Carpentry: Building Little Chippies

"Who said carpentry was only for grown-ups?"

• With close supervision, quality tools and the right materials, children can benefit greatly from trying their hand at carpentry.

• Not only do they have the chance to be creative and construct something that interests them, but they can also learn a variety of new skills (not to mention, use some 'adult' tools!).

Benefits of Carpentry

Among other things, carpentry helps children:

  • be creative in a three-dimensional way
  • develop hand–eye coordination
  • learn pre-maths and science skills (e.g. understanding size, length, weight, force and balance)
  • develop planning and problem-solving skills
  • learn safe handling of tools.

Dramatic Play & Carpentry

Although the carpentry table isn't an appropriate place to play (in the usual sense), it is an opportunity to be creative and take on the role of a builder, using real tools, which is usually the domain of an adult. This is an expression of dramatic play.

Dramatic play is important because it helps develop social and language skills; allows the expression of positive and negative feelings; teaches children to negotiate, take turns and resolve conflict; and helps children make sense of the world.

Ideas For Carpentry

Practising basic skills, such as hammering, sawing, gluing and measuring
Screwing a hinge onto two pieces of wood
Nailing bottle caps onto pieces of wood
Creating a "machine collage" by nailing or screwing (safe) bits and pieces taken from old appliances (computers, telephones, hairdryers) to a board  
Painting/decorating carpentry projects
Attaching different sized bolts to a piece of wood so children can match nuts to them
Starting very young children with pop stix. They can cut, glue and decorate them. They may enjoy just using scrap timber as building blocks, too.
Building a simple car (bottle tops are good for wheels)
Going on a trip to see a house being built
Arranging chunks of wood or sorting screws
Sawing (or drilling through) a piece of cardboard
Hammering Match Stix (the pretend ones) into playdough

Essential equipment

Playcentre recommends the following as a minimum for early learning centres:

Sturdy carpentry table (to accommodate four children)
Sturdy sawbench
Storage for wood, tools and nails
Suitable wood
Hammers – claw
Hand drills and bits
Screwdrivers and screws (flat head and Phillips)
Vices (one could be a G-clamp)
Nails (recommended Bright Zinc)
PVA glue (wood strength)

See the Playcentre basic equipment list


Aside from the basic materials needed for carpentry, you can add countless other interesting materials to inspire creativity:

Scraps of leather or vinyl
Paint, natural dyes, crayons
Bottle tops
Cup hooks
Stapler and staples
Egg cartons
Nuts and bolts
Rubber bands
Rug scraps


  • Safety first! Supervision, shoes, safety equipment etc.
  • Use proper, good quality adult equipment that works.
  • Teach children the names of tools, and their proper use and care.
  • Limit the number at the workbench to one or two.
  • Involve the girls too!

Te Whāriki & Carpentry

Carpentry relates particularly to Strands 3 and 5 of Te Whāriki, which are Contribution/Mana Tangata and Exploration/Mana Aotūroa.

To learn more about Te Whāriki, visit the website.


Child Care Lounge was the source for some of the ideas in this article.

Our thanks to the Auckland Playcentre Shop for permission to use this article. Great play starts here.