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.

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