Simple Outdoor Play – Tinkering with Tools

Child-Led Learning: Tinkering with Tools. Rain or Shine Mamma

Published on November 21st, 2014 Updated on January 10th, 2023 By Linda McGurk

Child-led, play-based learning is a cornerstone of forest schools and something that I’m a huge proponent of. Even though I occasionally plan learning activities, for example a word hunt in nature, my agenda is not set in stone and my daughters always help shape the process. The final result isn’t always what I had envisioned, but I’m OK with that. I realize that they sometimes learn more by following their own inquisitiveness rather than a lesson plan that is imposed on them. And that’s exactly what happened in our driveway recently.

Child-Led Learning: Tinkering with Tools. Rain or Shine Mamma The Little Naturalist had watched me use a wrench to tighten some nuts on her bike, and I noticed that she was interested in the process. “Can I try?” she asked, and I let her. I loosened up the nut so that she could help tighten it again. It was in an awkward spot under the seat that was hard to get to, so I had to help her out. And then: “I want to do more!” “Well, the bike is all done now.” “Do we have more of these?” she said and pointed at the nut. “Uhm, I’ll look.” And that’s how the Little Naturalist’s tinkering session began. Admittedly, I was caught somewhat off guard by her sudden interest in tools, but knew I needed to find a way to nurture it. So we started digging around in the garage.

Child-Led Learning: Tinkering with Tools. Rain or Shine Mamma

A box of wrenches of varying sizes proved a great place to start. I gave her a bolt and asked if she could find a wrench that would fit that particular bolt. She did.

“I want to screw it in,” she said.

I started scrambling for a piece of wood and finally found a block that was thick enough. Using a power drillย  I made about a dozen holes in the wood with four or five different bits. Then I grabbed the jar of random, leftover screws and bolts that we keep in the garage in case we’d ever need them for something (yeah, right). I poured out a small pile and gave the Little Naturalist some more tools – a screwdriver with a hexagonal shape and one with a cross shape. Then she went to work.

Child-Led Learning: Tinkering with Tools. Rain or Shine Mamma

Through trial and error she quickly figured out that some of the screws were too thick and others were too thin to fit in certain holes. But she was also able to successfully screw quite a few of them in. I had to go back several times to make new holes as she kept running out.

The best part of this activity was that she was completely absorbed with it for well over an hour and a half. I rarely see a 3-year-old work with such focus and determination on a single task for such a long period of time. I think part of the reason was that she was allowed to use the same tools as she had seen me use. They were real tools, not toys, and I think that lent weight to the very important work that she was doing.

In all, I loved how the Little Naturalist packed so much learning into this one spontaneous activity:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Construction skills
  • Math (shapes, thickness, length)
  • Vocabulary
  • Patience and perseverance

What kind of tinkering activities do your kids enjoy and what kind of tools do they use? Please share your experiences in the comments!

Child-Led Learning: Tinkering with Tools. Rain or Shine Mamma

26 thoughts on “Simple Outdoor Play – Tinkering with Tools

  1. Nicolette says:

    I love the spontaneous activities! It’s funny how we put so much planning into some of them & it’s always those spur of the moment ideas they seem to love the most. This post game me some great DIY gifts ideas for my daughter – I’m seeing a miniature tool belt and a trip to Tractor Supply in our future ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Kate says:

    What a fun learning session! You have so much patience and ability to just let go–something I need to work on!) to make all that happen for her, but I see that it paid off with her being so focused and engaged with the experience. Thanks for the great inspiration & thanks again for sharing my post!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Yes, we did have a lot of fun:o) And believe me, patience is not usually my strong suit, but I saw some potential in this activity and I was right. Once she got going she didn’t need much help at all!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      That’s great! It seems like tools for kids are usually marketed toward boys but I think it’s important for girls to learn how to use them as well. Thanks for reading and for sharing my post!

  3. Joanna @mumbalance says:

    I used to love tinkering as a child. My granddad had a well equipped workshop and we were welcome to use any tools as long as we put them back. He was the sort of man who took out nails from wood before burning it, and would straighten any stray nail he found to use later. No waste allowed!
    Once Little F is old enough I will definitely put some tools his way ๐Ÿ™‚
    #outdoorplayparty

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Joanna – what a wonderful memory to have! I think in general the older generation was much better about not letting anything go to waste. My grandparents were the same way, because they knew what it was like to make do with very small means. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Coombemill says:

    I love the tools tinkering and the educational spin off you identify here. My kids are forever tinkering with Farmer Nick’s odd wood collection in the shed, mostly it is great fun for them making arrows or swords, though Farmer Nick does go mad when a nail is left on the floor and punctures a tractor tyre! thank you for sharing your tools learning and making experience on Country Kids.

  5. Karen Bell says:

    Letting kids play with tools is great, they learn so much and love as they think they are being just like mummy and daddy. My son absolutely adores playing with tools.
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsbeKids

  6. Karen Ung says:

    I love that you encouraged her! I STILL know people who think tools are not for girls. In our house, both parents fix stuff, so my girls had a toy tool set and stethoscope before they had a Barbie house. I don’t slam playing with dolls (it’s their favorite!), but feel it’s important for kids to be well rounded. We let them play with the tools & wood too, got them smaller brooms and snow shovels so they can help clean and clear the walk, and let them help with the gardening too. They love it and are so proud they can do “big kid” stuff. : )

    Wanted to comment on the bird feeder too – so awesome! The same ingredients but big pine cones work well too. They are so cute you can leave them up all winter (hang them in your trees). : )

    • Linda McGurk says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more – I feel like children are still very much judged by their gender in so many situations and I’m not a big fan of that. My girls love Barbie movies and their My Little Ponies, but they also climb trees, love dirt, roughhouse – and tinker with tools. In all honesty I sometimes get lazy and let my husband do the handy work around the house but my daughter’s interest in the tools really motivated me to pick up the power drill again! Like you I think it’s important that they see us both doing a variety of chores around the house.
      And yes, I believe we’re going to try some pine cone bird feeders too. We picked some nice big ones on a walk recently, so we have all the materials ready!

  7. Penny at Mother Natured says:

    Ooo a linky! I’ll so have to join. It will be lovely reading everyone’s wonderful outdoor posts!

    I just love your tinkering with tools post. It’s funny how much we (well not me anymore) spend on toys, when you don’t need too. Yesterday I brought out the baking trays and the girls loved playing with wet sand and baking trays. No toys included and they got more enjoyment out of this.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Penny – I would love it if you linked up to the Outdoor Play Party! Your posts are always relevant and well-written and if they’re linked up it makes it easier for everybody to share them:o) And I’m glad to hear your girls enjoyed playing with the baking trays – simple is often best!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.