Tinkering is about having the opportunity to explore, make mistakes and discover how things work. It may mean testing, fixing, breaking and fixing again! Children are curious by nature and by providing them the tools and materials to explore you will be encouraging them to become ‘tinkerers’ as well as developing their fine motor skills, problem solving abilities and social skills. Tinkering supports children who have a kinaesthetic learning style.
If Thomas Edison hadn’t tinkered from an early age (he set up his own chemical lab at the age of 10) we may not have had the invention of the light bulb, stock ticker, motion pictures and phonographs. As a child, Edison was deemed to be unfit and unruly for education, but he also suffered from learning difficulties as well as partial deafness. Children can learn about Edison’s pioneering inventions and discover that anything is possible through exploratory play.
Is tinkering a skill?
The definition of a tinker is ‘Someone who repairs, or attempts repair, on anything mechanical, or who invents such devices; one who tinkers; a tinkerer…The act of repair or invention (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tinker).
What is tinkering for children?
Children who are engaged in open-ended tinkering practice skills they will use throughout their lifetime. The final product of tinkering is not as important as the process. As children mature, their ability to use tools, collaborate and communicate with others, observe, experiment, make discoveries, tap into previous knowledge, and persevere will continue to grow. When children take things apart (‘deconstruct’) they see how the parts work together and gain insight into how to put components together in ways that create something new.
By setting up a ‘tinkering area or station’ you will be encouraging children to work through the characteristics of effective learning:
- Playing and exploring – children investigate and experience things, and ‘have a go’.
- Active learning – children concentrate and keep on trying if they encounter difficulties, and enjoy achievements
- Creating and thinking critically – children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things.
(Statutory framework for the EYFS)
As a practitioner, you can be there occasionally to scaffold and partake in shared sustained thinking for the children, through genuine conversation and open-ended questions.
“If it’s not broken, tinker with it to find out how it works” (Bob Proctor). I remember as a child feeling quite distraught with a cousin of mine, who decided to take apart my Fisher Price toy treehouse. Whilst my line of play was clearly imaginative. His was to find out the mechanics of how the toy worked. I obviously forgave him (years later!) especially now he is a successful engineer abroad.
Why is Tinkering important?
People who were allowed to explore and tinker with materials and parts often as children often become engineers or scientists, because they are engaged in a trial-and-error thought process “I wonder what happens if I try this?…Now, what if I do that?”
Learning early on the joys of building, tinkering, creating, and refining establishes a lifelong passion for hands-on work in many careers such as the building trade, engineering, woodwork, architecture, computing, graphic artist or fashion design. The world needs ‘tinkerers’ to continue humankind’s ambition for scientific as well as creative advancements.
Ideas for setting up a tinkering area or station in Early Years:
- Have a tidy, organised space with labelled containers for parts.
- Offer real-life tools such as tape measures, pliers, screwdrivers, safety glasses (children are more likely to show respect and care for real tools).
- Ensure you have risk assessed the area and resources, ensure tools are suitable for small hands, talk to the children about safe handling, see risk assessment here.
- Provide a strong work table or bench.
- Remove electrical cords of electrical items before adding it to the area.
- Display labels, pictures, inquisitive questions, signs and safety information in the area.
Resources that could be added to your tinkering area:
- Old, broken laptops or computers, keyboards.
- Videos, DVD players, CD players.
- Toasters , microwaves, kettles.
- Clocks, phones.
- Nuts, bolts, chains, locks and keys.
- Metal plates and brackets.
- Mechanical toys.
- Meccano or other constructions sets.
- Process is more important than product.
- The more exposure children have to a material, the more they will learn what they can do with it.
- Think of everything as an experiment.
- Let the children tinker.
- Let the children have that ‘lightbulb’ moment (Just like Edison).
- Risk assess for children, see our tinkering risk assessment here.
“The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts!”
(Paul R Ehrlich)
Blog written by – By Sarah Detheridge