When I was a little kid growing up in Michigan, I played outside all of the time — I absolutely loved it! Unfortunately, I’ve found that raising a kid in LA doesn’t provide the same opportunity. Luckily, we live across the street from a park and have a small backyard area, so #CharlieB gets her fill of nature, but not every kid is so fortunate. Annnnnnd that’s where Tinkergarten comes in.
Admittedly, before our first class, I was a little cynical about the whole “Tinkergarten” thing. It sounded like a very “Hollywood” thing to do; sign up for a class to go outside and play with your kid. Seriously, You need a whole class for that? But, I quickly learned it’s so much more than that. Tinkergarten is an exploration of the outdoors mixed with activities that inspire and educate. Little ones get the opportunity to join together with other kids and create, imagine and learn in a whole new way. The leaders are outstanding and the children have so much fun. Plus, when I got the chance to interview the Tinkergarten co-founder, Meghan Fitzgerald, I got a better understanding of her vision and passion for this project. Check out our chat, and some pics from #CharlieB’s first Tinkergarten class, below.
Q. What was your inspiration for creating Tinkergarten?
A. Brian (Tinkergarten co-founder & Meghan’s husband) and I have both dedicated our careers to education and share a desire for our girls to be curious, capable and well-rounded people. We knew the first 8 years were critical for building a foundation. We also both saw trends that worked against this, including detachment from nature, over-structured lives, de-emphasis on play in formal schooling; lack of freedom to explore/invent/take risks, etc. We realized that we were not alone and that there were amazing alternatives out there, but they were either in Europe or in very small pockets around the US. We wanted this for our girls and for kids anywhere.
Q. For me, Tinkergarten has such a nostalgic feel — reminding me of days I spent playing outside with friends — how is it the same and/or different then just sending your kids into the backyard to play (like the good ‘ol days LOL)?
A. Parents just don’t send their kids outside like our parents did for many reasons. For one,world has changed. It’s just not as easy (often not allowed) to let kids roam free. Families are more isolated than they used to be, and Tinkergarten class offers kids the chance to play and learn in a group, while adults connect to other like-minded friends. Tinkergarten also allows families to build free, outdoor time into their schedules. As counter-intuitive as that seems, we found that scheduling time to be less scheduled is a really impactful way to find balance and to create the family habit of making time for being and learning outdoors. Tinkergarten also gives many parents the chance to increase the amount of freedom and risk taking they allow for their kids, bridging families back to those old days. Finally, the class actually teaches parents and caregivers about how children develop and learn, which is really exciting to parents and opens up new ways to think about your child as he/she grows.
Q. Tinkergarten is offered for children from 18 mos to 8 yrs. old … what kinds of activities do you offer in order to engage all age levels? What is the most valuable lesson that little ones learn in the Tinkergarten environment?
A. Many of our activities – and all of those offered in a mixed age class – are open-ended and offer various points of entry for kids at different developmental stages. One of my favorites, Un-Recipe for Paint, poses a problem to solve—how to make paintings if we forgot our paints? Older children suggest, debate and test out solutions using the colorful objects around them. Meanwhile, younger children get direct access to sensory-stimulating objects. All children get to experiment with how to extract color from natural objects. The older children are leaders, collaborators and teammates. The younger are able to watch this modeling while also working in developmentally appropriate ways to strengthen their senses and develop a sense of cause and effect that will build the foundation for higher level problem solving.
Q. What is the vetting process for your Tinkergarten leaders and, with so many new locations being added, how do you ensure a high standard and quality across the board with all of your leaders?
A. We have a seven-stage process that starts with a detailed online application. As part of the process, a leader applicant will interview with two different members of our leader team, getting the chance to ask questions of active leaders. All applicants complete a rigorous background check and, as a final step, submit a demonstration video teaching a group of children and parents.
Speaking of Tinkergarten leaders, the community is growing so fast that they are actively seeking new leaders right now! Are you a creative parent who loves the outdoors and wants to bring the Tinkergarten experience to their neighborhood? Then just click HERE to learn more about being a leader!
Q. What is the future of Tinkergarten? How do you see it growing and what are the new plans of expansion?
A. We simply want to help get as many families learning through outdoor play as we can. We know that there are thousands of talented leaders across the country and even around the world who, with the right training and support, can make an incredible impact on the families in their communities. We are focused on finding and supporting them in doing so. We are also deeply committed to bringing Tinkergarten to families for whom paid enrichment classes are not possible. We have designed the business model so that it can support programs in underserved areas while still remaining sustainable. We will start to pilot test a few different delivery models this fall and will be thrilled to roll out the winning approach in seasons to follow.
I really do have to commend Meghan and Brian for creating such a great community for little ones. Tinkergarten is exactly what LA needs! If you’d like to learn more about this exceptionally fun and educational group head over to their website www.Tinkergarten.com.