My kids love to build with legos, blocks, toothpicks, recycling….pretty much anything that can conceivably be used to build.  My husband happens to be an engineer and likes to do woodworking as a hobby, but I don’t think that this propensity towards building is unique to my family. The kids have always like to watch daddy build his projects, and “help” by hammering a nail started by an adult, remeasuring something, or even painting a finished product.

There’s also a fabulous free kid’s workshop offered by our local Home Depot. They give them child sized projects and aprons. Every project they complete they earn a pin for their apron. My kids really look forward to it, but it only happens once a month.

Last year, my 7 year old asked for her own tool box with real tools, and my husband and her built one and outfitted it with a small hammer, saw, measuring tape, screw driver, and some nails and other tool type brick a brac. She loves to hammer and saw, although unless we take a guiding role, no identifiable finished projects evolve. This is okay.

On occasion I bake with the kids, but they always see me in the kitchen making meals. They respond by frequently play cooking. I have had cakes made from throw pillows and wash cloths, soup make with cut up rubber bands, and lots and lots of coffee and tea made from mud. This play is important. Children play at being adult, they play at what they see us doing. They play “house” and pretend to clean. I give them rags to dust and the broom to sweep and their work is improving. My four year old likes to vacuum, although he vacuums the cord as much as the floor.

Tinkering with tools is just another way of encouraging this kind of experiential learning. The children have small tools, lumber, nails, safety goggles and plenty of supervision. They hammer and saw, measure, and mostly make….a mess. They are playing workshop, just like they might play restaurant or school or house. This play will eventually get better, as they improve their fine motor skills, spatial understanding, and generally mature and grow. No educational toy can rival the learning and play value of real tools.

Teddy Hammering Sophia Measuring Sophia Sawing

Scout loves to sew. She makes little clothes for her dolls, and basic stuffed animals. She imbues her creations with so much love they are impossible to part with. She uses needles, scissors, and fabric scraps. Her sewing has improved in just a few years, with no real instruction to speak of.

Let them muck around in the kitchen. When  I was 10 I was determined to bake a pie all by myself for the church bake sale. I did, and it was beautiful. Unfortunately, I had used a cup of salt, instead of a teaspoon. A typo in the recipe book that a more experienced baker would have caught was missed by me. I learned from the experience. I learned how to tolerate failure and try again.

Let them try their hand at planting a butterfly garden, even if your backyard is too shady to grow anything but weeds. Digging with spades, and hoeing the dirt, scattering seeds will teach them more about nature than any book.  Let them measure and sift with old kitchen tools, and hammer and saw at scraps. They’ll hammer they’re thumbs, and cry, and wipe their cheeks off and try again. In doing so, they’ll learn more than a few useful skills. They’ll learn resilience. They’ll learn the art of failure. They’ll learn to try again.