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As part of our New Years Resolution to spend more time outside we partnered with Tinkergarten to share all the fun ways kids can benefit from outdoor play in early childhood.
What is Tinkergarten?
Tinkergarten combines play-based learning with nature-based learning to teach kids empathy, collaboration, creativity, persistence, and problem solving. Their mission is to spread a love of learning and nature throughout the country by offering play-based learning to kids in community parks.
Tinkergarten has research based lessons that are designed to help children develop skills to reach learning goals. The learning goals help your children to become ready to learn, ready to thrive and ready for anything.
Tinkergarten classes take place in outdoor classrooms and are designed to engage children in play-based activities fostering a sense of joy and wonder and developing essential skills. Classes are held once a week and run in sessions of varying length, from one to twelve weeks.
What are the Benefits of Tinkergarten?
Tinkergarten classes provide families with year round opportunities to connect with and explore outside through play-based learning.
Play-based learning follows children’s natural curiosity and allows them to engage in experiences based on their interests, strengths and skills. When children are playing they are motivated and positively engaged in developing new skills.
Outdoor play is important in early childhood development because it teaches responsibility, sparks imagination and creativity, builds confidence, reduces stress and fatigue, promotes problem solving, creates a sense of wonder, increases focus and triggers physical activity.
There have been numerous studies that link exposure to nature to enhanced physical, social and cognitive outcomes for children. For more information on these types of studies you can visit the catalog of research at the Children and Nature Network.
The Tinkergarten community provides parents and children with a mixed-age social group with shared family values. Tinkergarten activities are accessible to children across a range of ages and developmental needs which helps children learn to model behavior, offer support, stretch their abilities, improve leadership, develop empathy and more!
What is a Tinkergarten class like?
We were invited to attend a local Tinkergarten class to see for ourselves what is so special about the Tinkergarten philosophy. We loved it!
Each class is a guided experience, led by a Tinkergarten expert in an outdoor classroom. The activities focus on outdoor play, including creative use of natural resources.
Kids ages 1 to 8 may attend classes. Some classes have a more limited age range (like 6-18 months or 18 month to 5 years) but the mixed-age social groups are intentional and offer benefits to both older and younger children.
Play-based learning and nature-based learning generate experiences that are ever changing and offering new stimulation. There is however, a 5 part structure that all classes follow. These rituals support learning for parents and children.
Tinkergarten 5 Part Class Structure:
1. Warm Up— Each class begins with activities designed to help children transition into the experience, build on previous learning and support developmental patterns of behavior. The warm up for our class was exploring weight. There were baskets that had ropes tied to them and the ropes were looped over a tree branch to act as pulley. Kids put items in a basket and tried to lift the basket off the ground by pulling on the rope. They could experiment with the difference between rocks and cotton balls.
2. Community Circle— The leader begins with a circle time, singing songs that include movement and supportive ways to get to know one another. The circle time is designed to build literacy, motor skills and class community. The circle for our class started with everyone gathering at the tarp and singing the Tinkergarten song. Then we sang a song for each child to introduce themselves. The leader reminded kids what super hero they learned about last week and asked how kids played like that animal over the week. Then she talked the super hero for that week (spiders) and we read a book about a spider.
3. Invitation to Play— The leader sets up the play scenario, creating a state of wonder and welcoming children to lead their own play. During our class the leader invited kids to use yard like a spider web. Kids could tie a piece around themselves to drag it behind them, wrap or unwrap items in their webs (yarn), or explore a large rope spider web strung up between trees. All of the play suggestions were open ended activities without rules or boundaries.
4. Guided Play— The children then play with one another. The leader and parents supports children during play. The Leader coaches both children and adults to deepen play and learning. During our class the leader encouraged all the parents to be stage managers. We were invited to observe the children’s interests and only step in if they ask for help. The leader was floating around making suggestions and asking questions, but not leading the children to do something specific.
5. Celebration and Snack— The leader invites everyone to lean up and sit together as a community. Learning to share food and observations reinforce both discoveries and bonds made during class. During our class we sang a song of thanks and then had some warm raspberry tea while we talked about the class as a group.
During our class my children experimented with basic physics, pretended to be spiders, made observations and drew parallels between their play and real spiders, practiced peaceful conflict resolution, extended themselves socially and we bonded as a family.
Adventure Dad and I had fun playing with the girls and letting them be free to explore, discover, wonder and create in a safe environment. It felt liberating being in the presence of likeminded families.
Try a Tinkergarten Class
Spring classes are enrolling now! Tinkergarten has sessions every season so find a class near you on the Tinkergarten website. Every session families new to Tinkergarten can join a free trial. If you don’t have classes in your community you can submit a request here.
If Tinkergarten doesn’t offer classes near you yet, you can sample some of their free DIY Outdoor Play Activities on the Tinkergarten website. They are simple, fun ways to spark play so that your family can still benefit from nature play-based learning. They are also great for Tinkergarten families to easily extend the learning at home.