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Child using penknife saw

Children Using Tools


“A mindset that is solely focused on safety does children and young people no favours. Far from keeping them safe from harm, it can deny them the very experiences that help them to learn how to handle the challenges that life may throw at them" Tim Gill (2010)

Children using tools can be a nerve-wracking idea for parents, but there are some very real benefits; not only in the practical sense. Feeling trusted to be able to use a tool independently is a valuable learning experience and fosters self-esteem, confidence and perseverance.

As grown-ups, we sometimes automatically expect the worst – give a child a sharp knife, and they are bound to cut themselves. When we protect them from what we anticipate they may do, instead of giving them a chance to show us and themselves what they actually can do, we disempower them and rob them of a valuable learning opportunity. 

While using tools, children develop motor skills, concentration and understanding of the material world. You don’t truly understand why a hammer has to be heavy until you’ve swung its weight onto a nail; only through sawing a piece of wood can you feel the resistance against the saw teeth, seeing, smelling and feeling the sawdust that’s produced.


There’s a rule in storytelling that it’s always better to show than tell, and the same is true in teaching – children will always learn better when they experience first hand.

So how do we protect our children from harm but still give them the freedom to grow and learn? Taking it slowly helps. We introduce children to real tools one at a time, letting them examine and get to know the tool before we start work. We talk about what the tool is for, and which parts are therefore sharp or pointed or heavy. We practice holding it safely, and talk about where we use it and how to carry it. We’ll establish the rules and make absolutely sure they know and understand them before getting started. 

Child using a hand saw

We make sure the children know what we’re doing and what the safety rules are. If they’re getting to know a tool, the tasks will be simple. Instead of an end product, the purpose will be to explore what the tool can do. If it’s a hammer, we use a block of wood and a pile of nails.

Of course, these are experiences to be had under supervision, and at a time when children are not tired, hungry or overexcited. With very young children, I find that short sessions work best – concentrating for long periods of time is tiring for anyone, and a skill that children need to develop.

Learning to use real tools gives children immense pride and satisfaction. They know they’re being trusted with grown-up responsibilities, and we've yet to see a child not rise to the challenge. 



Gill, T. (2010) Nothing Ventured... Balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors, English Outdoor Council.

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