How can woodwork experiences add depth to learning?

Project author:

Project summary:

An observational study of children in early years exploring woodwork, looking at adding depth to learning. Particularly looking at measurement.

Introduction

The rational for the project was:

  • To add depth to learning in Numeracy and Mathematics
  • To encourage practitioners to embrace woodwork and see the worth of having the area introduced and embedded into the Early Years setting.

Self-evaluation and quality assurance showed that depth was not consistently added to learning. Staff noticed depth in mathematics was an area that was not observed as frequently. Staff completed Woodwork training within the previous school year, however, lacked confidence in providing this experience for the children. Providing opportunities for staff to witness the value of a woodwork area which in turn would encourage, boost confidence, and enthuse staff as well as offer new first-hand experience for the children to add depth to their learning, especially in maths.

Context

Having undertaken the Froebel in Childhood Practice Course in 2019, the setting has been extending opportunities in first hand experiences in areas such as clay, cooking, outdoor experiences. Staff participated in online woodwork training with Pete Moorhouse and have been building up the resources to offer woodwork experiences to the children.

Even though we have a small staff, only one of the practitioners had the Froebelian training and although there had been discussions with other members of staff it had not been really taken on board by all members of staff. Developing practitioner confidence and skills in using woodwork was essential to ensure it was seen as a valued part of the nursery experiences. Practitioners were mostly concerned about the level of risk and just another thing to implement into Nursery life without any actual time to do it. At this point there was a real reluctance, but it was in our plan, so it was time to take Froebel’s advice and learn by doing.

“To learn a thing in life and through doing is much more developing, cultivating and strengthening than to learn it merely through the verbal communication of ideas.” (Froebel, 1826)

Methodology

The project started when we attended the Froebel in childhood practice course. It helped practitioners explore their own pedagogy and recognise Froebel’s principles in practice today. As we are a small setting, all children were fully involved and permission for children to take part was gathered from all families.
Following the training, we invested in equipment to set up a woodwork area. The area was set up and introduced in small groups. Our setting already records learning through learning stories and small notes (short anecdotal observations) so it seemed practical to carry on with these methods known to us. Practitioners were encouraged to observe as they normally would. Practitioners were also asked to reflect on their feelings towards woodwork in the room through discussions at planning and self-evaluation time.

Parents were not interviewed as such, but information was shared via their child’s learning stories and notes. There was also time to share work with parents and get feedback at pick up time as the woodwork area was visible from our garden. Small groups or parents meant that we could talk to everyone every day.
We did experiment a little with video clips of the children at work.

We had to consider the planning of having a woodwork area within the room from a safety point of view. As there are only two practitioners for the busiest times and only one practitioner the rest of the time, we wanted to ensure there was an adult available to be with the children when using the woodworking tools and the other member of staff was available to support the other children whether inside or out. We set up a system with the children so that they knew when the woodwork bench was available for use or to ask a member of staff to support them whilst they were working there.

“Look Daddy! I made a picture frame all by myself. It is on the wall, next to the shelf for pens, I made it too. I’m gonna fix this one the next day.”

Maggie, age 4

Findings

The biggest thing we noticed, from a practitioner point of view, was that there was a definite shift in enthusiasm from staff towards woodwork in the setting. It had such an impact on learning for children and the precious time that we had because it was a 1:2 ratio and a practitioner was based in the area.

Children were queuing up to use the area as it was new and exciting. They enthusiastically shared their work with staff, parents, and other children. We noticed children who flitted from one area to another become engaged in the play and were continually revisiting the area. As Pete Moorhouse states in A Froebelian approach: The Wonder of Woodwork, ‘High levels of sustained engagement and enjoyment are commonplace.’

We observed increased problem solving and awareness of risk. Children were independent in their work but had the support of an adult near them if they needed it. Confidence grew in the children and staff using the area meaning that progression in woodwork was observed. We also looked at the observations we took which were mathematical during this period and 75% of them over two weeks were from the woodwork area. Mostly measurement based but also estimation, problem solving and shape.

 

Practitioners reflected on the space being an area where they felt they had returned to grass roots. Time with the children, one to one, just observing at times so that we could really see the children problem solving their designs, modifying, and sharing their successes.

 

When we looked back on observations for one child, we noticed mathematical progression for them. This child had previously very few observations noted with mathematical learning as this was simply something they were not interested in. After introducing the area, they were immediately hooked. Spending most of their work time at the woodwork area and encouraging others with their designs. This also provided this child with an opportunity to talk one to one with adults. While engrossed in their play, deep feelings were shared by the child. They had a safe space where they felt comfortable enough to let out emotions which they had not had the opportunity to release before, as someone was there just for them.

‘But children will take more thoughtful and engaged note of their everyday experiences if there is discussion with adults as they do so, and if they can be thoughtful about the reasons for things.’ (Bruce, 2021)

Conclusion

For practitioners, the overall lesson was remembering your grass roots. We reflected a lot on the fact that the area had to have an adult there. This made that area enticing and showing very clearly that the adult valued the area which meant the children wanted to invest their time in it.
This then made adding the depth to learning much easier as you could follow up that minute or the next session. The children did re-visit the area too, it was not forgotten about, and they would come in and remind staff of plans made the day before, sometimes even taking things from home to add in.
The area certainly added depth to learning in measurement, but it was the extension on concentration that practitioners noticed. Children having the time, as much or as little as they needed to complete their work, as well as time to review it and come back when the problem was solved.
An opportunity to slow life down and really experience these life skills with the children was a reminder about how Early Years should be after years of guidelines and overthinking, this gave us all time to reflect and enjoy, together.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Karen Petrie
    Karen Petrie
    24 May 2022 at 10:10 am

    I enjoyed reading your project as woodwork is something i have been introducing into the setting as well. I like to see your whole journey from the reluctance of staff to where they were really keen to be involved. I also found it tricky to fit into the day. The voice of the chidlren really comes through in your project and i have also found that woodwork has only brought the best out of the children.


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  2. Joanne Greig
    Joanne Greig
    25 May 2022 at 8:44 pm

    I thought your project was inspiring. I think the way you presented the woodwork area to practitioners and children was lovely. Although I can see in your project that you did encounter a challenge with the practitioners it was great to see that this was overcome and it is now a fully working area. I will be taking some tips from your project.


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  3. Hayley O'Donnell
    Hayley O'Donnell
    26 May 2022 at 2:25 pm

    This was a really interesting read, I could relate to your project and how challenging it can be to change staff mindsets when introducing something new. It was lovely to read how you have overcome the challenges of being a smaller setting and ensuring that your children would be able to engage in woodworking experiences. It sounds like your children have really gained from the opportunities within the woodwork and your partnerships with parents/carers have grown too. I love that you experimented with video clips to share the progress of your project. Thank you for sharing your research, as we hope to implement woodwork experiences into our setting in the coming year you have given us some ideas for future planning.


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