Must-read: Tinkerlab, a hands-on guide for little inventors

Tinkerlab Book: a must-read for creative parents
I love following my friend Rachelle on Instagram because she is always doing simple, yet brilliant, things with her kids. Last year she started tagging her Instagram photos with the hashtag #creativetable to indicate a practice of putting a few compelling materials on a blank table as an invitation for her daughters to “tinker.” Some of you guys do it too, (I see you over there) but I’m guessing a lot of you don’t know about it.

Here’s a great example: One mama put pinecones and pasta in a muffin tin and gave her preschooler some tongs.

Tongs and a muffin tin: preschooler fun

Check it out: There’s no perfect ending for the materials this child is using — he’s just tinkering. Maybe he’ll make a pattern or maybe not. The idea is to promote curiosity and exploration.

Rachelle, the Creative Table Guru, has published a book, Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide For Little Inventors, a wonderful companion to her online community whose hub is at Tinkerlab.com. She sent me a copy to review.

Here’s a summary of the book my own words:

  1. Make space in your kids’ lives for creativity
  2. Present them with opportunities to experiment, and try not to interfere too much
  3. Introduce tools and materials they can test and play with
  4. Accept that boredom is a jumping off point, not a problem for parents to solve

Using those principles, plus a couple additional ones about messes and mistakes (they are fine!), art educator and mom Rachelle offers 55 projects to inspire parents and kids such as making paper houses; creating hanging structures; turning a CD into a spinning top, and a general “take things apart” prompt. (Note to self: Give my kids our old digital camera and a screwdriver to see what happens.)

Inspired by the spirit of her book, and faced with three consecutive days at home with my kids before we head out on our first summer trip, I gave my 6 and 9 year-olds a “you guys can figure it out” assignment for the first hour of their summer vacation. Per Rachelle’s suggestion, I put the kiddos and their project in an uncluttered space.

Creative materials for kids inspired by Tinkerlab

I showed them a roll of drawing paper and its tabletop holder that I purchased at IKEA. I gave them scissors to open the packages and left the room for a little while.

The invitation, as Rachelle calls the practice of providing children with prompts for exploration, was a success. Others I’ve come up with have been less successful. You don’t want to hear about those; I’m sure you are familiar with whining and “I’m bored” proclamations if you have children over four.

Another successful #creativetable invitation from my household was paint chips (stolen, er procured, from the paint store) and a heart-shaped hole puncher. My daughter messed around with these materials for quite a while, though I had to be her hole-punch operator. She put the heart cut-outs in order by shade, taped them to a long string, and hung it on the wall. My son wandered away to the backyard. 50% success rate, I suppose.

Follow hashtag #creativetable for great ideasIf you’re interested incorporating this type of activity into your household, I wholeheartedly recommend the Tinkerlab book. I will continue to refer to it for new ideas.

The book’s content is approximately 25% how to think like a tinker-er and 75% recipes for specific projects. Each project features a list of supplies and most offer directions for setting up the invitation to your child — and some experiments to help extend the activity. (No one likes to set up and clean up an art project that lasts four minutes!)

The sweet spot for the book is ages 3-6, but the ideas are applicable for every age. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy building a straw rocket! (See page 106 of Tinkerlab!)

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RookieMoms.com co-founder Whitney lives with her husband, son, and daughter in the San Francisco Bay Area where she writes about parenting, crafts, and activities that moms can do with babies in tow. She and Heather also publish 510Families.com, a site for East Bay parents and are the authors of The Rookie Mom's Handbook and Stuff Every Mom Should Know.