Wednesday, March 29, 2017

It's Time to Tinker at School

     When asked why the US trails behind other countries in international testing scores, Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, states that a child's inherent creativity is put on a leash in our current educational system. Tyson's idea for better schools is that kids should, (a) feel comfortable enough to ask questions, and (b) be rewarded for asking them. “You don’t want to raise a kid in a culture where the kid who asks the most questions is annoying,” he said. “You want a culture where the kid who asks the most questions gets awards and gets another piece of cake."

What would you think about a tinker time for your kids at school?

a. Never waste instructional time.
b. Kids can not tinker around. We don't have time to squander...remember our state exam numbers.
c. Ridiculous... a tinker time is not useful to students. It is all about frivolity, frippery and fuss.
d. Fantastic!

                                  Hopefully, you said, d. "fantastic", like I did. 
But, how does tinker time really relate to life in the real world?

    Look at the very prosperous company, Google. Google’s philosophy is, “to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world,” stated by spokesman, Jordan Newman. If one took a tour of Google, would one see close corridors and rows of cubicals or desks two inches apart? Processed and frozen lunch foods ready to be heated up or microwaved? Dull and dreary surroundings?
    Nope, sorry.

   How about free gourmet food and lounge chairs to work outside in the sun? Large spaces to interact and to roam? Interior surroundings full of whimsy...secret bookcase passageways to reading rooms? Are there lego station play areas? How about periodic scavenger hunts? Can one bring a dog to work or self-design one's own large tinker toy desk?

   The answer is YES.  But, Google must be doing all of this for some very good reasons. We will explore some possibilties in a moment. Although companies that go so far as to create a fun and exciting work place might be rare, maybe we should reconsider how we design our schools and schedules for our kids.

 The  Horrible Dangers of Being a Creative Kid

   Being a tinker person might become dangerous in school. When I was a kid, I disliked having to add together large amount of numbers, say 25 + 78 + 19 + 38 = ? So, I'd add up the ones first, add up the tens and then added them both together. As I didn't solve the way the teacher showed us, I was afraid to show my teacher how I found the answer, thinking she might not like the idea and in front of the entire class. But, I did it in my own simple way. But, oops...she did find out. I suddenly became a below par math student that year. Little did I know that I used the partial sum strategy used today from second grade on up. I still like to be creative in many ways, as almost every child does.

Constant Teaching Regiments
   Kids love to use their creativity. However, some schools seem to have a constant teaching regiment where learning must take place at every moment (or maybe a school personel's answer might be... a, b, and c to my very first question?) I speculate if true learning can actually take place every moment, each day for 7-8 hours in an crowded classroom with a dull and dreary school setting. Or might it be called... information overload?

                       So, what is information overload and how might it effect us?

     Daniel Levitin, psychology professor, believes that the conscious mind might be able to focus on three or possibly four, things at one time. But, “...if you get much beyond that, you begin to exercise poorer judgment, you lose track of things and you lose your focus,”. Imagine how an average student feels when so many common core objectives in each subject matter must be learned in one day.

       Yet, Levitin goes on to speak of the skill of daydreaming and how it can be effective.

"Daydreaming allows creating links between things we might not have seen as linked before, and from that may come the solutions to problems."

The Value of Actively Practicing the Art of Creativity
    Some researchers believe that if imagination isn't practiced as a child, adults end up losing the skill altogether. Then, we have to find a way to recoup. The art of creativity has much value with great possibilities such as, practicle solutions to everyday or complex problems, job prosperity, extreme enjoyment, active engagement, and a purposefulness to life.

         So, what can be done during a half hour to one hour tinker time in school? 

   These are just some of many tinker time ideas. But remember, tinker time does take organization, preparation, budgeting and funding. Tinker time should not be confused as a replacement to recess. Recess is a must do.

                                             Tinker Time Ideas

Tinker Beautification Committee

   Develop committees that endeavor to enhance school interiors, surroundings, playground, work areas and floras. This might involve kids, parents and concerned people within the community. Budgeting and fundraisers may be the first must do's on your to-do list.

Tinker Mural Stations
   Why not beautify your school with changeable, themed wall murals that have accessories to use as a tinker station? See the above castle with clouds. This kind of art would be a joy to view. Possible accessories at the station might be ogre face masks, a castle to build and a mat to sit on. Notice I said changeable. Just like we adults, kids love artistic changes and new murals every so often. I suggest at least 4 mural replacements per school year.

Tinker Tubbing

   I taught Kindergarten for several years and kids absolutely loved what I called, tubbing time. Why not for older kids, too? A plastic tub might contain interesting objects that kids can tinker with. You might come up with ideas for students to try and print them out for each tub. I suggest that you don't make your ideas a necessity for each tinkering tub. Small groups of kids can make up their own tubs, too. For example: A fourth grade student might develop a weigh and measure tub with actual items or other ideas.

Tinker Garden Co-op

       For kids who love to play in the dirt, plant and dig, a garden cooperative might do well at your school. A garden cooperative allows people and parents from the community to assist in building a productive garden. If the garden flourishes, each volunteer might split up the produce to take home. If your area is cold country, as mine once was, a greenhouse might do the trick.

A Tinker Model Train/Lego Room

   Some kids would love to create and arrange things. Miniature railroad tracks could be slowly pieced together with mini stations, stores, people, houses, ponds, and bridges during tinker time. The room could also change themes throughout the year, such as, A Ride Though Fall Foliage,  Holidays In Our World to Fairy Tale Forest, or UFO Trails. Hey well, Google has a lego room. Another thought.

Tinker Mini-Time Sports
   Develop leagues to play team sports, such as kickball, basketball, tag, soccer, hop scotch, etc. during tinker time. Kids could even develop new games or twists on the old.

Lights, Camera, Action....Tinker Role Play

   Kids could dress up  in costumes and role play different characters during tinker time. From movie stars to cartoon characters to fairy tales, the sky is the limit for role play. It would be great if home economics classes still existed, as kids could learn to create their own costumes.

Tinker Set Designs

   Imagine building a set design for role play or other tinker activities. Sounds expensive, right? Actually, it can be done with papier-mâché, large cardboard boxes (like the size of refrigerator boxes) and paint. I did this once with a drama club. We built the set designs for Snow White and Rumplestiltskin and with a spinning wheel accessory. With the help of others, the two sets came out fine.

Tinker Cultural Exchanges

   Why not develop a cultural exchange with a different country? There are teachers from the US that teach abroad. Why not make these type contacts for school use (and for safety reasons)? Kids could develop many skills and gain understanding for others by conversing via email or other measures and with adult supervision.

I will leave you to consider Ken Robinson's insight on the topic of imagination.

 "...And the only way we'll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future." 

Imagery supplied by


Baer, D. (2014, April). The most-viewed TED talk reveals how American schools kill creativity. Retrieved from

Beghetto, A. R., Kaufman, J.C. (2013, February). Fundamentals of creativity. Retrieved from

Kendorski, J. (2015). How we can promote more creativity in schools? Retrieved from

Oakland County Moms. (2017). Avondale high school model train show 2017. Retrieved from

Robinson, K. (2006). Do schools kill creativity? Retrieved from

Shin. L. (2014). 10 steps to conquering information overload. Retrieved from

Steward. J. B. (2013, March). Looking for a lesson in Google’s perks. Retrieved from

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