(Power) Tools for Hands-On Classrooms
(Power) Tools for Hands-On Classrooms
PUBLISHED: Monday, August 25, 2014 by Lacy Compton

My 2-year-old's latest obsession is helping her dad in the garage—asking for and mimicking the use of screwdrivers, wrenches, and hammers (don't worry—she uses a plastic one!) to fix her bike and toy car as he works on his side hobby of bike maintenance and mechanics. So, I loved the recent NPR story about one program in Brooklyn that puts power tools in the hands of young childrenConstruction Kids (you have to love their motto—"Old School Tools for New School Learning") offers classes on building and woodworking to children as young as 2, helping them create projects like gigantic marble runs and elaborate models of cities. 

Such hands-on learning is well known to be beneficial to children's learning, especially in young children, whose minds are rapidly developing. As one article notes, learning comes more easily through visual and spatial activities in children between the ages of 4 and 7. And the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has long advocated the use of play as an important role in children's development and learning. (The trends toward building bigger and better children's museums in many cities—Austin's The Thinkery is one such incredible hands-on environment—plus the shortages of skilled trade workers among young people also seem to support the need to encourage more hands-on learning.)

So, what can you, the teacher, do to build a hands-on, minds-on classroom? Consider these (power) tools for incorporating building and engineering projects for your students:

  • Scholastic's "Hands-On Is Minds-On" article is a good starting point, including both research about hands-on learning and links to various lesson plans and activities.
  • Design's Squad's Activity Guide to Engineering Challenges for 9- to 12-year-olds is geared for older students, but teachers of young students may be able to adapt some of the activities or bring in peer or parent helpers. (It would also be fun to adopt some of these as a full family challenge--allowing younger students to help older siblings with some of the work.)
  • The 10 Incredible Construction Projects for Future Architects article incorporates many materials you can find easily in any home or classroom to help encourage young builders.
  • Ask your parents! Who knows—you may have an accomplished woodworker, architect, or engineer among your parent base who would be willing to help facilitate a project or afterschool program (just make sure to check your school district's insurance policies allowing students to work with tools and building materials—or have parents complete the tough parts of the projects at home in advance).