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Here’s the question: If you want to get your kids — or your friends’ kids — started early, do you jump in and buy real tools, or do you pick up one of the many play sets available? I can see reasoning for both directions.

Play sets obviously allow you to get the kids started at the earliest possible age; Clearly they’re going to be able to handle plastic tools long before the real ones make sense. And we see a lot to choose from these days. Pictured above is Black & Decker’s “junior power tool workshop,” which includes not only numerous kiddie-plastic power tools, but an adjustable work bench as well. Looks pretty sweet, as toy-tools go.

But real tools make sense to me, too. Sure, you’re not going to be able to hand a four-year-old a power drill (at least not unattended), but you can certainly trust them with some basic hand tools under proper supervision. And there’s something really awesome about having your own, say, hammer, when you’re four — even if you’re only allow to use it when mom or dad gets it down for you and supervises. It’s still your hammer, and you’ll likely still have it when you’re in your early 40s.

But what do you think? Play tools, real tools, or both? Let us know in comments.

Junior Power Tool Workshop [Black & Decker]
Street Pricing [Google Products]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]


17 Responses to Gettin’ Em Started Early: Play Tools?

  1. Jerry Vandesic says:

    Definitely no to play tools. When my son was 3 years old we built (not bought) a bench similar in scale to the B&D bench in the picture. But it was stocked with real tools (small sizes if possible). Every Christmas he got another tool to add to the board (he actually asked for a 1/4 in socket set one year). I taught him how to use the tools, and we built multiple projects on that bench including bird feeders and planters for his Mom. Real tools made the different; toys would have been worthless after the first few minutes.

    He’s 7 now, and we recently added extensions to the legs that make it easier for him to use. It works for him, and he probably has a better tool set than most of the guys in my neighborhood.

  2. olderthanyou says:

    When I was three years old my mother bought me a toy tool set similar to this one. My grandfather took one look at it and said “This just won’t do.” He went to his house and put together a set of real tools, some of which I still own. So I have to agree with Jerry Vandesic. Get them started early and with real tools. Then just stand back and watch the magic.

  3. Old as Dirt says:

    Plastic is nothing but JUNK.Hit a nail with a plastic hammer,drive a screw with a plastic screwdriver.Ha!Ha!Ha!Teach respect for tools at young age.Plastic is for parents that want to leave kids alone and not work together building something.

  4. Old as Dirt says:

    Quality time is when you and your kids work together and talk yo each other.

  5. Old as Dirt says:

    Should be talk to not talk yo each other.

  6. Steve says:

    We bought this set for my two year old. He also has some of the Handy Manny tools. He really loves the Black & Decker tools because to him, they look much more like real tools. At two, I think he is a little young for real tools. I also bought a kit with real tools, but that kit is intended more for my six year old. My article about that kit can be found here…


  7. Gil says:

    I don’t feel that the miter saw has an adequate blade guard.

  8. Jason says:

    We got this set (or a similar B&D set) as well as a HD bench and a bunch of toy tools for my 4 yr old. It is awesome when he grabs his safety goggles and tools and comes help me when I am working on something in the house. They are a great way for kids to learn. He loves tape measures so he has a lot of real ones (the super small 2-3ft ones). I recently got him a very small, real hammer so he can help pound small nails with me.

  9. 4kids says:

    I think “both” is the best option for young kids. My 2yr old has real screwdrivers he uses with me in the workshop and plastic toy screwdrivers he pretends with when we are put of the shop. Kids need a chance to pretend without me yelling at him not to scratch the furniture with a real screwdriver.

  10. Patrick says:

    I think my (evolving and oscillating) answer to this is: depends on the purpose of the real/play tools. I have a son that’s 18 months. Real tools are not appropriate for him. Reasonable facsimiles, absolutely (it’s what he got for Christmas) because his developmental play level is in the mimicking stage. When he gets older, say four to five, I’ll hunt around for a set of smaller tools that he can use.

    But I don’t think he’ll play with them. He’ll practice with them.

    I think, Chuck (& the commentators), we should make a distinction between play & practicing. I sense a misunderstanding between the two spheres, mainly because of the age this toy targets – as a teacher I can say this bench works until roughly 4 yrs old (your miles may vary). Because of the differing developmental levels of children at that age, we get all mixed up about the “right” way it should be. I think it depends on what the kid wants to do: play or practice. When it comes to toys, sometime around 4 yrs old kids realize the difference between a physical fantasy and reality, and generally wish for reality. It’s a matter of matching the kid to the tool.

    On the other hand, I haven’t seen (doesn’t mean I’ve seen it all by far) anything in my studies that says having real tools matters. In my time with kids, at a certain developmental level, it really doesn’t matter if the screwdrivers are made by snap-on.

    As a toy for playing, I love the plastic screwdriver. My son figures out how to hold stuff. How to turn his wrist. How to whack it against the oil filter which only sticks when I’m changing my wife’s car in Dec. When he’s older, we will practice making things with a screwdriver. I’ll finally buy myself a snap on, and he….

    Well, that’s a difference post. But I’ll say this. At a certain level, I doubt it matters what the heck the screwdriver’s made out of.

  11. Brau says:

    Kids don’t want their own tools. They want to be closely involved with Mom and Dad using their tools. They don’t want a fort built *by* dad either, they want to build one *with* him, no matter how well it turns out. I have 8mm films of myself and siblings helping Dad, using real hammers and saws as soon as we were able to “fetch me a …” or “go get me a …”. Doing this and observing their real use taught me the difference between many different tools as Dad explained and demonstrated them. Like me, generations of kids have been raised with real hand tools, and stern instructions from parents not to use the sharp ones alone. Don’t cheat your kids with plastic tools unless they still put everything in their mouth.

  12. rob says:

    well it seems tool people are pretty well well all on the same page we were all raised with tools
    I had both as a kid I’m 30 now and my 2 half siblings 10 and 12 years younger must not have had any although they had the same father I don’t remember there being any toy tools around and despite the few incidents with real tools where my brother used the air nailer to nail the hose to the floor at 6 while we were doing a addition to the house both of them avoid tool use
    and work all together. and I must say it will sadden me greatly if my own kids
    have such aversions to work and tools. I am a electrician because my father used to frame
    houses and be a contractor and my involvement when I was you is what lead to my place
    now and really I don’t care if my kids grow up to be trades people but I really hope then can change their own oil before they move out

  13. Greg A says:

    I gotta say I’ve been buying my nephew who lives across the country the craftsman equivalent to the set pictured for the past couple years, this Christmas was the first where I bought him one of the kits where it was plastic tools but it came with the parts to put together a little car, he’s 4 and I was afraid he would not have the attention and focus to put it together himself, boy was I wrong, I think over the next few years I’m gonna graduate him to real tools, but not without talking to my sister first as they are going to be the ones watching him not me.

  14. Jerry says:

    When my son was about 3 years old, I could ask him to retrieve almost any tool and he would get it right. My daughter was the same. Yes, there were obviously some plastic tools around, gifts from well-meaning relatives and friends. I found that my children were very frustrated with any plastic tools, promptly letting me know that they didn’t work.
    One day, while using a small hand saw to cut a board, my son became frustrated when he wanted to mimic whatI was doing. The cheesy plastic saw cut nothing. I put the real saw in his hands and held his hand, guiding him into making his first real cut. Happiness and smiles were the reward. All the “toy tools” went to the garbage and we have never looked back.

  15. Kyle says:

    I had plastic tools, but i also had a craftsman 3/8″ cordless drill at 3. Im 15 now and it is hard to keep me out of the garage.

  16. Craig says:

    Add one to the “both” vote.

    Based on what my 2yr-old does, both the toys and the real tools have a time and place. The plastic ones are the right size and weight to be fun and not frustrating, and the toys are accessable to him when the garage isn’t. Also, for the times when he wants to do his own thing without a parent hovering, they’re perfect. He’ll outgrow them, but he’ll also outgrow the big-wheel, the stroller, etc. etc. That’s just growing up.

    There is also no replacement for the time we spend working together now, and the use/care of real tools will be a big part of that as he grows up.

  17. Jim K. says:

    As a parent of a 1 yr old I can definitely see the usefulness of some plastic tools. As others have mentioned, never underestimate the power of imitation. As young as she is, my girl loves to mimic all of my actions. She’s really too young for most real tools (though she does have a fondness for a rubber mallet that I have) so a little set of plastic tools seems to be just about right for her at this stage of development. Give her another year or so and I can pretty much say for sure that she’ll have a couple of real tools in her hands.

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