Give Your Children Real Tools

We don’t do plastic tools in our home. When Little Cat started eating solids, we gave him a metal fork and spoon, quickly followed by a knife on his request. When he began using scissors he was given his own pair of small metal scissors and learned how to use them safely by modelling myself and his daddy. When he started paying close attention to the work his daddy was doing with his tools, his natural curiosity lead him to want to imitate his actions.

First he watched for several sessions, asking questions, while he held his hands behind his back and simply observed. Then he started getting more curious and confident, reaching out and trying to get involved. His daddy gave him small tasks to help with and supervised the whole time, answering his questions and reminding him how to hold each tool safely. Just as he now automatically faces scissors down when he walks with them, the same goes for screwdrivers and other sharp tools.

Now, he is totally confident in the use of several tools and uses them sensibly and safely. He searches out screws, nuts and bolts on furniture, doors, anywhere around the house and takes great pleasure in taking things apart and putting them back together again. These are learning experiences he just wouldn’t get with a pretend plastic tool. He is strengthening his hand eye coordination and dexterity, gaining an understanding of mechanics and the ability to hypothesise what might happen if he removes the screws from a chair. He also understands that it is important to pick up loose screws and not leave them lying around, as the other much younger children I care for at home could swallow them if they found them. This has led to him making more responsible choices, as he understands it is important to create a safe environment for his friends.

Palming him off with a fake tool, a toy rather than the real thing would have not only squashed his interest in how things work and fit together, when he quickly realised he could do no real work with the thing, but it would have made us miss out on sharing this valuable lesson with him. With a toy, there is no need to explain the safety rules. There is no need to take the time to gradually introduce it as the child gains confidence and ability. It undermines them and tells them “I don’t trust you to use this tool.” He has proven himself to be not only trustworthy, but extremely capable too.

I caught him eyeing up the saw today… watch this space! ;)

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8 thoughts on “Give Your Children Real Tools”

  1. well my little guy loves watching building work and especially chainsaws…don’t think i’ll be getting him one any time soon…if ever :) i also wonder if this kind of approach would work with more impulsive child, who doesn’t take as much time to observe?

    1. Of course, it’s all about taking it at the child’s pace, but setting appropriate boundaries. If they want to get involved in a hands on way from the start then you can try a hand over hand approach so they can feel how to use the tool. Every child learns differently, and where some prefer to watch before trying, others will need to feel their way and learn as they do it. Start with small and easy to manage tools and work from there as your child masters them. Chainsaws may be taking things a bit far though – we wont be going there!

  2. I know this is an older post. I am browsing your blog. At what age did you offer tools? My son is now 21 months and he loves tools but he has hutted himself once with them. Now I discourage him to touch them…

    1. We really just followed his lead and gave them as and when he was interested. He had a small spoon and adult sized fork to eat with from 6 months old, which he learned to use on his own by copying us and experimenting with them. We introduced a table knife a few months after that. He used a hammer from about the time he was walking (12 months or so) and screwdrivers from just after two.

      He is getting better with sharp knives and things like the potato peeler in the kitchen now, at first I always did hand over hand, but he is needing that less and less now. He still is not allowed to touch the big saw or power-tools, though I would be happy for him to use a smaller saw that he could control far more easily (if we had one.)

      It’s all about guidance and supervision, sussing out where they are developmentally and what their capabilities are. I would never leave a child unsupervised with a tool until I knew that they were safe, sensible and respectful of how to use it. I hope that helps!

      1. Yes. Thank you. Its funny because I got criticized several times for giving my son a fork or letting him touch some kitchen tools. And then I started to feel that I am may be too unsafe and started to get stricter. I actually will soon read the continuum concept. I am super intrigued because I feel this is what my son have been wanting but society makes you feel bad about it. Its hard with no support. I didn’t know it has a name and a book. At least I know I am not a bad mother!!!! happy to have found you and your book

      2. It is definitely difficult to go against the mainstream, but the more you read and learn and the more you follow your child, the easier it becomes to parent instinctively. Everyone will always have advice if you are uncertain in your choices, but I have found the more confident I become in my choices, the less people offer unwanted advice. I highly recommend The Continuum Concept, I hope you find it a valuable read! Good to have you here!

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