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The wonders of woodwork in early learning

The experiential nature of woodwork involves the ‘whole’ child developing core dispositions and especially nurturing wellbeing, self-confidence, and a sense of agency – that ‘can-do’ spirit that develops as ideas are put into action. (Moorhouse 2021:3)

These are exciting times. In recent years there has been a surge of interest in woodworking in early childhood education around the world. In some cases this will be settings starting from scratch, in others, it’s a case of dusting down the workbench and digging out the tools after many years of neglect.

This is very welcome as the benefits of woodwork for children’s learning and development run deep across all areas of learning. Teachers who provide woodwork regularly observe exceptional levels of sustained engagement, with deep focus, concentration and perseverance with challenging tasks – especially with complex problem solving. It is not unusual for children to spend all morning at the woodwork bench. Woodwork really engages hands, minds and hearts.

The rise in the popularity of woodwork is not surprising given the levels of children’s enjoyment and the fact that it provides such a profound learning experience. The renewed interest is fuelled by several factors. In part it is a reaction to children’s digital immersion, where children have often learnt to swipe before they can walk, so woodwork offers an antidote by providing rich experiential hands on learning. We are also seeing a resurgence of ‘making’ in society with renewed interest in craft and upcycling, perhaps a reaction to our highly commercialised world. Also with an ever increasing focus on sustainability, woodwork gives children experience of working with a natural material, as well as reusing and repurposing materials. The experience of making and repairing, counters the prevalent culture of consuming and disposing. In addition the creative and critical thinking skills developed will be increasingly invaluable to seek solutions to the challenges we face. Froebel valued experiential play and learning through connection with natural materials and nature, which he saw as both being nurturing for the soul and essential for development.

Perhaps the biggest factor though, has been the shifting attitudes moving away from risk aversion.  Following from Lord Young’s review of Health and Safety 2010: Common Sense Common Safety, and subsequent positive guidance from the Health and Safety Executive, education departments and inspectorates have felt emboldened to take a more balanced attitude towards risk.

There is something really special about woodwork. It is so different from other activities. The smell and feel of wood, using real tools, working with a natural material, the sounds of hammering and sawing, hands and minds working together to express their imagination and to solve problems, the use of strength and coordination: all go together to captivate young children’s interest. The ‘occupation’ of woodwork encompasses core Froebelian principles embracing the holistic nature of the development of children. For Froebel, play and creativity are central integrating elements.

We observe children working with their hands, tinkering, constructing models, and working on projects, but in fact the real transformation is inside the child – personal development is at the heart of woodwork.

Woodwork is a powerful medium for building self-esteem and confidence. Children feel empowered and valued by being trusted as they take responsibility to work with real tools. They accomplish tasks that they initially perceive to be difficult and problem-solve to resolve challenging tasks. They show great satisfaction in their mastery of new skills and take immense pride in their creations. This sense of empowerment and achievement provides a visible boost to self-esteem and self-confidence. Children have a natural desire to construct and build. This imparts a ‘can-do’ attitude and imbues children with a strong sense of agency – a belief that they can shape their world.

When we analyse a woodworking session it is extraordinary to see just how much learning is involved. It is truly holistic, encompassing all areas of learning and development and inviting connections between different aspects of learning. In this sense woodwork really can be central to curriculum. It incorporates mathematical thinking, scientific investigation, developing knowledge of technology, a deepening understanding of the world, as well as physical development and coordination, communication and language, and personal and social development. This is evidenced by research from ‘The Big Bang Research Project’ The interim research findings are now available:

Woodwork provides another media through which children can express themselves. Creative and critical thinking skills are central both in terms of imagination and problem-solving as children make choices, find solutions, learn through trial and error and reflect on their work. The Froebelian forms of life, beauty and knowledge are all interwoven, as they apply previous experiences and their emerging knowledge of tools to create new forms.

Children are particularly drawn in as they explore possibilities, rise to challenges and find solutions. Woodwork is really unrivalled in terms of providing children with problem solving opportunities and challenge. With woodwork children can develop their learning at their own pace and find their own challenges. Once they have mastered basic skills, they move into open-ended exploration – initially tinkering, exploring possibilities and then starting to make unique creations.

Woodwork is a popular activity and incorporates so much learning. It would be wonderful for all children to have this opportunity to flourish at the woodwork bench.


Pete Moorhouse is an early childhood creative consultant, trainer, author and researcher. He is a Froebel Trust endorsed Froebel Travelling Tutor and member of the Froebel Network.

CPD woodwork training is available throughout the UK and Pete is now offering an in-depth online woodwork course – a set of 8 pre-recorded videos and a set of 18 handout proving you with all the information you need to get started:

Pete’s book ‘Learning Through Woodwork: Creative woodwork in the Early Years – Routledge 2018 – goes into considerable depth and makes for a wonderful reference resource for school and nurseries:

Pete can be contacted through his website:

Woodwork photo by Clem Onojeghuo from Pexels