Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Value of Tinkering

Here in the Tindle house we have enjoyed learning more and more through tinkering.  We take random bits and pieces; art materials, construction materials, cooking materials, books, tape (there's always tape!) and let the kids go.  We watch, we encourage, we question but we try our best to let them go.  Erik and I are doing this in the midst of real homework such as; math, spelling, bible, history, science and the like.  The funny thing is, what looks like child's play is often the experience or "work" that is the most fruitful. 

This week we used art to tinker spring.  We began by painting a few butterflies which quickly morphed into other insects.  This led to more spring time creatures and pretty soon the kids were painting tad poles and frogs, eggs and robins, a chrysalis - caterpillar - butterfly trio, a snake slithering in the grass near the pond "it's habitat" my son said. I now have beautiful spring art work adorning my dining room wall but it is so much more than that.  It is a portrait of my children's learning.  It is a testament to their knowledge and their connection with the earth around them.  It is an example of what a child's mind left alone for a few minutes can conceptualize.

The conversation was amazing.  The engagement was inspiring.  I loved seeing my kids work through various life stages of the creatures they were thinking of. I loved seeing them throw in color theory and work so hard to get this or that animal's markings just right.  I loved it, but it also made me nervous.  All this tinkering takes time.  Much more time than a simple math worksheet.  We spent an entire afternoon tinkering with these concepts, exploring what spring means, how it effects us.  We didn't get any spelling done that afternoon, we didn't do one math problem.  As much as my kids were learning and as much as I was loving it, there was still a nagging in the back of my head saying, "This isn't "real" homework, shouldn't we be getting some book work done soon?" 

Well according to this guy, I'm being silly. 

This is John Seely Brown from the University of Southern California.  He is a solid collegiate big wig and he  thinks that tinkering is not only valid but an extremely valuable learning model for children as well as adults.

I don't know how much time and energy we will be putting into tinkering in the future. I'm not ready to throw out all of our textbooks or our seat work time.  I don't think it would be a terrible thing if we did, I kind of think it would be great.  I'm just not brave enough, yet. I do feel encouraged and excited when I explore these concepts through Brown or Tulley's eyes. However, I think the biggest source of encouragement in these methods comes from what I see with my own eyes.

Tinkering with costume design and story telling

Tinkering with homemade paper

Tinkering with flotation and ship design

Tinkering with the properties of liquids and solids

Tinkering with the forces of friction and momentum
Yeah, I think we will keep experimenting with tinkering.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Playing with Fire

Weekdays can be kind of hectic around the Tindle house so this Sunday we spent the entire day doing nothing. 

Well, not quite nothing.

We played with fire, actually we let the kids play with fire. 

Erik and I have grown enamored with Gever Tulley's Tinkering School concepts.  Gever believes that children can use grown up materials and tools to do grown up things in a grown up way, if we trust them to do so.  To that end Gever Tulley has written a book titled 50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do. We've ordered the book but it won't come til May.  We just couldn't wait. 

When James found the matches and we realized we had some wood left in the pit we decided to go for it.  We asked James to strike a match.  He did.  It blew out.  Then he did it again.  It didn't light.  Then he tried one more time.  The match broke in two.  At this point frustration began to show.  Erik and I talked James through it and encouraged him to try some more.  Several tries later, he produced a flame which he quickly touched to some leaves.  FIRE! 

The kids were thrilled, until they saw their fire dwindle to smoke.  They asked to light another match.  Then they begged to light another match.  Erik and I held firm, where there is smoke there is fire.  The kids were incredulous but they got to work.  James began blowing...
Logan and Carter began gathering various forms of fuel supplies...
Layne began working on her tan....
Pretty soon their concerted efforts yielded this...
Soon after that there was an honest to goodness fire.  Though by then I had slowed in snapping pictures and so don't have a single one of the actual flames.  Too bad.  It was a great fire too.  The kids built it and maintained it all by themselves.  We were able to roast hot dogs and marshmallows for lunch over that fire.  The kids also took some time to experiment over that fire.  Did you know that plastic shrinks when you burn it?  Or that tape on a cardboard box boils and then liquefies?  Did you realize that wet maple leaves make green colored smoke?  Did you know that nuts in their shell can explode? These are just some of the things they discovered through tinkering with fire. 

What I discovered

When my kids are really engaged...
they are excited
they are cooperative
they are encouraging to one another
they are solution seekers
they are unstoppable
they are industrious
they are incredible. 

Well, they are that last one all the time but it really showed up on Sunday. 

Thanks for reading!


Little Layne Turned 5

My sweet Layne celebrated her fifth birthday this month.  She is a feisty five.  Layne loves to climb and tumble. She loves to help momma in the kitchen and rake leaves in the yard. Layne spends time each day creating with paper, crayons, paint, markers and whatever else mom and dad let her get her hands on.  Layne is the little mother to all of her older brothers.  Whenever they get scraped up she is the first one to the first aid kit, quickly dealing out love and band aids.  Layne has a temper but it is because she is so passionate.  She can be stubborn but most of the time it shows itself as determination.  Layne loves music and dancing and is rarely silent.  Layne is our girl.  She is a special one. 

This year we planned a special day for Layne's birthday.  Rather than do a party, we decided to take Layne on a ladies day out.  To accomplish this, I asked her Grandma Pam and Great Grandma Mildred to accompany us to the Build a Bear workshop.  They gladly accepted.  

Here is Layne walking with Great Grandma.  I love how she's looking up to see how a "lady" behaves in the big stores.  She is so precious with her dainty little purse and her purposeful walk. 

We strolled into build a bear and Layne got giddy.  She flitted from one shelf to another touching everything and oohing and ahhing every other second.  Layne was so excited, it made the three of us chuckle.  Layne very quickly decided that she must have a pink bear for her birthday bear.  She hugged that one tight and walked right to the next station.  Layne loved the stuffing machine, she was completely engrossed watching it do its magic. 
Then we headed to bath time.  Too cute!

I'm sorry about the blurry picture but I couldn't leave it out.  Look how happy that little girl is! 
Of course she was happiest when her new Sally Bear was dressed and placed into her waiting arms.  Just like every good momma! 

Happy Birthday Layne!