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Real Tools, Real Work 

Sarah Adams-Kollitz and Andrew Rowan

We are a group of big feelers. For 3-5 year olds, every day contains a range of emotions: missing a parent, saying goodbye to a beloved teacher who is moving on or a friend who is now in kindergarten, moving to a new school and feeling uncertain about who to trust or how to make friends, the loss of a pet, the uncertainty of transitions, the frustration of being asked to grow more independent, shoes that pinch, milk that spills, toys that have to be put away.

In our classroom, we try to normalize big feelings, give each other space, and provide support when needed. We try to put words to the feelings and acknowledge the ways we are connected by our feelings. We try to wait patiently while friends work through big feelings, knowing our time will come. We try to find ways to express frustration, anger, regret, and sadness without hurting others. We tell stories to remind each other that having big feelings is part of life and to figure out what those feelings are telling us. As one student said to a friend who was struggling, “We all have goodness in us and badness. I bit my mother one time… I guess I was just needing attention.”

Real Tools, Real Work is a project that developed to promote emotional regulation and connection. Real work with real tools provides an opportunity for students who sometimes feel overwhelmed and out of control the chance to celebrate their creativity and competence in the real world. It has provided many opportunities for children to be surprised by how much adults trust them and how much they trust themselves.

As always, we want our curriculum to inspire a sense of connection while reminding us of the rights and responsibilities of being in a community. In this case it has involved thinking about how we can solve problems, help others, and get to know new people. It has also inspired us to think about how to use tools while making sure no one gets hurt, make sure everyone who wants to be included can participate, and leave the world a little better than we found it.

The preschool now has a regular visitor, Sarah’s husband, Jon. What started as a visit to fix a broken cabinet has become a weekly ritual and continuation of our interest in real tools and real work. Fridays have become “Jon Days”, because we know Jon will visit when we are on the playground and something interesting will unfold.

Jon is a landscape architect who works for the parks department, so he often finds things outside that he brings to explore. He also has a big tool box.

One week we fixed the hinge on the gate. One week he helped us investigate a squishy board on the tree house that we might fix.

One week he brought some giant logs we had to work together to carry. After he left it snowed and we made a snow/log bridge for our sleds. We have an amusement park for sleds.

Another week he brought chunks of ice from the lake. We carried it around in sleds until we found a good spot to dump it, then we used tools to chop, pound, and saw the ice.

Some of the skills we are developing are:

  1. Self Control

  2. Caution (what are the safety rules we need to follow to use this tool?)

  3. Spatial awareness (where is your body and what is it doing?)

  4. Planning (what do you want to make and what do you need?)

  5. Fine and gross motor skills (cutting, sawing, writing)

  6. Knowledge of resources and where to get information

  7. Communication (to express ideas, listen to directions, ask for help)

  8. Managing frustration

  9. Turn taking

  10. Celebrating progress

  11. Adapting and learning from mistakes

  12. Bravery

  13. Perseverance

  14. Team Work

Inside, we are learning to use a sewing machine. This is another real tool preschoolers are often surprised they can use. With the support of an adult, they can load the thread, lift the foot up and down (we call it an arm, so we don’t confuse it with the foot pedal), turn the power on and off, and control the speed with a foot pedal. This requires a huge amount of coordination and self control, but it is possible because of the students’ motivation and perseverance.

Often, when one student is sewing another hovers nearby watching intently, cheering them on and providing moral support. Sewing with a machine is intimidating, sometimes a little bit scary. With practice, we are learning most mistakes can be fixed, just don’t get your fingers close to the needle!

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