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Dances With Wood Serving Hospitalized Children with Serious Illness
Tips for Working With Children
  • Introduction
  • Welcome
  • Personal Goals
  • Creativity
  • Decisions
  • Investment
  • Health and Safety
  • Not Always the Expert
  • Challenge
  • To Rescue
  • Witnessing
  • Completion
  • Evaluation
  • M+M
  • Quote
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These tips are offered as perspectives that may enrich the process of working with children. They are not meant to be an authoritative guide. Rather, they should be used as you feel appropriate.


It is important to SMILE and make children feel comfortable and important when you first meet them. It may be their first experience with Woodworking and working closely with an adult. Having a warm, friendly and approachable manner will help them to feel secure as they explore creativity and new experiences. It also will make it easier for them to ask questions and make decisions, which will contribute to the building of self confidence.

Personal Goals

Understand your motivations for working with children. This will help you identify goals for your work. For example, one goal may be to “ensure that the child has an enjoyable experience.” With this as a goal, children should be allowed to follow their own creative process. They should not be pressured to finish, or to achieve a standard beyond their capability or one that meets your personal expectations. The energy levels and moods of children can swing very quickly and it is important that you are open and flexible to the changing needs of each child and his or her family.


Creativity in a child is like a beautiful flower. It is often delicate and needs gentle handling. You should encourage the process and trust the child’s creativity. To a child, squiggles of paint can be as meaningful as the Mona Lisa might be to an art enthusiast. If a child asks for an opinion, take the time to give a positive and approving response. Offer positive feedback about a specific aspect the child's project, such as, “I like the colors you are using.” The self esteem of a child is a delicate thing, and harsh or uninvited opinions can inhibit his or her creative flow.


A valuable and effective way to build children’s self esteem is to allow them to make decisions. For example, when you start working with a child, ask how he is and whether he is ready to start working. Offering the child choices – the color of the paint, the size of brush – lets him make small but important decisions that help to build his self esteem and develop a relationship of trust with you. Encouraging decision-making is a great way to build a child's confidence level and ability to express herself. There also may be times when a child finds it too challenging to make a decision. Slow the process down. Encourage the child to give the decision some thought. When she makes the decision, congratulate and affirm her. This will strengthen her ability to make decisions in the future.


The feeling of satisfaction and pride a child will experience is affected by the amount of time and effort he or she invests in the project. If a child is unable to finish a step himself, offer assistance, but do not take over the project. For example, if the project calls for a screw to be inserted but the child lacks the necessary flexibility or strength in his wrist, he can twist the screwdriver from the top of the handle while you turn the lower part. This is a nice team-work approach that also benefits the child. The benefit a child receives by watching you work on his project is minimal. There may be occasions when you want to speed up a process because of time constraints. To do this you need permission from the child before giving a helping hand. Sharing in this way builds rapport with the child and it does not detract from the process because the child stays in control.

Health and Safety

Health and safety applies to more than the physical aspect of working with children. A child's self-esteem also needs care, and it is important to embrace this as an essential component of the creative process.

Each child has a particular way of expression, and adults must respect and value that individuality. In this modern age, children are often under great pressure to achieve and be competitive. This means that the focus on making them inwardly strong and building a sense of self-worth easily can be neglected. The daily pressures of conforming to predetermined standards can sometimes minimize this important component in the healthy growth of a child. Children need to feel creative and be respected as unique individuals.

The wooden kits are designed so that assembling them does not require great exertion. Use common sense in all situations. If in doubt, do not take risks and seek guidance.

Not Always an Expert

You will not be expected to know all the answers. It is important that you relax and have fun. If a child asks you a question and you do not know the answer, simply say that you do not know, but you will find out. The relationship between you and the child should be one of friendship and gentle guidance.

It is important for a child to feel that you are sharing the experience. This means sharing problems, and sometimes sharing that you do not know something can build trust between you and the child.


The projects in the woodworking program are designed to hold a real, but gentle challenge. A project that is too easily completed will reduce the sense of accomplishment that is essential to the child's experience.

To Rescue

When a child encounters a challenge during the process of building a project, it may be tempting to rescue him by resolving the problem. But it is important to understand the wide range of potential benefits that this sort of project provides. The aim is not simply to assemble a wood project, but for the child to learn and grow in self-reliance, and to strengthen his will and determination to face and overcome challenges. These are essential life skills that will enrich character and provide strength of personality later in life. The wood projects are designed to offer some level of challenge, and if a child asks for assistance, or does not understand an instruction, I have found it most appropriate to suggest that he re-read the instruction in the workbook, perhaps out loud. This helps to develop his skills of communication in a hospital environment, and it strengthens his confidence to speak and be understood.

At all times you must stay in tune with the emotional condition of the child and respond accordingly. If a child is emotionally fragile, it may warrant your intervention to help with the project – after you get her permission. However, it also may be valuable to support the child as a coach, gently encouraging her to explore different options for overcoming the challenge. For example, I often watch children over-tighten a wheel on their wooden vehicles. The result is that the wheel won't spin. I offer the comment that they have very good brakes and ask them what they plan to do next. Without fail, they reverse the wrench, thus loosening the wheel and finding within themselves the answer to the problem.

Whenever possible, avoid rescuing and taking over a challenge faced by a child. If you support and encourage him to face and work with the challenge, he stands to gain much more. In particular, his sense of achievement when the project is complete will be enormous. By jumping in and rescuing when it is not called for, you will diminish his overall sense of accomplishment. The aim of the Dances With Wood program is to empower children and help to strengthen self-esteem through the process of building a wood project. Facing and overcoming challenges provides valuable experiences that will enrich and empower them now and in the future.

Before you rescue, take a breath. Listen for what may be waiting to emerge in the child if she is allowed to face and overcome the challenge. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised.


This is a very powerful tool in helping to strengthen a child's self-esteem and help him or her to discover new potential. The process is very simple: Sit quietly and witness the child creating. The emphasis is on being quiet and watching. Strangely enough, this can be challenging for adults who need to feel involved or productive. Witnessing is a great way to affirm the child's creative process, and in doing so, you allow the child to gain access to inner resourcefulness and develop independent learning skills, which are essential life skills.

Witnessing is all about being with the power of observing the creative process in all its glory. This experience is life-enriching and life-empowering. Trust the silence. It is where magic can occur.


Completion is an essential element in the creative process of a child. A session should be brought to a close in an organized way. Children should be notified of the time at least five minutes from the end of a session. When a child works hard and puts out a lot of creative effort, she needs to be recognized and honored. To see a child with a beautiful project cradled in her arms and a glowing smile on her face is a wonderful sight. You will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment to know you helped that child to achieve this.


Not chocolate, as you may first think! M+Ms are those “magical moments” that occur when you work with children – a shared smile, overcoming a challenge together, sharing a joke or a high five. They may seem like fleeting experiences to you, but often children remember them for a long time. You may find it personally valuable to reflect on your time with the children and see how many M+Ms you experienced. Like chocolate, they are always a treat.


One hundred years from now
It will not matter what
             kind of house you lived in
What kind of car you drove
How much you had in your bank account
Or what your clothes looked like
But, the world my be a little better
Because YOU were
        important in the life of a child


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