Shop Class for Kids
School shop class may be a thing of the past, but learning to use tools for DIY projects is still a valuable life skill. Find out where your child can get a hands-on head start.
Gone are the days of learning to use hand tools in shop class at school. The disappearance of this educational opportunity has resulted in a loss of practical lifelong skills and has limited early exposure for students to vocational careers. The responsibility for getting tools in the hands of our children is now left up to parents and caretakers. Especially for less-handy adults, knowing where to get the kids started isn’t always obvious. Luckily, there are an increasing number of classes and resources available, both online and in cities across America.
The Home Depot: Nationwide
With 2,300 stores across North America, there’s bound to be a Home Depot nearby. Be sure to check out your location’s DIY classes for kids. Little ones will get their hands on some tools for seasonally themed projects like a scarecrow napkin holder or holiday ornament. If you can’t make it to a workshop, the store will send you home with a workshop kit, so you don’t miss out. If your kids still want more, have them follow along at home with one of the company’s online project guides.
Randall Museum: San Francisco
The Randall Museum is a great place to start for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tots as young as two and a half (accompanied by an adult) can join a woodworking class. There are plenty of options for older kids too. Teens can learn how to use tools, make a Shaker bench, or even take a course on architecture. An interior design class enables design-oriented tweens to build furniture and then select textiles and décor for a miniature apartment.
The Tinkering School: Chicago, San Francisco, Apex, N.C., and Austin, Texas.
The mission of the Tinkering School is “to create excellent hands-on learning opportunities for children everywhere.” Their creative building programs are available in San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Apex, N.C.
Want to give your kids a truly immersive, hands-on experience? Send them for a weeklong overnight camp at the Tinkering School’s locations in San Francisco or Apex, N.C. According to the organization’s website, kids ages 7 and up are in for a week of “creation, failure, and learning of epic proportions,” while designing and building projects from birdhouses to roller coasters.
Eliot School of Fine and Applied Arts: Boston
Kids ages 4 and up can learn woodworking at the Eliot School of Fine and Applied Arts in Boston. Children learn to use hand tools, starting with simple projects and building up to larger and more complex ones. Tinkering and invention classes are available for the tween crowd. The school partners with schools and local organizations to bring woodworking instruction to the larger community as well.
Trackers: Denver, Seattle, San Francisco Bay Area, and Portland, Ore.
Trackers is perfect for nature-loving kids and survivalists. With an emphasis on teaching adults and children to thrive outdoors, Trackers teaches life skills, from woodworking and blacksmithing to wilderness survival and leadership. They offer after-school programs and day and overnight camps in Seattle, San Francisco Bay Area, Denver, and Portland, Ore.
Beam Center: New York City and Stafford, N.H.
Beam Center brings youth together to focus on “learning skills in fabrication, prototyping, metalwork, physical computing, construction, and design,” according to their website. Based in Brooklyn, they collaborate with schools across New York City to foster hands-on learning and conditions of educational equity. Want to get in on the fun? Kids ages 11 to 17 can join sleepaway Beam Camp offered in Stafford, N.H. They’ll spend their days focused on designing, building, computing, and crafting, both independently and as a community. Also, be on the lookout for the center’s yearly family-friendly Inventgenuity Festival held in New York City.
Woodcraft of Rockville—The Woodworkers Club: Rockville, Md.
Outside of Washington, DC, Woodcraft of Rockville offers youth classes for kids ages 8 to 11. Skill classes focus on the use of basic hand tools and woodworking techniques. They also give project workshops, such as making a wooden toolbox and building a game. Teens learn more advanced skills and can opt to create household objects or a candy dispenser.
New York Hall of Science: Queens, N.Y.
The term makerspace has been a buzzword in recent years. A makerspace is a place equipped with tools and materials where people can come together to build and create. The New York Hall of Science is home to a unique children’s makerspace. Made for experimentation and open-ended exploration, the area consists of tools and materials for woodworking, plaster casting, and more.
Dumbo Workshop: Brooklyn, N.Y.
The goal at this Brooklyn-based space is to “share the simple joy and satisfaction that comes from building something with your own hands.” An intro class at Dumbo Workshop consists of four sessions and involves learning how to use a table saw, chop saw, planer, orbital sander, and drill press with the final result being a solid wood finger-joint box. Continued learning is available with specific projects, a class on power tools, and one-on-one sessions.
Built by Kids
For those who don’t have a shop class in their area or for adults who prefer to partake in DIY projects alongside their kids, one online resource to check out is BuiltByKids.com. Visitors can find articles on topics such as what to include in their child’s first tool kit and how-to lessons for simple projects. Founder Timothy Dahl says the company’s core mission is to “guide children towards being self-reliant.” He says, “We start by introducing real tools at a young age and teaching children how to use them properly.” The focus is not on perfection but on curiosity and a willingness to try.
Outschool is popular for its broad catalog of online classes. Check out their Intro to Woodworking class for 8- to 12-year-olds. The course covers simple hand tools and teaches step-by-step projects. The class is prerecorded, so the start time is flexible with your schedule.
No programs in your area? When all else fails, there’s always YouTube. Kids who follow educational YouTuber Blippi will love his shop classes. Start with this video on learning about tools. There’s also Handyman Hal, who has plenty of videos for tool-loving tots. For the older set, I Like To Make Stuff has some great introductory shop class videos to get your kids started on hands-on projects.