Perhaps a broken pipe in the classroom has brought construction workers and tools into your room. Maybe bulldozers outside are digging the foundation for a new playground. Or an aide may be measuring strips of paper to border a bulletin board. Whatever the occasion, you will find that children are fascinated by all kinds of tools.

Beginning the Project

Start by assessing children's interest in and knowledge of the project topic. In this case: Are they excited and asking questions about tools? What aspect of tools are they wondering about? What do they already know about tools? What connections are they making between different types of tools? You can choose from the following activities for a variety of ways to introduce the Tool Project.

Play an Observation Game. Collect a diverse group of tools (but don't call them that!) for children to observe, compare, and analyze. You could choose cooking utensils (egg beater, baster, meat mallet, can opener) or construction tools (hammer, tape measure, screwdriver, wrench, paintbrush). Invite children to discuss how the objects are both the same and different. What do they notice about their appearance? What do all the tools have in common? They all help us do a task (work). What are they? They are all tools!

Invite Questions. An object becomes a tool when it assists us in doing something. Something doesn't have to be an "official" implement to work like a tool and it can often be used in more than one way! How many ways can you use a stick? A key? A tube?

Introduce Unusual Tools. Bring something unusual that children might not have seen before. For example, try a plastic tubing traveling clothesline or a stenciling roller. Define the object as a tool (an implement used to accomplish a task). Then invite children to brainstorm how it might be used, for what purpose, and who might use it. Scribe children's ideas on a chart for later jumping-off places throughout the project.

Bring in Tools for Problem Solving. You might also bring to group time a collection of large and small boxes, a measating (yard) stick and/or tape measure, plus large objects such as a giant teddy bear, floor pillow, an unbreakable lamp, and so on. Ask: What will these fit in? How can we be sure? Invite children to predict which box each item will fit in. Demonstrate how to use the measuring stick or tape to be sure. Then try putting the items in the boxes to test their hypotheses. Consider asking: Can you fit in one of these boxes? How? What tool can we use to find out? Try it!

Use the information you collect from the group time activities to co-create investigative questions. What do we know about tools? What do we want to find out? See Learning Centers and Activity Plans for the further adventures of the Tool Project!

Going Further

Field Work: As children observe the use of tools in and around the school, they create field work. They might be interested in who uses tools in the school and how the tools are used. They may want to study one particular set of tools used for a specific task, such as those used in the cafeteria or by the custodian or the nurse. Small groups of children can interview different workers about tools and share their findings at the next group time meeting.

 Expanded Investigations: Children record their findings and expand their investigations through writing, drawing, building models, creating learning center experiments, and dramatic role playing.

Expert Visitors: Invite to group time people who work with tools that children find interesting. Visitors can share their expertise, answer questions, and expand children's experience with tools. Also, send a letter home to families explaining the Tool Project and inviting them to share their interests, materials, and expertise with the group.

Field Trips: If possible, take children on field trips-to a farm or firehouse, for example-to see other types of tools in action.

Create as Event: Invite children to decide how they would like to tell the story of the Tool Project. Some methods might include displays of children's work, a dictated story or class book, a class video of interviews and investigations, a play or even a class-made song.

One class that was fascinated with woodworking tools decided to build a large dollhouse with handmade furniture, wallpaper, and curtains. At the end of the project, they held an open house to share their work with the rest of the school, and, of course, their families!


For more information about the project approach and ways you can make it work in your program, you can consult the following books and Web sites.

  • Bringing Reggio Emilia Home: An Innovative Approach to Early Childhood Education by Louise Boyd Caldwell (Teaches College Press, 1997)
  • Engaging Children's Minds by Lillian G. Katz and Sylvia C. Chard (Ablex, 1989)
  • The Project Approach: Making Curriculum Come Alive by Sylvia C. Chard (Scholastic Inc., 1997)
  • The Project Approach: Managing Successful Projects by Sylvia C. Chard (Scholastic Inc:, 1997)
  • "From Themes to Projects" by Sylvia C. Chard I n I /chard.html
  • "Issues in Selecting Topics for Projects" by Lillian G. Katz and Sylvia C. Chard digests/ 1998/katzpr98.html
  • "The Project Approach" by Lillian G. Katz http://ericps.ed. 1994/lk-pro94.html