Rachelle Doorley, of Tinkerlab (one of my favorite preschool tinkering sites), describes tinkering as “hands-on experiences, learning from failures, and unstructured time to explore and invent.”
As they tinker, kids work through a trial and error process in which they think about questions, test theories, brainstorm, research, and design. Don’t do it for them. Even if you know how it works, let the kids experiment and figure it out. Later, you can talk with them about what they learned.
Setting up a Tinkering Space
If you are going to explore hands-on experiences, you need stuff to explore and tinker with.
For preschoolers, give them access to a wide range of materials. The blog Let the Children Play offers some good suggestions. Check out this tool space at Scholastic, with a worktable, shelves, and lots of jars for hardware. This project gets a little extreme–even mounting a computer on the side. Great idea, but it’s a little too Silicon Valley for my budget.
For those of us with slightly more limited means, a corner in a carport or basement works well, or even a re-purposed kids closet. Keep it simple with measuring tools, cutting tools, drawing tools, woodworking tools, and cans of hardware components along with fasteners, tape and glue.
Invite your family and friends to donate old tools and hardware from their junk drawers to your mini makerspace. Save coffee cans and tin cans for storage (make sure to tape over rough edges). You can also take apart small machines that are no longer working and save the parts for future explorations.
Find Inspiration for Things to Build
Check out these art and project websites for kids
- Make a Tool Holder
- Make it@ your library
- Indestructables Project Based Engineering
- The Cardboard Collective project gallery
Maker Books for Children and Teens
A Young Inventor's Story
This clip shows how one boy’s tinkering inspired a community. His concept, Cain’s Arcade, was adopted by the Imagination Foundation, who now sponsors the annual Cardboard Challenge.