Book Reviews :: Montessori Practical Life :: Using Real Tools

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover computer programming books aimed at children, as well as reality-based children’s books.

My young four-year-old using scissors to open a box

My young four-year-old using scissors to open a box

This last month, I have been focusing on books that reflect the practical life skills of young children. Part 1 focused on the young three-year-old, whereas Part 2 offered books for a slightly older audience. Part 3 reflected the role handwork plays in a Montessori curriculum and Part 4 covered character development. In this installment of “Practical Life” book reviews, I’ve chosen to focus on tools.

In my Montessori training, I was taught that children need to be shown how to use real tools…and that they can handle the responsibility. So, we give real knives, sharp needles and live animals (and I have done my best to mimic this at home). There are no pretend kitchens in a Montessori classroom, but snack time is a key component of the day in a primary classroom. Children are taught to prepare their own snack from the provided materials for that day. They feel confident because they are actually being helpful (as opposed to just pretending to do work). They are retaining their dignity in this work. While Dr. Montessori saw little value in fantasy play during the school day, I’m not entirely certain she wouldn’t have valued this type of play at home. I do feel there is a lot value in pretend play, but that is another post entirely!

Ages 2 and up
Sturges, Philemon. I Love Tools! Illustrations by Shari Halpern. HarperCollins: New York, 2006.
This simple book has cartoon-like pictures, but is quite firmly based in reality. A young family works together to build a birdhouse, naming each tool as it goes. The two kids work with mom and dad and each page is limited to a few sentences. A great introductory book for your budding builder.

Ages 3 and up
Gibbons, Gail. How a House is Built. Holiday House: New York, 1990.
As with most of Gibbon’s work, this story book reads less like a story and more like an interesting non-fiction read. She takes us through the concept of a house. Houses and homes mean many things to different people and Gibbons makes note of that fact. Eventually, she settles on a typical American house and we follow the development of the house from architect to completion. For curious kids who want to know exactly how a house is put together, this book meets those needs (without becoming too tedious or boring for the adult who is reading it to them).

Ages: 2 and up
Sobel, June. B is for Bulldozer. Ills. By Melissa Iwai. San Diego: Gulliver Books, 2003.
This alphabet concept book follows a work crew as they set-up an amusement park. The story flows very well and capital letters are highlighted on each page. A, E, O, U sounds are all short vowels (asphalt, excavator, operator, underpass). This is a great book for the construction-obsessed child who is starting to recognize capital letters – or who just wants to know the names of the equipment (and mom and dad are tired of the DK books).

Ages 3 and up
Crews, Nina. Below. Henry Holt and Company: New York, 2006.
The author-illustrator uses photographs with overlay drawings to tell the story of Jack, an approximately seven-year-old boy and his small, plastic figurine named Guy. Jack has a flight of wooden stairs in his home and he and Guy do lots of pretending on these stairs (they can become mountains, cities and occasionally, a forest). One day Guy goes under the stairs and Jack needs his plastic construction equipment to get him out. This story is cute, realistic and short, making it a perfect read-aloud for circle time.

I didn’t have a chance to review The Toolbox by Anne and Harlow Rockwell, but you may want to check that one out too!

Added 4/8/2016
Ages 3 and up
Bean, Jonathan. Building Our House. Farrar, Straus, Giroux: New York, 2013.
While the story itself is simple, the book is quite long. Thankfully, each page only contains one or two sentences. Therefore, there are a lot of pictures for your young one to look at if the story gets too lengthy. This story is loosely based on Bean’s own parents and their desire to build a homestead home out in the country (and homeschool). The two parents and two young children (told from Bean’s older sister’s point of view) travel to a plot of land in the country where they will live in a Airstream trailer while building their 2-story home. Each day, the dad goes to work in the city, but in the evenings and on the weekends, the whole family pitches in and builds the home. Workers bring in some heavy equipment for digging the well and basement, but mom and dad use a small hand mixer to pour the concrete for the basement. The story takes place over a year and a half, but the author’s note mentions that it actually took his family almost 5 years to complete their home. This is a great book for all of those construction-loving children out there and would pair quite nicely with a safe trip to see how new houses are made.