USING TOOLS:  Developing Mastery is Important for a Child

USING TOOLS: Developing Mastery is Important for a Child

Mastery is the end result of a process where a child learns to have total control over something.  An interest in a particular goal is sparked, and a child’s innate ability to test, investigate, practice and master an object comes into play. Children spend much of their day making choices about the materials they connect with, in an attempt to develop mastery.

We take care to choose the tools in our classrooms, so that children can develop mastery often during their classroom experiences.  Mastery of a tool is something that lends itself to deeper engagement and connections, for future projects to come.

One of the simplest tools we explore is scissors.  The child experiments, squeezes, and negotiates their fingers into the holes, and eventually learns to cut with scissors. At times mastery of tools depends on modeling the use of a tool safely, and appropriately, but there is some time offered for exploration and the ‘figuring things out’ piece of the mastery puzzle. Once the child becomes a master of scissors, their repertoire expands-they can cut long strips, tiny pieces, make a crown, draw a shape and cut it out, and eventually use this skill to add to their   work.

The beginning of understanding how scissors work takes patience and persistence

Grass grows in this table as an invitation to the scissors.

Scissors combine with tape (another tool) to expand the opportunity to develop mastery.

Tape is another popular tool. Things that stick, things that connect, things that bind draw us in, as they help our ideas come together. Even in a literal sense, bringing two items together to make them join- make them stick together, help us see that our thoughts and ideas can take shape and form. Exploring tape from the beginning starts with the ‘sticky’ part.  Pull, Tear, Cut, Stick.  The concept of using that piece of tape to join two things together soon follows, and mastery of tape begins to emerge.  Mastering the dispenser (that pull and tear to the side, so the piece comes off) is an entirely unique mastery process that also involves tape.  Mastery of tape helps us connect, stick, build and again…our ideas take shape and form.

Tape meets the light table here, children are engaged by the sticky properties of the tape 

The sticky tape makes its way to the mirror, the table… every surface nearby as children work to master the first property of  tape

This tape ball sits on our shelf, as a reminder of the work, attention, and  joy that poured into all that stickiness

Today we spent time in the workshop working with familiar tools: hammers, nails, wire and wire cutters.  We began to think about wire as a tool to create shape. By bending it we can create a form.  We looked at photos of a wire sculpture exhibit that our teachers had just attended.

These are some of the tools we explored today

In the workshop, we aim to offer as many tools as possible that help things connect.

We work to vary the options often:

Tape (masking, clear tape, duct tape, thin tape, washi tape, blue painters tape, book tape) 

Glue (white glue, clear glue, paste, rubber cement, tacky glue, white paste, flour paste) 

Wire (of all different gauges), Brads (many sizes), Nails, screws, staplers, other fasteners…

And those hammers on the shelf behind us had a voice of their own, calling to us to be used, to re-visit a time when we were learning to master that tool, and hadn’t quite completed exploring the hammer’s full potential.   Some of us began hammering while others worked with wire.

Soon the ‘hammering into the foam’, became ‘hammering things onto the foam’. What fits? What’s easy to hammer? What’s too hard?  What else can we put on our nails? What other tools on the shelf behind us are speaking to us to try? Some of them we know, some of them are new.

This child works to hammer nails into styrofoam, and he sees where the nails go into the foam underneath. He later  fills his nails with beads, carefully choosing them and beading them on, to add to his work.

A piece of paper is nailed to the block, and it overhangs half of the foam making it a challenge to see where the nails can connect to the foam.  The child chooses to wrap the paper around and nail it in to solve the problem.

Here the child chooses a variety of objects to challenge his hammer. He drew out a plan, but openly decided to stray from his original ideas, as the work took on a new form. He adds wire to the piece as a final touch. 

At the very same table, wire and buttons are used here to explore the properties of wire.  Using wire to make a shape is another avenue of exploring wire, which this group will move towards as they learn more about its properties.



Here are some of our works in progress. already on display in our classroom. We will surely revisit them, once they are on display for a bit so that we can share them with our peers. They are bound to bring up conversations about the tools we used, and hopefully with inspire others to given them a go.




Developing  a repertoire of engaging materials, loose parts and pieces,   allow us the freedom over them to develop mastery. These collections of loose parts are found and familiar objects that we explore and share often.

Developing a repertoire of tools in important to us. It gives us a base confidence and competence that lends power to our ideas.  It helps us see that we have the ability and the know-how to bring a simple idea into a new light through our power, our vision and our constructivism. We are builders, creators, engineers, thinkers and dreamers through the empowerment that these tools offer us.

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