My group of 4/5 yr olds spent about a month taking old computers, toasters, hairdryers apart each morning (with adult supervision). After dismantling a huge array of appliances and keeping the safe pieces we then began to nail and screw small pieces onto softwood. Each child went home with a "machine collage" that looked spectacular!
To introduce hammering cover chunks of Styrofoam (squares, balls, rectangles, etc.) with inexpensive lightweight cotton or polyester. Cover loosely and close the edges the whole way around. Using meat mallets as hammers and golf tees as nails, let the children hammer the "nails into the blocks". The activity is a self contained mess and can be thrown away when pulverized.
In the woodworking center, I put various kinds of squash for the children to pound golf tees into with plastic hammers. They love this.....especially the pumpkins!!
Try using plastic saws with the Styrofoam. As long as the saws have ridged 'teeth' they will cut through the Styrofoam. It does make a mess, but the children love it and it is a lot safer than real saws.
In our preschool 4's class, we put screws into some wood blocks with a screwdriver. Then, we put these in our woodworking area along with knobs that could screw onto each different sized screw.
In the fall collect a variety of leaves. At the woodworking table place a block of wood on the table then place your leaf on top. Cover your leaf with a small scrap of white fabric, or muslin. Use hammers or small blocks to bang on the fabric. The colors from the leaves comes out on the fabric. This also works with flowers.
Use ceiling tiles to pound nails into when introducing your woodworking area. They are not as messy as Styrofoam and can be found at your local building supply store. I use roofing nails since they have larger heads.
Once a year I bring in tools for a special "Tool Day". It usually follows my mother's Day project where the children sand, stain, and decoupage their own mother's day photo frame from a 5x7 piece of wood. We use tape measures, nails, screws, hammers, locks and keys, screwdrivers, etc. Of course, all of this is done under supervision in small groups and they get to take home their sample piece of wood with the hardware included. I get raves from the parents and I have never had a child hurt w/ these instruments. I love it because it is so "hands on".
In my woodworking center, I use Styrofoam pieces which you can purchase at any craft store. For example, during Christmas, I used Styrofoam wreath shapes. I cut out green leaves from green construction paper and red bows. They nailed them on with plastic hammers and golf tees. I also added green cone shapes. Here, the nailed on colored golf tees for lights. For January, the made snowman using various shapes of Styrofoam balls and once again, I cut out decorations from construction paper. We have made flowers, ladybugs, ants, boats, etc. You can let your imagination go wild. The kids will even enhance it more with their imagination.
SENSORY BLOCK AREA I was doing senses as a topic and came up with painting pieces of wood with Kool-aid. I used scrap wood from a lumberyard I added food coloring to the Kool-aid instead of water. (I also added a bit of hand soap to the mixture as this stains) The wood smelt for days the children then glued and hammered the wood to make different objects.
My woodworking bench stays busy when there is "something to build". Lumber is expensive, but my neighborhood Home Depot let me collect scrap lumber from their wood cutting area for free!! So I now visit them about once a week after work to see what's available. Maybe yours will, too!
I also like to teach the children about screwdrivers and screws. After a few weeks of hammering golf tees into Styrofoam, I remove the hammers and golf tees from the center. Then I introduce screwdrivers and screws. I have two types of screwdrivers: regular and Phillips head and regular screws and Phillips head screws. The children and I talk and decide which screwdriver matches with which screw. We also talk and practice the twisting motion which a screw takes. I continue to use Styrofoam pieces for the children to practice with. In the woodworking area it is so important for the children to understand and use the right tool for the right job. I have friends saving Styrofoam (TVs, CD players, etc. all come with Styrofoam) for me all the time. Styrofoam trays from the grocery store also work well. Styrofoam can get messy, but it's worth the mess.
I duct taped a 4 foot by 2 foot. Sheet of "bubble pack" to our paneled wall. I laid four wooden mallets (that we use for clay) under it. 20 months- four years old really enjoyed banging away with no damage to the wall. This can also be done on a table.
Try sanding in your woodworking area. I use a 2" X 4"X 6" piece of scrap pine ( different lengths of 2 X 4's work great) and draw a smiley face on the wood with a permanent marker. I put two different grades of sand paper out, usually one that is coarse and one that is very fine. I encourage the children to sand the smiley faces off. This is also a great sensory activity as the pine wood gives off a scent. I have also made sanding blocks by stapling sandpaper around a small block (a child's hand size) of scrap wood. To be in the woodworking center, the children wear a child-size apron and safety goggles. It helps to keep the area safe and fun.
Along with our wood working bench, I have a small table in the wood working area I cover with newspaper. I then put out construction paper, woodsies (pre cut wood shapes found in most craft stores), and wood glue. There is patterns to use as examples in the woodsies package, but it is fun to see how creative the children can be!
After moving from golf tees and Styrofoam to real nails and wood, my children sometimes have difficulty holding the nails steady. A tip I learned was to take a small square of paper, push the nail through it, and then have the children hold the paper, instead of the nail. This gives them something to hold onto, and when they have the nail pounded in, they can just pull the paper out. Lots less smashed fingers this way!
When my neighbor cut down his tree I asked him for a 4'section. I took it to school and set it on the wood table. I had to child size saws to go with it. There was only room for two kids) We started sawing on it 3 years ago. We may make it through it this year. There is always someone sawing on it. I do this with 4's and 5's. (Just be sure they are both facing the same way)
One of the tools you should have is an awl for the teacher to use. Tap on the
back of the awl to make a hole where the child will start a nail. This makes it
possible for the child to get the nail started successfully.
In our woodworking area we add a range of nuts and small pieces of bush wood (Australia). The kids love combining the bush bits with timber yard off-cuts. For a special treat I sometimes provide glitter paints for them to use.