age. Additionally, all children should be supervised by a responsible adult at all times. If the children refuse to use tools or even the wood itself in an appropriate, safe manner, end the lesson immediately.
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