In the Burrus room at Styles Street Children’s Community Long Day Care in Sydney, the children, aged between four and five, have a chance to try an activity many early learners may never encounter—woodwork. Standing at a purpose-built desk, and fitted out with child-sized hammers and safety goggles, they get busy building all sorts of things. Over recent years this has included a bird house, a robot and a fire engine. The children work in pairs under close staff supervision, but they’re usually the ones who decide what to make.
“The fire engine was one of the children’s ideas,” says Styles Street Director and Educational Leader Radha Babicci. “Now they use it in their dramatic play. They love it because they made it. We [staff] strengthened it with brackets, but otherwise they made the whole thing by themselves. They painted it and everything.”
Risks and rewards
Radha says the program, which began in 2019, was inspired by a staff member. “One of our teachers was passionate about bringing it in, so we got a woodwork table and they just started really simply with two children at a time, practising hammering and things like that,” she says, adding that a risk assessment informed this process. “You have to rigorously assess the activity and consider the risks and the benefits, and then find ways to control the risks. So we have a teacher there and safety gear, and we instruct the children on how to use a hammer. It’s a highly supervised activity.”
As part of the risk assessment, parents were informed about the proposed activity and given an opportunity to provide feedback. “They were all supportive of it, so it was easy to go ahead,” Radha says. “I think parents appreciate it because it’s not something they’re likely to do at home.”
For the children, there are many benefits. Children thrive on real-life experiences and enjoy the responsibility of using real tools. “There’s so much learning—it builds confidence, creativity and hand-eye coordination,” Radha says. And there’s something else they gain—something that comes from the innately daring nature of the program. “Risk-taking is really exciting for children—they feel empowered doing something that is usually reserved for adults,” she adds.
An empowering philosophy
These outcomes connect deeply to the philosophy of the service, which has achieved an ‘Exceeding’ rating through the National Quality Standards. “We are big believers in empowering children’s sense of agency—we see them as confident and capable,” Radha says.
Established in 1973 as a kindergarten for local immigrant families, Styles Street celebrated its 50th birthday this year with an event that included farm animals, face painting, live music and an Aboriginal Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony. It was a fitting tribute to the sense of community that defines the centre and has made its longevity possible. “The reason we are here today is because families banded together for the interest of their children,” Radha says. “This warmth and dedication to children has continued over the years, with the family management committee and all our subcommittees that work tirelessly to make Styles Street the special place that it is.”
A sustainable future
As the service looks to the future, it continues to evolve with a strong focus on nature and sustainability. This year, that has included trialling a plastic-free approach in the Wumbat Room for children aged between two and three. “Some teachers were a bit hesitant because it meant taking out toys like Duplo, but we thought we would just try it and see how it goes,” Radha says. “And the response has been great. We find it’s a much more calm and grounded environment.”
New additions to the room such as loose parts made from natural materials, including some taken directly from the bush and garden, have been a hit with the children. “We find they are much more interested in nature than in plastic—they engage with it in a completely different way,” Radha says, adding that her team benefited greatly from a training course held at Wild Play Discovery Centre in Centennial Park. “If the other rooms are inspired, this approach may branch out to the entire centre. We will see what happens.”
Many educators are cautious about trying an innately risky activity such as woodwork, but it offers numerous developmental benefits for children.
- Fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination are honed through activities such as securing screws and hammering.
- Creativity and imagination are nurtured during the design and construction phases.
- Self-esteem and confidence benefit as well.
Pete Moorhouse, an early childhood creative consultant, author, and researcher, believes woodwork uniquely bolsters children’s confidence and their grasp of STEAM concepts. “As they build, children transform into artists, designers, architects, builders, and sculptors,” he articulates in an article for the educational organization HundrED. “Woodwork profoundly enhances children’s self-esteem and confidence, fostering a ‘can do’ mindset.”
For more information and safety tips, see Pete Moorhouse’s article on woodwork here.