The Tool Project
By Nancy Howe, Head Teacher
“I like tools. I have a big drill. I have a mask. I have a chipper. A screwdriver. And another drill. And bolts. And silver nails. And wood.” —Lucas
From the beginning of the year, teachers in the Center PM classroom noticed that many of the children were curious about the tools around them. Simple hand tools play an important role in all Bing Nursery School classrooms, from pencils and paint brushes to scissors, staplers, hole punches and even hammers.
As teachers observed and questioned children using tools, they discovered that while knowledge and experience with tools varied, most of the children had been exposed to hand tools at home and, like Lucas, enthusiastically shared their experiences.
Once it became apparent that the children were fascinated by tools, we initiated The Tool Project, a collaborative effort to deepen and share our understanding.
At the self-help art table, children can use a variety of tools for cutting and adhering. For many, this is their first experience working with scissors, hole punches, staplers and tape dispensers. Children learn how to use these tools by experimenting with them as well as from their teachers and one another. As they work on individual projects, more experienced children model skills and techniques for less experienced classmates.
Woodworking is another very popular tool-based activity at Bing. Throughout the year, children become familiar with a variety of hand tools. At the beginning of the project, teachers displayed common hand tools on the art table to stimulate children to observe, pose questions, share their ideas and understandings, and represent what they saw through drawing. Observational drawings are a powerful medium that teachers use to encourage children to focus their attention and deepen their understanding of a particular object. When children really look at an object closely and draw it, they form an intimate connection. As children observed and drew a hammer, pliers, a screwdriver, a
C-Clamp and a drill, they asked questions about each tool’s structure, shape and size and hypothesized as to how each tool worked and what it was used for. Teachers encouraged all ideas and wrote down children’s thoughts and theories as well as their misconceptions. Children regularly shared their ideas about and experiences with tools in small groups at snack time as well as at story time. Books such as Albert the Fix-it Man and songs like This is the Way (“This is the way we cut with the saw…so early in the morning,” sung to the tune of Here We Go ’Round the Mulberry Bush) also helped children recognize the prevalence of tools all around them.
As the project progressed, teachers began incorporating tools into all curriculum areas, both inside and outdoors. In Center Room’s redwood grove, children used pretend tools for dramatic play; they built houses with hollow blocks, repaired the boat and painted the little red house using tinted water with real house painting brushes and paint cans.
On the patio, the children were very interested in using some tools for the first time: a drill, screwdriver and handsaw, measuring tape and sandpaper blocks. Some children drew their ideas before starting their project. One of the children decided to make a boat. He made a drawing of his boat first, then sawed off a piece of wood, drilled a hole for a mast, found a stick and attached a paper sail to it. Sharing his boat at story time inspired other children to create boats of their own. After constructing them, many children wondered if their boats would really float. They tested their structures in the water table. Another day on the patio, children used a hand jack to lift up one of the large wooden trains. Later that day, at story time, the hand jack and train became props in a story play based on the book, Albert the Fix-it Man.
As spring approached, Center Room’s garden began to bloom and the children enjoyed watering the daffodils with watering cans. Some of the children used metal trowels to dig for worms and create a small wormery. Later, they used the trowels to plant potato eyes. Cooking projects, like mashed potatoes, pizza and vegetable soup provided another opportunity to use kitchen tools and utensils: potato peelers, potato mashers, rolling pins, garlic presses, cheese graters and ladles. Parents and teachers brought in lemons and oranges for the children to juice with manual juicers, a blender for making fruit smoothies and a hand-cranked pasta maker. Another popular tool was an eggbeater for making “bubble soup.”
Children like to do real work with tools. They use sponges to help wash tables in preparation for snack time, scrub brushes to wash mud off the wooden carts, brooms to sweep chalk dust off the patio and washboards and clothespins to wash the doll’s clothes and hang them out to dry. Three children had a conversation while washing clothes with a washboard and hanging them on a clothesline with clothespins.
DANIEL: “We’re using washboards!”
JUNH YUK: “It’s much harder than using a washing machine.”
DAVID (as he hung up a doll’s shirt to dry): “At least we don’t have to worry about lint!”
In the art area, children used cooking tools like ravioli and cookie cutters, potato mashers and pastry wheels to print interesting patterns. They also used traditional printmaking tools including a wooden stylus for etching a design into a foam base, a rubber brayer for inking their design and a baren for rubbing their design onto paper to create a monoprint, a single print.
In the sand area, children used an old metal kitchen scale to weigh sand cakes and a post hole digger to dig deep holes. They also explored a pulley to lift a bucket filled with water out of a “well.” Later, they expanded on the pulley idea with a long clothesline wrapped around two climbers. They discovered they could attach messages to the line with clothespins and deliver them up and down the hill—and over the fence to interested East Room children!
When the lock to the rabbit’s cage became difficult to open, several children took a field trip to the workshop of resident Bing carpenter Wilhelm Grotheer, and brought back WD-40 to fix it. Several vintage tools have captivated the children’s attention: an old check canceling machine and a vintage railroad conductor’s ticket punch.
Teachers and children frequently use our classroom computer as a research and documentation tool. When the children discovered a cluster of millipedes under leaves in the redwood grove, they used the classroom computer to google millipedes for more information and then printed out images they found to take home.
Several parents, as well as our carpenter, came into the classroom to share their knowledge and tool expertise with the children. One parent brought her tools for printmaking, while another showed the children how to use screwdrivers and pliers to take apart an old telephone. Another parent made tortillas with the children using a stone metate and wooden tortilla press.
As teachers, we support children’s active participation in developing an understanding of their world. This project provided an optimal opportunity to help children become more knowledgeable, adept and confident with tools, whether peeling a carrot, jacking up a “car,” sawing a piece of wood or asking a tool expert a question. We hope the project deepened children’s understanding of tools and created a lasting relationship with them.