This post looks at three ideas for setting up hammering stations for young children. Before that, let’s take a quick look at why adding hammering stations to your play space is a good idea.
Among other things, hammering:
- Builds muscle strength and control in the back, shoulder, upper arm, forearm, wrist and hand.
- Hones hand-eye coordination, visual tracking, self-regulation, cause-and-effect thinking, and other cognitive and social skills.
- Helps children learn STEM skills (a hammer is a Simple Machine–a lever).
- Offers an outlet for strong emotions children have a hard time managing or talking about. (Pounding a nail is much more socially acceptable than pounding the kid next to you.)
- Burns energy in children who never seem to run out of it.
First Things First
The three hammering stations have s few things in common, so let’s address them here. My recommendation is to use 1.5 inch long roofing nails as your default kids-pounding-in-nails nails. They are readily available, they are inexpensive, they have large heads that make great targets, and they the perfect length for little bodies to manage.
Start The Nails
Initially, I recommend pre-starting the nails in the hammering stations for a couple reasons. Especially when kids are new to hammer use.
Starting a nail is challenging for hammer newbies who lack hand-eye coordination and visual tracking skills. Pre-starting nails avoids smooshed fingers and frustration.
It also helps keep track of the nails in your environment–nails that are stuck 1/2 an inch into a hunk of wood are not nails kids can easily stick in their mouths, noses, or ears.
One At A Time
For overall safety, I recommend only one child be allowed to use a hammer station at a time. This reduces the chances of accidentally hammered fingers. You can become more flexible with this rule as the kids develop hammer skills and you better understand the group dynamics of Hammer Time.
Having multiple hammer stations is a corollary to the above recommendation for most early learning setting since it is highly likely that more than one child will want to hammer at a time.
Gear And Safety
Log Hammering Station
This hammering station can live in a corner of your outside play space or classroom. Select a solid hardwood log at 14-24 inches in diameter and 12-24 inches tall. Larger is fine–the goal is a log slice that’s stable and won’t easily tip over. For example, a 12 inch wide log that was 36 inches tall would be prone to tipping.
Once you’ve selected a log and put it in place, just pre-start a bunch of nails and let the hammering begin.
Block Hammering Station
A wooden block hammering station is more mobile than the above option. Use it inside or out and on the ground or on a tabletop. The Block in a Block Hammering Station is a rectangular hunk of hardwood at last 4 inches thick, 10 inches wide, and 14 inches long. You could get by with something smaller, but it would be more likely to bounce around with each hammer blow–making injury and frustration more likely.
Vertical Hammering Station
This one changes things up a bit–instead of hammering horizontally it will allow kids to do some vertical hammering. You’ll need a board at least 1.5 inches thick, five inches wide, and 36 inches long. Once you have your board, you can start a bunch of nails in it and mount it to a vertical surface.
Make sure that vertical surface is up to the task. Imagine the chaos and confusion if it was mounted to a not-so-sturdy playground fence that tumbled over the second time a nail was struck! Kids would be escaping, you would have to complete incident reports, the fence would have to be fixed–what a mess.
After picking a sturdy vertical surface, consider mounting the board diagonally like the one below. Why? It’ll allow the kids to hit nails at different heights. If you use a six foot long board, a child might need to stand on their knees to hammer on the low end and reach above their head on the high end. Different body positions and different hammering angles means muscles are worked differently.
Let the children start the nails on their own. I recommend doing this after they’ve had some success hammering pre-started nails or when they show interest in doing it on their own. This is a great chance for some one-on-one direct instruction.
After some success with basic roofing nails, introduce different sized nails. Small nails require more small muscle control and a gentler touch. Large nails challenge large muscles.
Aside from being fun and loud, learning to use a hammer builds all kinds of skills kids will need throughout life. I’d love to read about and see photos of your experiences using hammers with children in the comments section!