Hammering. Using real tools, tools that work, tools that are the same as an adult’s but fit to the hand of a child. This is the kind of thing that is so controversial these days (after all, I was chastised for letting my boys use a plastic hammer to break up an ice block without some kind of protective equipment), but I don’t always understand how we have gotten here, this overly-cautious society. We are afraid to let our kids do real things. Afraid to give them independence, afraid to let them make mistakes, afraid to let them fail. Afraid of what? Some bumps and bruises? Because I assure you, those will happen no matter what you do. Bumps and bruises are part of life — both a child’s life and an adult’s life, both literally and figuratively.

I often struggle to find the kind of things I want for my boys: sturdy and useful toys that don’t dumb it down. I don’t mean to be brutal, but come on. Some of the things I see in toy stores are almost humiliating for kids — the ultra-cheap plastic stuff that breaks an hour after you buy it. I know that safety is a huge concern for parents these days, but frankly, it’s not as high on my radar. Unless it will cause possible death or serious brain injury, I’ll consider letting my kids try it out. DSC_0015DSC_0017DSC_0020

That’s not to say it’s a free-for-all around here. I still believe that guidance is important. Obviously, upon giving Oliver a real tool set for his fifth birthday, we went over some basic rules: he may only use the saw with an adult present, and when he is hammering, he should use the goggles. We gently explain what can go wrong, and the proper ways to hold and use things. It doesn’t take much, and if we show them how to respect a tool by example, they will follow our lead. If we are careful when demonstrating use of the tool, they will be careful. I think a lot of it has to do with being confident in our children as intelligent, independent beings who will make good choices. Because when we believe in them, they rise to the occasion.


We purchased our tool set from a local toy store, but it is listed online here if you’re interested.

Emil is still a bit young for this, but I always let him try what his big brothers are doing. It always makes me aware of how younger siblings rise to the occasion. You should see this kid on a scooter…

So because he had to use his other hand to support the weight of the heavy hammer, I gently showed him again how to only use one hand. Then I handed him a different tool to try out when it was apparent that the hammer was a bit much for him to handle. He will try again soon!

DSC_0037The concentration and perspiration… just great!
DSC_0061So what do you think? Is it worth it to risk a bruised thumb to learn a new skill? Is this beyond your parenting comfort zone? I often find myself in the midst of a lot of controversy (especially at the playground) with my boys and my parenting style. But the more practice and feedback (from my kids’ progress, not from other parents) I get, the more confident I feel with my choices. It’s immensely interesting, this parenting job!

14 thoughts on “Montessori-Inspired”
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  1. I think so often this fear comes in because parents are unwilling (or perhaps unable) to donate enough time in teaching the child how to practice these skills or try these things.
    My twelve year old knows how to the mow the grass and earns money mowing other people’s yards. It gives him so much pride and confidence. However, some of our neighbors look at us like we’re child abusers because they don’t feel it is “safe.” However, they didn’t see the hours my husband spent teaching my son how to do it. They don’t see him supervising from the kitchen window, overseeing while not undermining. And so they are quick to judge.
    Frankly, it drives me crazy.

  2. I admire you for following your instincts and buying real, useful tools. Growing up, my brother was allowed to dig holes, pound nails, saw wood, or whatever he wanted from toddlerhood on – and he grew up to be an successful engineer who built his own house, plows his own fields, fixes cars, welds, anything you can think of. You’re giving your kids a great gift.

  3. I’m just entering boyville (C turns 2 in Oct.), so I don’t have a lot of experience with this. It seems like you’re doing an awesome job, though! A’s preschool had a big wooden work bench that the kids could practice using tool on and it was very popular.
    Also have to say I love the tattoos on your boys’ arms as they use their tools. So bad ass. 🙂

  4. I agree that kids can handle most anything with a little guidance and a few ground rules. Our girls cook for their classmates as part of their school curriculum – they use real knives, but not before taking many knife skill classes. We use all sorts of tools around our house, but we also model good practices with safety equipment. Ear plugs, eye protection, gloves, etc. Tools are amazing things when you use them correctly, and kids love to learn how to do use them from parents. When the safety equipment use is part of the instruction, then I think kids accept them and think through how they approach work and play. I’m pretty careful about head and eye and ear protection (and little fingers) – bumps and bruises don’t bother me, but we encourage protection of those precious parts.

    My girls see their parents modeling this too – helmets, ear protection while mowing or using power tools, etc.

    (my five year old nephew got a tool kit like that for Christmas, and he loves it – he’s such a tinkerer.)

  5. Bring on the bruised thumbs!! 😉

    Although he likes using his plastic tools and tool bench, my almost five-year-old really enjoys helping in the kitchen. As he gets older, I am letting him do more as he works alongside me preparing dinner or baking cookies (or whatever). It was a little anxiety-inducing the first time I let him use a paring knife to cut potatoes, but, as you said, he “rose to the occasion” and really showed his focus and capability. For his birthday in September, I plan to enroll him in a local parent/child cooking class so that we can continue this journey together.

  6. As a nanny I was way more cautious than I think I will be as a parent.

    It’s good for kids to learn how to use tools, and climb trees, and feel like they’re doing something a little bit risky every once in awhile. It gives them skills, confidence, and I suspect makes them less likely to crave even more dangerous risky experiences. That said, with other people’s children, I’m definitely more toward the hyper-protective end of the spectrum.

  7. Elisa, that makes perfect sense! I think it’s fair to say that as a parent, you will learn your comfort zone and your children better than anyone else. It’s a whole different ballgame when you are responsible for someone else’s children! In fact, when I am watching others’ kids, I am way more cautious with them!

  8. Here’s an article that someone posted on my sister’s fb page after she made a little rant about the fearful way parenting runs these days.

    This kind of freaked me out:

    I want to read Last Child in the Woods, I’ve got a copy and my sis-in-law told me some interesting tidbits the author cites, something about more kids getting hurt on playgrounds than in the woods due to a false sense of security.

    I’m so ready to get behind REAL play, real experiences, a bit of daring even. Recently I rode in the back of my dad’s pick up with my two year old around a campground and it was the best feeling. She closed her eyes and felt the wind on her face and put her arms out and tried to climb up on the wheel well and sit there by herself (I held her on my lap.) I remember getting to do stuff like that (and so much more) as a kid and how exciting and memorable it was to do things that were even a tad bit dangerous. I hope to always challenge the part of myself that wants to hold them back and encourage them to run a little more free, experience a whole lot more, and grow a lot heartier.

    That being said, I haven’t let Lucy use scissors yet. (She’s only a month past two!) She just got a little desk of her own and is very interested in getting “Little Scissors.” I think it might be time to at least let her start trying some kiddie ones!

  9. Wow, Heather. Thanks for linking to that article! I couldn’t agree more with it, and it’s really disheartening that a choice we make as parents, a well-thought-out choice, can end us up in jail. Unbelievable and worth fighting against! Thank you!

  10. Thanks for this passionate post, Lauren! I also completely agree with your philosophy of allowing children to learn through DOING, through trying and sometimes failing. I think that for all of us, we experience joy and satisfaction in working through challenges and seeing what we can do when we truly put our hearts into what we’re doing. I believe if we only allow our kids to experience easy success, play experiences that are ‘watered down’ versions of the real thing, we deny them of that joy and satisfaction from having worked through a challenge. Having said that, it’s a work in progress for me to be able to step back and allow my son to have those stumbles and falls. Love your blog!

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