Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Putting "Dangerous Tools" In The Hands Of 2-Year-Olds

I promised that part of our summer program experiment was to put our "dangerous tools" (e.g., tools that are dangerous if misused like hammers, saws, drills and glue guns) into the hands of 2-year-olds.

With even the youngest kids having so far handled hot glue guns successfully, we stepped right up to hammers and nails and got to work on an oversized geoboard, or what the kids inevitably call a "rubber band board." I drew the grid myself in pencil and the idea was to sink your nail into one of the intersection points. We clamped it to the table and we were good to go.

This, like all "dangerous tool" projects is one that requires the undivided attention of at least one adult. In this case Jack's dad Karl was our point person making sure that each kid started by donning eye protection, selecting a hammer . . .

. . . choosing an intersection target, hammering, then returning the hammer to its proper place. This process alone was challenging for the youngest kids, but it's the safety procedure we've devised to ensure that things don't get chaotic and therefore hazardous, as would tend to happen with a work bench littered with hammers and potentially 26 kids swinging away willy nilly.

It was fantastic to see how many of the children were able to not only start their own nails, but also stop hammering before driving the point through the other side of the wood. I saw a few thumbs get it, but didn't hear any tears, just as there were no tears when at least a dozen children burned themselves on the glue guns. Children who might weep uncontrollably at a pin prick, don't seem to even notice minor pains when engaged in activities they really want to to and that demand their full concentration.

Honestly, Karl had to finish off most of the nails for the 2-year-olds, and even some of the the younger 3's, but I think each of them walked away feeling successful. And in the interest of full disclosure, Karl also drove the two lines of nails you see on the right side of the photo. After observing the children struggling, he determined that the board was slightly warped, leaving that edge of it out of contact with the work bench. This caused it to rebound too much of the hammer's energy back into the hammer rather than into the nail, making it that much more difficult to drive it into the wood. 

Still, we successfully drove about 40 nails in one session, which is a good start. It's amazing what children -- even very young ones -- can do if we simply hold them to be competent.

That said, I don't know how a project like this would be possible in a full classroom without our ability to dedicate an adult to it. In fact, for much of the time, Matty's mom Karen was working the station as well, managing our safety procedure, while Karl focused on driving nails. I do love teaching in a cooperative.

Bookmark and Share


Scott said...

Very impressive! It's great that the children can increase their competence, especially on "dangerous" things.

Juliet Robertson said...

Hi Tom

One of the reasons I recommend your blog to preschool staff is not just because of your outdoor work but because you have such as positive and proactive approach to risk and giving children meaningful activities that involve real tools and equipment. This posting says it all.

Isn't it time we started looking out for a blogging award to give you? Come on everyone. I think Tom deserves a medal here for this blog.

Ariella said...

If only all teachers were as inspired and innovative as you!

jenny said...

Tom, you are my inspiration in this whole tool / tinkering / woodwork arena. Last night we had a visioning session for our preschool and I took along ideas for a permanent tinkering area, along with photos of your lovely tool storage shed to share. This is something I definately want to see happening before the end of the year. We may not be able to do it quite in the same way because we won't always have the supervision and support from all those extra hands and eyes you have at Woodland Park, but it will be there in some shape or form and all inspired by Teacher Tom and his tribe.

Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings said...

I vividly remember using hammers in preschool. They had big stumps for hammering into, ideally old ones with cracks in them. The cracks were perfect for sticking nails in and holding them steady while we hammered (also, maybe thick bark helps with this?). Pretty sure we were able to work two kids at a time (though maybe one kid per stump?) and there was a pegboard where you hung the hammers and safety goggles.

I keep meaning to do this with my own kids! I think my 4 year old could do it pretty well, with practice. My two year olds.... well....they would definitely need some supervision. Ha!

Gwynneth Beasley said...

I love your observation that kids rarely weep when they get hurt doing something they want to do. I notice that with my kids all the time!

pamela Wallberg said...

So. I've been bogged down in graduation - year end - madness, but did have time to meet with a brilliant ECE legend, Sue Fraser. Her preschool, in the 70's? Took apart an entire mini cooper.
I've been wondering - how dangerous is it to have a car to take apart? It would be the coolest thing - ever.