Using pretend versus real tools in preschool – let’s talk about it

A few months ago, I shared a post on how to turn a box into a fun little “Fix-It Box” for all those plastic hammers, saws, and nails that I have acquired over my years of teaching and parenting and grand-parenting. The idea of my grandson using plastic tools for pretend play didn’t seem like all that big of deal to me. The Fix-It Box actually helped to save my coffee table from getting pounded on by a pretend hammer (well most of the time) and was a good way to store all those pretend tools instead of leaving them strung all over the living room. It also provided an interesting and alternative way for my grandson to play with his set of pretend tools. However, after sharing the Fix-It Box post on Facebook, I soon found out that many in the field of early childhood education have strong opinions about the use of pretend tools versus real tools in the preschool classroom. So let’s talk about it…

Real tools versus pretend tools by Teach Preschool

Over my time as a blogger, I have heard many different perspectives on the use of real tools versus pretend tools so I have tried to summarize those perspectives below.

Real tools versus pretend tools by Teach Preschool

Pretend tools…

Cons

  • The use of pretend tools in the preschool classroom hampers imagination and creativity.
  • The use of pretend tools in the preschool classroom diminishes the opportunity to build new skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and responsibility.
  • The use of pretend tools in the preschool classroom is demeaning to young children and undermines their intelligence and capabilities.
  • The last thing we should be filling our classroom centers or shelves with is plastic toys of any kind when we can teach much more effectively with the real thing.
  • Plastic hammers and toys such as these lead to more chaotic play than constructive play because children are limited by their use rather than challenged by their use.
  • Plastic tools simply do not work as well as real tools and leave little room for children to do anything substantial, meaningful, or realistic with them.

Real tools versus pretend tools by Teach Preschool

Pros

  • Pretend tools can be made freely available in the preschool classroom and allows children to explore their use through pretend play.
  • Like any kind of pretend play, pretend tools gives children the materials they need to emulate the grown-ups in their lives through their interaction with the materials.
  • Combining pretend tools with other materials such as play dough or paper boxes or other materials can give the children similar experiences as using real tools with a bit more freedom in the process.
  • Pretend tools can lead to discussions about the uses of those tools, who uses the tools in real life, and can help build new vocabulary.
  • Pretend tools do not require constant adult guidance, supervision, monitoring, and control.

Real tools versus pretend tools by Teach Preschool

Real tools…

Cons

  • Most (not all) real tools (hammers, saws, drills, glue guns) require the close supervision and monitoring of the use of those tools which means the child really isn’t freely and independently exploring the environment.
  • Hovering over a child who is too young to master the safe and effective use of the tool so that the teacher can give the child the experience of using a real tool is out of touch with where the child is in his development and can ultimately be a frustrating experience rather than a meaningful experience. Hovering is still hovering regardless the medium used.
  • Many real tools can lead to real accidents with serious injury that are simply not worth the risk.
  • When a young child gets injured by a tool or even burned by something like a glue gun, they don’t understand that this is only temporary. It can build fear to try again rather then build a healthy sense of respect for the tool.
  • Introducing a real tool that a young child can’t possibly master on his own isn’t any different or constructive than expecting a preschooler to hold his pencil correctly and write his name before he is physically and cognitively ready to do so.
  • The average preschool classroom is not equipped with enough staff or parent volunteers to effectively introduce real tools and monitor their use successfully.

Real tools versus pretend tools by Teach Preschool

Pros

  • Real tools are far more interesting to young children which naturally leads children to be more positively and constructively invested in their use and in the classroom experience as a whole.
  • The use of real tools in the preschool classroom give children a sense of accomplishment and a truer inner joy for constructing, building, engineering, and creating.
  • The use of real tools in the preschool classroom heightens children’s self-awareness and an awareness of others around them as the consequences of misusing the tools are very personal and very real.
  • The use of real tools in the preschool classroom promotes self-regulation and self-control as the consequences of misusing the tools are also very personal and very real.
  • The use of real tools in the preschool classroom honors children’s abilities and intelligence and sends the message that they are capable constructors and engineers.
  • The use of real tools can be a bonding experience between children and their teachers (or other adult helpers).
  • The use of real tools naturally leads to real and meaningful experiences in other kinds of study that crossses over into all realms of the educational experience such as in science, nature, construction, engineering, math, language, literacy, and writing. 

Real tools versus pretend tools by Teach Preschool

Conclusion

So are you thoroughly confused yet? Undecided? More confident? It’s funny, but when I read through only the “cons” on either type of tool, I am convinced that using that type of tool may not be such a good idea. But when I read just the “pros” on each type of tool, I am convinced using them is a must do!

But to give you some sort of opinion on this discussion…

Real versus Pretend Tools in Preschool by Teach Preschool

In my classroom, I will try almost anything that I feel my students will find rewarding and can reasonably do on their own at some point. I don’t mind walking my students through a process but ultimately, I want them to take ownership of the process and have some freedom to explore the process entirely on their own (but within a safe environment and under my safe watch).  So whether we use a real tool or a pretend tool – for me the approach is the same. I introduce, guide, then observe and see whether or not my students are…

  • ready for the type of tool we are using
  • enjoying the experience or finding it interesting and engaging
  • need additional support or time to build confidence or understanding
  • and finally, whether or not the children are demonstrating the ability to use the tool in a constructive and meaningful manner (whether it is real or pretend).

So the perhaps you are passionate about the use of real tools over pretend tools in preschool or perhaps you stand completely at the other end of the spectrum. Where ever you stand, just know that there are reasons why different teachers believe the way they believe and stand where they stand and it is important to look at the bigger picture of a program and teaching practice before insisting that your way is absolute or before being so strongly against the ideas of another.

Early childhood education is riddled with controversy and yet, we can find common ground if we learn to listen to one another, respect and understand our differences, and be aware that not all classroom situations or environments or teaching skills and experience or programs or student skill levels or personalities or ages or student/teacher ratios are the same.

Real versus Pretend Tools from Teach Preschool

I’m sure you have your own experience with the use of real or pretend tools that has influenced your decision-making or preferences. Feel free to share them below…

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Exploring the tools of a scientist

Young children are born with the desire to understand everything that goes on around them.  It has been estimated that four year olds ask an average of 400 questions a day!  Yep, that sounds about right! Children are definitely natural explorers and young scientists.  That is precisely what led us to our latest unit of study…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

We began our scientist unit by reading the book “Meet Einstein” by Mariela Kleiner.  Now, if you had just seen the cover of this book, you would perhaps pass right by it, concerned that it would be over the heads of young preschool age children. Well, that just isn’t so.  “Meet Einstein” is a simple, easy to understand book with gorgeous pictures…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

While the book briefly tells us about Einstein and the amazing things he discovered, including the properties of light and gravity, it also covers some of the basics about scientists such as scientists study plants, animals, and the human body and that all scientists ask questions and make observations.  One of the best parts of the book is the illustrations of all the tools scientists use…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

As a class, we discovered that some of these tools are ones we already use.  After finishing the story, Deborah brought out a set of our very own “scientist tools” for us to look at and discuss during our circle time…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

The children were familiar with most of these tools.  We use tweezers, pipettes, and magnifying glasses on a regular basis at preschool.  Of course, flashlights and binoculars are always a favorite among preschoolers.  The stopwatch, however, had them a little stumped!  After talking briefly about each tool and how scientists use it safely, we sent our little scientists off to explore the tools on their own…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

The chalkboard was available for children to record their observations throughout the morning…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

We even practiced making marks on a paper chalkboard just like the scientist in our book did…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

We also had special clothes available that scientists might wear, like lab coats and booties…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

One of our centers had a popular DIY color and light discovery box that we created for the children to explore.  Through one end of the box was a small flashlight and a paper tube was in the other end.  The color paddles diffused the light and created a wonderful combination of colors…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

The children could remove and insert the color paddles as they wished then look through the tube to see the light shining through the colors…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

We made two different light boxes for the children to explore. The second light box was open at the top so the children could put whatever they wanted inside to look at.  Most of the children liked looking at our water bead bottles since the bottles were bigger to see through and had a fun color and design that could be seen in the light…

Scientists Day 249

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

Paper tubes and tape were available at another center.  With these simple materials, our little scientists created telescopes: a tool that they could take home to remember all of the fun they had at preschool exploring tools of a scientist…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

Lots of fun all throughout our day exploring the tools of scientists…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

PS. Our classroom is small and easy to keep a safe watch on our young scientists at play but for those of you who worry that cords should come off of tools or batteries should be removed, then simply take off any long cords and seal flashlight battery doors shut…

Exploring the tools of a scientist by Teach Preschool

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By | October 23rd, 2013|Categories: Science and Nature|Tags: , |5 Comments