How To Teach A Toddler To Use Tools: A Dad’s Guide

teach a toddler to use tools

I love to work with my hands. What dad doesn’t, right? There is something about thinking up a project, getting the necessary materials together, and working through it until you get the final product that you want. Now that my oldest son is no longer an infant and is instead a great big toddler, he has begun tagging along while I build planters for his mother or bookshelves for his room. His interest got me to thinking: What is the best way to teach a toddler to use tools?

After I sat and thought about it for a while, I came up with what I think will be a great way to guide my son, or any child for that matter, through the basic steps to utilize some basic tools. This article will show you exactly how to introduce your little guy or gal to the wonderful world of DIY, and believe me, once they get started, they won’t ever want to stop!

Safety First

One of the most important lessons that I was taught at a young age is to make sure that you are as safe as can be when you are using any type of tools, even simple ones like a hammer or a screwdriver, which is what we are going to focus on here. Before I would let my son handle any tools at all, I took him over a few basic principles to help keep him safe. 

Keep Fingers And Hands Away From Sharp Parts – Obvious I know, but I am dealing with a three-year-old here. Basically, I showed him the tools (hammer and Philips/Flathead screwdriver) and the screws/nails and talked about the different parts. I made sure to emphasize how much it would hurt if the claw or striker of the hammer were to hit his fingers, and that the screwdrivers, nails, and screws each have a sharp point that should not be pointed at himself or others. 

Wear Safety Glasses – While there really isn’t any danger of anything getting in the child’s eyes when they are using a screwdriver, a hammer is an entirely different story. Nails, wood chips, or the hammer itself could easily strike your kid’s face at any moment, especially when they are just getting the hang of swinging it. That’s why you should always have them wear safety glasses, like this pair here, to get them to be safe as a matter of habit. 

Start Slow – Now, a toddler is an easily excitable being, so this is a tough sell as far as they are concerned. Even after several talks about how to swing a hammer slowly or to turn a screw in at snail’s speed, my guy would simply go to town whacking and twisting away. It took a lot of practice and tons of reminders, but he is finally beginning to take it slow when he is starting to work, which makes things go a lot better for him.

Be Sure You’re Area Is Clear – This is something else that will take a lot of practice. Kids under the age of 6 are usually oblivious to the people around them, especially when they are doing something that they are interested in. Be sure to remind your little one to make sure you or anyone else aren’t standing too close when they are ready to begin hammering.

Don’t Start With A Complex Project

teach a toddler to use tools

Toddlers can be tricky creatures to figure out. They can play for hours on end with blocks, building them higher and higher, and not get discouraged when they fall over. But then ask them to put on pants or shoes so you can go to the store, and they collapse on the floor in agony over how difficult that will be for them!

That is why I highly recommend that you don’t give them something too tough to complete the first go around with these tools. 

Screw Driver Mastery!

When I first introduced my son to a hammer and screwdriver, I used a scrap piece of lumber that I had lying around my workshop. I took it, and drilled lots of holes in it and started screws for him. All he had to do was twist them down, and poof! He was a master screw turner.

Next, I did the same thing, but I didn’t start the screws for him. I simply drilled the holes and had him insert the screws, twist them with his hand to begin, and turn them the rest of the way with his driver. He even loved to take the screws in and out again over and over and over again.

Hammer Time!

Once your child has figured out how to use a screwdriver with proficiency, you can move along to a hammer. Now a hammer is a lot more difficult to wield for a toddler, so you’ll probably want to stick with the first step for a while. Take a piece of scrap lumber and start several nails for them to hammer in on their own. That way they can focus on striking the nails down, rather than trying to hold them steady to get them started. 

Project Ideas

After you are satisfied with your child’s ability to use a screwdriver and hammer well, you can move onto some simple projects. Some of the best first woodworking projects are:

  • Birdhouse
  • Stool
  • Bench
  • Basic Chair

Simple and Easy!

Like I said, take it nice and slow and keep your expectations low when you introduce your child to tools. If you keep at it, you’ll be blown away by how safety conscious and proficient they are with their work. I hope that this article will help you to get to work with your little one.

If you have any questions, comments, or advice, please let me know in the comment section. Have a great day!

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Johnny B. Thomas

Hello! My name is Johnny and I’ve got one of the greatest jobs on the planet…I’m a dad! I am the father of two rambunctious boys and one lovely little lady.

Ever since I was young myself, I have always wanted children of my own so that I could help them to explore this big beautiful world of ours. I’m so happy that you have chosen to join me on this journey, and can’t wait to see where it leads us!

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