View Full Version : Woodworking with Kids

Aaron Koehl
02-27-2008, 12:32 PM
Woodworking with Kids
Article by Jack McKee (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/member.php?u=30813)

Jack Explores the excitement and some of the challenges he faced when
introducing children to woodworking.


The excitement and interest of my own kids about using tools, about building, and about woodworking taught me how competent kids could be and inspired me to do volunteer woodworking at my sonsí school. My plan was for the children to arrive with an idea of something to build and I would help them build it. From woodworking with my own kids I knew enough to collect a workbench, kid-sized tools, and some scrap wood.

Not suprisingly it was a bit more complicated. Six kids arrived. Two had some idea about what to build and I was able to help them get started, even though I had to demonstrate a tool or help with a design problem. Some didnít know where to begin and I didnít know how to get them started. I tried to create, with words, an image of a project that would capture their interest. I asked, "Would you like to build a boat, (candle holder, key ring)?" The answer came back something like, "maybe" or "let me think about it." Other kids had an idea about what to build but no clue how to begin, so I had to figure out construction details off the top of my head and communicate those details to the child in a way they could understand. No one got hurt. I didnít get mad or upset and make anyone hate woodworking, but the class was confusing for the kids and hectic for me. And not much was built. I went home to evaluate.

I had expected too much. Perhaps I made unconscious and unfair comparisons with my own children who had been around tools since birth. I had assumed kids could use a vice. They couldnít. I assumed they knew enough to keep their fingers away from the saw teeth. They didnít. Later I asked and none of the kids had ever used any tools before. How could they be expected to know what to do?

I needed to review the way I used tools to see if I could break down actions that I did automatically into steps kids could understand. I started with a safety demonstration: how to carry the saw, how to put a piece of wood in the vice, and how to use a saw. This was a step in the right direction and gave kids enough background to begin using tools without getting hurt. I became intrigued by the details of how to use tools at a beginning level. Over time, I refined this introductory demonstration and developed short lessons for each tool.

I was also expecting children who had never picked up a tool to be able to figure out what they wanted to make when the whole idea of making something was foreign. I decided to take a boat and a candle holder my son had built to the second class to see if this would help the children visualize a project. When I showed the boat and candle holder, the kids reacted with excitement and enthusiasm. Everyone wanted to build both a boat and a candleholder. The class was still hectic, but it was amazing to me that a few tool lessons and a couple of projects could change the class tone from hectic and lost to interested and excited. Everyone went home with a project. The kidsí enthusiasm was contagious and I went home and thought up more projects.

I had so much fun I approached the local Park Department with the idea of a summer shop class for children. Even though I didnít have much teaching experience, they were enthusiastic. I, however, was more than a little unsure about how things would go. Could I duplicate the playful atmosphere that prevailed at home with my own boys? Would other kids respond? Could I keep them from hurting themselves? Would they be interested in the projects I had created?

I need not have worried. That first year, half of the projects I developed were too complicated, but the other half worked surprisingly well. Other children responded much like my own. They appreciated real tools and engaging projects. They worked hard to be safe. The kids got a taste of the magic of building and I got a taste of the magic of kids.

It was the most meaningful, fun, and interesting woodworking Iíd ever done.

Greg Muller
03-03-2008, 11:24 AM
Great article and thanks for the post Aaron!

I have been wondering how to get my kids involved once they are of age. I have a 5 year old boy and a 2 year old girl.

I recently had the chance to introduce my son, Aaron, to it through building a pinecar derby vehicle. I gave him a hour long tool intro and safety class first (handtools only), then we started shaping the block. He had a blast with planing, but was bored with sanding. Aaron enjoyed the painting part and ended up with a very odd creation, but was very proud of it. I didn't even touch the block other than securing it in the vise at different stages. He won 3rd place out of 12 in his age group and was thrilled! I gotta admit, I am very proud of him!

I think my daughter will start with a bird house and eventually grad to a doll house. I need a book that will provide me with more ideas.

Perhaps I'll give free lessons to the neighbor kids soon. I really love passing some of this on.


Zahid Naqvi
03-03-2008, 10:17 PM
Great article Jack, I've been meaning to get my kids started with woodworking, this gives me many ideas.