Ever thought about giving your student a real hammer and seeing how hard they work? What about a saw? Using real tools in the classroom might terrify you as a teacher, but little kids (we’re talking true littles, like three-year-olds and up) are more than capable.
As a forest school teacher in an outdoor classroom, using tools daily is integral to our curriculum. And with any new material or activity, my team and I judge when and if our four-year-olds are ready. Did we give them the saws as their first real tool in the beginning of the year? Definitely not. Rather, we introduced hammers and whittling tools a few weeks into the school year when we were able to gauge the students’ temperament, impulse control, and peer-to-peer cooperation.
With each tool we introduce, we ask the students the best way to use the tools so that they are keeping themselves and their classmates safe. Overall, most of our tools have the same three rules: a teacher must be nearby, you have to be sitting, and the tools are used in the tool area. From there, we make specific rules for the different tools as we explore in small groups.
Adding real tools to your classroom and curriculum doesn’t have to be a big and scary thing—try starting with wooden mallets and child-size screwdrivers. Not only does using tools help build their growing muscles for things like writing, the tools also work their impulse control, listening skills, and general sense of bodily awareness—all major skills that pre-K and kindergarteners need to learn. Here are the top 12 tools to add to your classroom.
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1. Whittling Tools
With these vegetable peelers, which are quite sharp, we have very specific rules that we repeat every time we bring them out. Students have to be sitting, a teacher has to be nearby helping, and you always, always have to pull the tool away from your hands and body, not toward the hand holding the stick. Bonus tip: Make sure to check the kids’ sticks when they are done whittling off the bark, as the ends of the sticks can definitely become quite sharp and pointy.
Buy it: Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler
2. Lightweight Hammer
A longer, lighter hammer is ideal for slightly older kids (think pre-K and up) as it lends to students having to be more aware of where and how they are swinging. To start, have them hammer golf tees into pumpkins or squash. When your students are ready to move onto wood and real nails, try a magnetic nail holder, though I’ve found that most kids only use one at first and quickly feel confident that they don’t need it.
Buy it: Hammer by Build and Grow
3. Stubby Hammer
This stubby hammer is perfect for little hands and heavy enough that it takes some muscle to strike and hit with a less wild swing.
Buy it: Efficere Stubby Hammer
4. Indestructible Hand Shovels
My students have used so many different types of shovels over the years—plastic, metal, wooden—and none have lasted as long as these FiberComp tools by Fiskars.
Buy it: Fiskars FiberComp Shovel
5. Mortar and Pestle
We have a few of these sets on our land, and they are often used for crushing ice, mixing snow and sand, or potion-making. Opt for a wooden set, as a granite mortar is very heavy and easy to drop on little toes, while a granite pestle breaks in two as soon as it hits the ground.
Buy it: DecorRack Mortar and Pestle
6. Stubby Tool Set
Stubby tools are your go-to when it comes to little hands. They are heavy, thicker, and grippy, which really builds those fine-motor muscles.
7. Mini Screwdriver Set
For even smaller hands and kids, try this super mini screwdriver set. Get the screw started in a floral foam block so that toddlers can start to build that hand strength and dexterity.
Buy it: Tekton Mini Screwdriver Set
If your class is in a region that gets ice and snow, or if you’ve got access to a creek or water sources, get a few wooden or rubber mallets. Students will crush ice for hours and can use a full-body swing to work those gross-motor muscles and bodily awareness.
Buy it: Hyper Tough Rubber Mallet
9. Kid’s Kitchen Knife Set
Whether you are cooking indoors or out, these plastic kitchen knives can definitely get the job done when it comes to slicing and dicing softer foods. Teach kids where and how to hold the knife to protect fingers. Plus, cooking with kids is a great way to introduce new foods that they might actually try.
Buy it: Jovitch Kid’s Kitchen Knife Set
10. 6-Inch Hack Saw
This one, obviously, needs intense supervision and teacher knowledge to determine if the students are truly ready for this. Students must have two hands on the handle, a teacher must be there for hands-on scaffolding, and remember to watch out for knees or other body parts that the saw might nick once moving.
Buy it: Stanley 6-inch Hack Saw
11. Work Gloves
We use these gloves when our students are “excavating” the land (aka, picking up any trash), or you can have the kids pop them on when they are using certain tools. Just make sure that the gloves aren’t compromising any gripping capabilities. Also, don’t forget to measure your students’ hands as sizing can often be tricky.
Buy it: JustForKids Work Gloves
12. Hand Drill
Some kids might not yet have the fine-motor muscles to use the mini screwdrivers, but they’ll find this hand drill much easier. Plus, the students will still be growing their hand muscles and working on general motor planning.