Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Classroom Workbench

I received an email the other day that deserves its own post:

I saw the photo of the wood working bench in your classroom on today's post and got excited.  I have been hoping to get some kind of construction station either in the classroom or in our outdoor classroom (I'm a former architect).  It seems that the staff is mostly concerned that the parents will freak out because "it’s dangerous" and the director and directors worry about liability if there is an injury.  I feel like we could really make it work if I could get everyone on board with some success stories.  Do you have any posts or wisdom on preparing and introducing the work bench to the students? - Wilma, IL

I thought it would be helpful to not only explain how we use it, but how the parents of some our students feel about this center as well, so I asked a few current and past parents for their thoughts on the benefits of having it in the classroom as well as the supervisory aspects. The workbench is in the classroom of the four year olds. 

The work bench is the first thing Xander highlighted as the coolest thing in the classroom..."It even has grown up stuff, like what Papa uses...and they are going to show us how to use it".  

Children want to understand the creative process so they can learn and perhaps even emulate. The workbench is just another tool of this creative process.  

When Stefan was the working parent for Sebi's 4s class, he helped some kids in the workbench area.  He was amazed how engaged they were.  The kids had to understand the rules of engagement and respected it.  Stefan said it taught the kids rules, safety, and gave them the chance to experience a grown up task.  Sebi built a letter "A" out of three pieces of wood...for his little brother Alexander!

 If you don't give the kids an opportunity to try something, they (and the parent too) will never take that leap into discovery. -Samira

The workbench not only inspired creativity, developed fantastic eye hand coordination, demanded spatial thinking but also instilled in our 4s a sense of responsibility, the power to safely bring their visions to life and the ability to use their patience and self control in an environment bursting with opportunity.
Proper safety rules were clearly posted and followed by all the children.  It was well known that the use of the bench came with the requirement of smart decision making, carefulness and safety.  Parents were key partners in the work bench.  I learned tremendously about letting go when I worked the bench.  Kids are amazing if we let them be amazing.Shannon

I never worried for a second about having a work bench in the classroom. From experience I knew that it was very well supervised by the teachers and parent helpers. The kids learned quickly how to use the tools safely and understood the responsibility. The only problem was deciding what to do with all the 'projects' that came home!!! -Erika

It was day three of school today and six children have made their way through the workbench in class since school began on Monday.   We don’t get to many children in a day as their turns are not limited by time. If a child is engaged and interested she may stay at the bench for the entire playtime.  The children that want a turn sign their names on a list and go play elsewhere.  We do a LOT of explaining about how it is hard to wait for a turn but once you are there, you do not need to rush.  Some children finish their turn and walk right over to the sign in sheet and sign up again, others are content to let the experience rest and try again a bit later. 

We introduced the workbench on the very first day.  We only had half of our class on the first day, so it was easier for them to stand in front of the workbench while I showed them the tools and went over the safety rules.  I do not give a lesson on how to use each one.  We talk about the tools being real, that they are not toys.  We point out the parts that are sharp and the importance of safety goggles being worn at all times.  And then we let them explore how to use them.  Many of them have seen mom or dad use tools.  If a child is unsure or starts to use a tool incorrectly which may lead to an unsafe situation, the adult monitoring the station is there to offer guidance.  The center is only open when there is an available adult to be nearby watching and assisting as needed.  With the way my classroom is currently set up, this is usually the parent or assistant teacher who is also monitoring the art area.  So far, the children this week have been so excited they took their half sawed pieces of wood home.  As the year goes on, they begin the leave their pieces in school, adding more and often painting the project before taking it home. 

I get the wood from the scraps of Home Depot, Rings End and families that are doing projects in their own homes.  Softer wood is better as it is easier hammer or screw into.  I do order wood bits from Discount School Supply.
Sometimes the workbench is closed.  If we have a particularly rambunctious art experience going on and need the space or if our adults are needed in other areas we close it.  We have a sign on the bench alerting children if it is open or closed. 
I’m sure the biggest question children get hurt? 
Yes, sometimes they do, just like we adults get hurt fixing things around our own homes.  We hit our thumb with a hammer, cut ourselves with a saw or get a splinter.  It is part of taking a risk which is a big part of life.  In my ten years with this workbench, I have never had to apply anything more than a hug or a bandaid.  Children take their “play” seriously here. 

I’d love to hear about other classrooms that have a workbench area and see photos of how you have it set up.  Please post a comment with a link to your website or blog or email me photos and I will post them.  

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