Monday, September 10, 2018

Where Has The Carpentry Area Gone?

Harriet O’Sullivan - September 2018

As I spend more and more time in various ECE settings throughout Auckland it strikes me how often ‘the carpentry area’ is missing. The blocks are always there and often there is a table or shelf designated for art resources, although this may be another area for further exploration. I see wonderful Whānau areas and spaces designated for books and reading. However, continuous provision of the carpentry area seems to have been put on the back burner, or perhaps it was never there?

In my work with children I would put trust at the heart of everything that I do. Trust for children to allow them to develop and unfold in their own unique way and be able to lead the way in their own physical and emotional development. This trust evolves as I continue to trust them as learners. Through child-led play opportunities I strive to allow autonomy for the children over their tasks, time, tools and the team that they work with. 

I often find that one of the hardest aspects of learning to truly trust children is first being able to trust ourselves as teachers. Do we trust ourselves to truly let the children take the lead? Yes, we need to spend time connecting and building relationships, we need to be a role-model and use the language of learning to wonder alongside the children that we work with. It is through these everyday aspects of our teaching practice that children are able to build trust in us that, in turn, enables them to fly alone, chose their own course and make their own discoveries. 

In this way, the carpentry area, is one that is filled with trust. Tools and resources are provided for children to use. We need strong relationships with children so that we are able to set up the expectations and boundaries around the use of this area. They trust us to work alongside them during their exploration of the materials and know that we will value their contribution. We, as teachers, are there to model the respect for the tools and the safety precautions that we may need to take as well as ponder, tinker and experiment with the available resources. 

The carpentry area is not about the finished product but about the process. It is learning how to handle the tools, it is about designing and bringing to life something that has been visualised and grown inside our heads. It is about making three-dimensional forms and expressing creativity. It is enabling our children to be able to think about and assess the risks and make a plan to stay safe and approach a project from a different angle. It is about offering countless opportunities for problem solving...’Hmmm is this nail going to fit in this hole? How do I make this wheel move? Is this stick going to be long enough? Which screwdriver fits this screw? Which way does the drill bit turn? Why is this important? If I push harder will the hole get bigger?’ All of these questions and wonderings are encouraging our children’s mathematical and scientific development; their comprehension of length, size, balance and force. They are able to observe, predict and experiment. They are able to tinker with ideas and build a positive view of themselves as a learner; someone who tries hard, takes a chance, gives something new a go, doesn’t give up and plays around with ideas until they reach a satisfactory conclusion. 

Above all it is wonderful to hear the conversations unfolding at the carpentry table. As the children decide and discuss the best course of action. The fabulous examples of the tuakana teina displayed when older children remind, explain and work with the younger ones. 
Collaborating in this way, with each other, on projects in the carpentry area requires intense cooperation. Ideas need to be explained and plans made. All of these interactions are continually developing language skills and when a plan is seen all the way through to completion the sense of pride and achievement is clear from the beaming smiles on the faces before us.

So then, if all of this is true, why are carpentry areas and tables so few and far between? It seems to me, from conversations that I have had with colleagues and teachers, that often it is down to parent perceptions and even teacher perceptions of the space. To this I would say, start talking about it! Take some time to write learning stories about everything that goes on in this area of the curriculum. Start small, have the screwdrivers and screws out, add the hammers and nails a little while later, add the saws after that and keep adding nuts, bolts, hinges, corks, fabric, pegs, buttons, bottle tops, lolly-sticks, stirrers and other loose parts that can be used to add to or decorate the creations and projects.

Be present and help model the expectations of the space but remember to trust the children. They are innately careful and often it is us jumping in and ‘over -rescuing’ them that leads to them not learning to be able to assess and take reasonable risks. It’s amazing what can be achieved when we set the environment both physically and emotionally, the children will know if we trust them or not and the depth of our relationship and connection with them will be reflected in their use of the space. 

Let’s start a revolution and get a carpentry table back into all of our ECE settings. Let’s start with a table and move to an area and soon there will be tinkering sheds galore and the makers, doers and inventors of the future will be inspired to go forth and create. 

‘Logic takes you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere’ 

- Albert Einstein

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