I recently had the privilege of observing two children playing at the carpentry table. The two boys (around the age of three and four) had been working side by side, when one of the boys wandered over to where a piece of wood had been fixed onto a small bench with a vice. He started to saw the wood but was battling because the bench was wobbling. His friend who was still at the carpentry table seeing his struggle went over and sat down on the bench to steady it.
Not many words were exchanged between the two but the manaakitanga between them was so touching to observe, that it made an instant impression on me. When the boy with the saw tired of his efforts, his friend swapped roles with him, having a turn to saw the wood while the other boy steadied the bench. They worked together like this for some time reversing roles and sharing the workload with each other, until they got distracted by another friend and ran off to play robots.
Unpacking the learning
As the observer I was really touched by this powerful learning experience. I could have so easily intervened, and the magic would have been lost.
In unpacking some of this learning I have interwoven some of the principles, strands and goals of Te Whāriki , MoE 2017 as well as dispositions for learning. I have also made links to Te Ao Māori learning concepts found in Te Whatu Pōkeka, MoE 2009 and Tataiako, MoE 2017.
Firstly, these two children did not need my help at all. They did not need to me to mitigate risk, to extend their play nor to provide a mediator for social competence.
It was all part of Ngā āhuatanga o te tamaiti – their way of being (I contribute my own ideas and participate, I can take responsibility for myself, people and things.)
They were empowered, capable, confident and the experts in the moment, learning how children learn best through play. This was such rich learning which encompassed many learning dispositions and holistic learning.
In an empowering environment, children have an agency to create and act on their own ideas, develop knowledge and skills in areas that interest them and, increasingly, to make decisions and judgements on matters that relate to them. (Te Whāriki, MoE 2017)
I was immediately struck by the confidence and the mana with which the children approached the experience. They had a plan that they knew how they were going to implement .
The kindergarten that I was working at has a philosophy based in a strong sense of Whakamana (seeing children as competent and able.) Kaiako encourage tamariki to take calculated risks and the children are trusted in their own abilities to use the carpentry tools safely. The boys returned the trust shown by the teachers in their abilities, by making responsible choices and managing themselves. This is a wonderful example of Tangata Mauri (knowing the rules of the kindergarten and being trusted to make decisions.) This also links strongly to the well-being and belonging strands of Te Whāriki . (Well-being goal 3 – keeping themselves and others safe from harm and Belonging goal 4 – knowing the limits and boundaries of acceptable behaviour.)
There was a lot of turn taking, give and take. and both children shared responsibility for helping and taking care of each other. The kindness they showed each other and camaraderie of accomplishing a shared tasks helps to forge a friendship and fostered a feeling of connectedness and belonging. This is at its core, Ako (I am confident to share my ideas with and learn from others.) This also links to the contribution strand of Te Whāriki – (Contribution goal 3 -Children are encouraged to learn and work alongside others.)
During this process the children where developing working theories about the physical and material world and problem-solving skills. As well as experiencing ways to become confident with their bodies and developing their fine and gross motor skills (Exploration goals 2,3,4). This experience helped to develop persistence, perseverance and resilience which relates to Hinengaro – (I think and know, I can think in abstract ways) and Taha Tinana – (I challenge myself physically.)
Getting past the barriers
I know for some teachers and parents the carpentry table is a bit of a pain point. Parents feel wary around the risk of allowing young children to play with real tools such as hammers, nails, saws and drills. Teachers sometimes struggle with articulating how the benefits outweigh the risks to parents.
It is often a bone of contention for teachers, because someone must supervise the carpentry and the outdoor area. It can become a power struggle of reinforcing safety “rules” and asking children to “bring that back to the carpentry table”.
Often, we are unsure of carpentry ourselves as it is not something that we grew up with or were encouraged to play with as a child. There can be different cultural barriers for teachers and whanau. It is often an area of the curriculum that we dump in the “too hard” basket.
However, as you can see, this one experience of carpentry encompasses so many strands of the Early Childhood Curriculum. In fact, if loose parts play is defined as “materials that can be moved, redesigned, put together and taken apart in a variety of ways” then carpentry is loose parts play at its core. It is the very essence of a holistic learning experience.
Because children develop holistically, they need a broad and rich curriculum that enables them to grow their capabilities across all dimensions…A holistic approach sees the child as a person who wants to learn, the task as a meaningful whole greater than the sum of its parts. Te Whāriki, MoE 2017.
How can we improve the carpentry experience we offer at our ECE settings?
Some of the ways that you can improve the carpentry experience for the tamariki in your place are:
- Get comfortable and excited about carpentry yourself. Research carpentry PD in your community, attend a free workshop at your local hardware store, watch Youtube videos. Building stuff with your hands is fun! Your attitude to the experience is key.
- Create ground rules with your tamariki, get them to come up with responsible choices at the carpentry table. Use mat times and group times to go over this with everyone. Get buy-in from the children, if they help to make the rules they will be your allies in reminding each other about making good choices.
- Review your carpentry area, do you have a range of quality, child sized tools in good working order? You don’t need to get everything right now, make a list prioritise and get a few things each month.
- Have a variety of untreated pieces of wood in different shapes and sizes available for tamariki to use creatively.
- Provide a wide range of loose parts and “junk items” to fuel the imagination, invention, allow open ended play and problem solving.
- Provide occupational, safety gear in your carpentry area. Hardhats, gloves, safety goggles, ear-muffs and high-viz vests are great for provoking creative play as well as discussions about how to keep ourselves safe and making responsible choices.
- Don’t forget, carpentry is a great way to provide meaningful literacy and numeracy opportunities through play. Stock your carpentry area with tape measures, builder’s pencils, clipboards, paper, blueprints, plans and books on architecture, building and engineering.
The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experience – Loris Malaguzzi
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