I came across the Tinkering School through this video on TED. The presentation is given by the head of the Tinkering School, Gever Tullery, and it is titled “5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do”. Just to let you know where he is coming from, and for the record, the “things” he talks about are play with fire, own a pocket knife, throw a spear, deconstruct appliance, break the digital millenium copyright act, and drive a car. The point of this lecture was that in this overly cautious and overly protective world, kids lose out. If parents are afraid to let their child do anything dangerous, how will they learn to be safe? For example, if students do not learn how to properly use a knife, what will they do when they are confronted with one? There are many simple rules to follow when using knives and the only way a student is going to learn what to do is by using them. Always cut away from you. Always be aware of where the blade is. Make sure the blade is sharp. I am doing a project right now with my 5th graders that requires them to use X-Acto blades. And while it is sometimes daunting to have 32 children using a knife simultaneously, it is skill that most of them have not learned. When are they going to learn it?
The other point of his presentation is subtle but important to point out. If you do not let kids experiment with things and try things out and see how things work, their creativity and curiosity is going to be stunted. Kids need to be able to explore and test things. Giving kids a safe, easy to understand toy that has a specific play pattern and is a one trick pony, might look nice under a Christmas tree, but will do nothing for a kids creativity. It seems that the Tinkering School recognizes that and uses it as their motto. This is from their site:
The Tinkering School offers an exploratory curriculum designed to help kids – ages 7 to 17 – learn how to build things. By providing a collaborative environment in which to explore basic and advanced building techniques and principles, we strive to create a school where we all learn by fooling around. All activities are hands-on, supervised, and at least partly improvisational.
Grand schemes, wild ideas, crazy notions, and intuitive leaps of imagination are, of course, encouraged and fertilized.
Too often, kids are not allowed to tinker and explore and if they do not learn to do that when they are young, they might never learn. It is not an easy skill to pick up.