Woodwork in Early Years

Project author:

Project summary:

A study of woodwork in Early Years and how it impacts on learner engagement.

Introduction

This project focuses on the link between woodwork and learner engagement in Early
Years. The core Froebelian principles of play, autonomy, connectedness and creativity
are fundamental in this case study. This enquiry matters because it gives children the
opportunity to work with wood; one of Froebel’s valued ‘occupations’.
As Moorhouse (2021) writes, ‘There is something special about woodwork’s ability to
engage young children.’ (Froebel Trust – The Wonder of Woodwork; p3)
I aim to discover if the young learners in this case study will be naturally curious and if
engagement will be high as they gain hands on experience using natural resources.
This project also takes into account the views of staff and measures how confident they
feel within the 3-5 playroom, working with wood. Staff will be able to observe my practice
and children’s play with a view to woodwork being embedded in the setting in the future.

Context

Set within an area of social deprivation, this nursery has a high percentage of children
living within SIMD 1 and 2. Providing high quality experiences and a stimulating learning
environment is key in order to meaningfully engage children.
The local authority in which I work, advocates a Froebelian approach, with children
engaging in real-life, practical experiences.
Froebel’s ‘occupation’ of block play is already embedded in the nursery setting. A
natural progression from playing with wooden blocks would be for the children to explore
and work with wood; however, they had no experience of woodwork. There were no
workbench tools and staff had no training or experience of woodwork in Early Years.
I observed that there was a gap in provision and felt strongly that this ‘occupation’ would
interest many children and engage them in a deep, meaningful way using a hands on approach.

Introducing woodwork to the playroom required investment in the appropriate tools and
materials.
I anticipated that initially there would be much curiosity surrounding the new resources. I
therefore decided that the workbench would be open to any child who showed an
interest in experimenting with a hammer and nails. The difficult task proved to be
selecting a small focus group of four children for the case study.
I used the Leuven Scale of Involvement while observing children, as a tool to assist in
this selection process. Four children who showed particularly high levels of engagement
were selected and written consent was obtained from parents for them to be part of the
case study.
Staff also played an important role in this study. I shared the aims of the project with
them and sought their views on woodwork in Early Years. I devised a questionnaire for
staff within the 3-5 room, asking them about their experience of woodwork, their skills
and confidence levels and their vision for woodwork in the 3-5 room in the future.

‘I was hammering nails into wood. It was hard but I did it. I would like to make a unicorn.’

Joe, age 4

Findings

Initially, I observed that the four children who would be the focus for the project were keen to
develop their skills further. With practice and perseverance they mastered new skills using the
vice, hammer, and nails. Through time, other resources were added to the workbench such as
bottle tops and buttons. The children investigated joining items together and successfully
demonstrated their ability to do so in a creative way.
There then became a need for the wood to be cut to varying lengths for their creations and the
Japanese saw was introduced. The children’s confidence grew using the various tools and they
progressed to using them more independently.
All four children worked at the bench for extended periods of time. Child A, who I had previously
observed flitting from one experience to another during free play was highly engaged; on some
occasions for more than an hour at a time. He created a house and was proud to display his
creation for staff, peers and parents to view.
It was encouraging to see Child B working with a sense of agency; asking for guidance if
required. After cutting wood to size, she attached buttons to create a love heart and showed
initiative by mark making on wood. Observing Child B in other aspects of nursery life, she is
becoming more self-assured and willing to engage in new experiences.
Child C designed a slide; first on paper, then using wood. This followed on from creating a slide
using cardboard boxes in the nursery recycling area. On completion, Child C used his creation
as a working slide in the small world area.
Using the Leuven Scale, I noted that all children were continuously engaged and deeply
involved at all times. They were not easily distracted and intense activity was observed in all
cases.
As I witnessed children developing real life skills, the benefits of practical, hands on experience
were clear. As Froebel states, ‘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 1885: 279)
The link between block play and working with wood was apparent to me; both giving children the
opportunity to connect with the natural world and to play with and explore open ended
resources. Many children who are drawn to the practical nature of block play have also show an
interest in woodwork. This project has allowed those children to expand on Froebel’s ‘gift’ of
blocks with even greater possibilities open to them through woodwork.
This project has sparked for me an interest in the other ‘occupations’ of Froebel and whether or
not they would result in similar levels of engagement. I am keen to observe how children
respond to a colleague introducing sewing as part of the Froebel In Childhood Practice
Certificate and to engage in professional dialogue with her relating to both projects.
The findings of the staff questionnaire revealed that none had experience of woodwork in Early
Years or had undertaken any training in this area. The majority agreed that children would
benefit from working with wood and tools. Most agreed that children would be highly engaged at
the workbench. All staff agreed that there were risks associated with woodwork. 33% said that
this would possibly discourage them from engaging in woodwork with children. The majority of
staff said, that despite the risks, they would consider engaging in woodwork experiences with children in the future.

Conclusion

I have observed through this study that giving children the opportunity to work with wood
and tools results in high levels of engagement. Going forward, this ‘occupation’ could
reap benefits for many more children in this setting.
In order to support this, the work bench and resources will be available to all children in
the 3-5 room at an allocated time each week. I hope to see similar levels of
engagement, even amongst the youngest learners.
It is encouraging that the majority of staff in the ELCC see woodwork as a positive
experience for children and that most would consider leading learning in this area in the
future. I will continue to model good practice for staff and support them as they develop
practical skills in this area.
I look forward to sharing my findings of this study within the ELCC and with my
colleagues in WDC. I hope that the positive outcomes achieved through this project will
inspire others to embark on or continue their Froebelian journey in the future.

Research implications

I am one of the staff members who has completed Froebelain in Childhood practice award, along
with 3 others of my Senior Leadership Team and 1 of my Practitioners, at the start of this project
I thought that although several staff have completed formal Froebelian training that the impact
would be minimal, this is due to varying staff changes, environmental changes and Covid, as many
of them completed the course in 2020, however I began this project with an open mind and no
preconceived outcomes.
The implications of this research project for the staff team has been positive, staff where initially
reluctant to participate with the research questions, however with clear communication,
conversations began, firstly within a large group detailing the project, resulting in smaller group
conversations and 9 staff participated in the project, This has reminded me of the importance of
open, clear and concise communication. One principle that is evident in our practice is that
‘Relationships matter’ and as a team we all agreed on this, this is apparent in all that we do.
Through observations, I began to hear some staff reflect on their own pedagogy and how much
they are influenced by the Principles, or if they had no knowledge they began reflecting on how
the Principles could benefit their practice and the general ethos of the setting. This is becoming
more evident in the professional dialogue between practitioners during collegiate meetings,
especial planning and self-evaluation meetings.
Some of the team are more knowledgeable when planning resources for areas, taking account of
the principles and how they can offer the best learning experiences for the children, especially
when it comes to risky play, some staff are risk adverse and always think of ‘what could go wrong’
instead of seeing risk as a learning opportunity. Some staff are more confident at discussing the
principles and how they influence their day to day practice. This was evident within the block play
area, some of the team reflected on how the block play area is used, how accessible the resources
where and how the children used the area, this lead to many changes, consulting children along
the way. Observations show the improved use of the area and learning opportunities.
My observations from this project, reflecting on the principles I am aware that some staff, due to
their own personal preferences, deter the opportunities of children as ‘Autonomous learners’,
‘Creativity’ and ‘valuing childhood in its own right’. As a result of this I plan to review our Play policy
and outdoor Policy, including the benefits of risky play. I hope to give staff the opportunity to visit
other establishments within our authority to observe/discuss how other centres embed Froebelian
principles.

Practitioner enquiry

Being part of this project has shown me the importance of practitioner enquiry and the benefits for
staff to further their own knowledge and skills. This type of research supports staff development,
encouraging staff to be critical thinkers, deepen their thinking, support team working and
continuously reflecting on the service we provide, improving the ethos of the centre, developing
leadership skills and sharing a pedagogical understanding of the importance of the early years.

Leadership learning

Through this research project I have learnt that communication and time is key to implementing
any change. Staff need the time to discuss the changes, time to process the change and
opportunity to reflect why change is necessary, especially within early years.
For me personally, I have learnt that I need to manage my time better and ensure that I have
protected time when carrying out any training, as trying to complete a work place project whilst
leading a busy centre and team has its challenges. I have also learnt that Froebelian principles
influence my practice more than I thought.

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. Debi Ashworth
    Debi Ashworth
    23 Mar 2024 at 3:44 pm

    This was a really interesting read. I can connect to your inquiry as we have developed ‘block play’ and are just beginning to introduce woodwork experiences into our setting. Thanks for sharing, it has given me some ideas for future development.


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