Thoughts on the Purpose of Tinkering in Early Childhood Teacher Education (Guest blogger: Leslie Layman)

Truman College has added a Tinkering Lab to our Child Development Program teaching spaces. I have had the pleasure of acting as the coordinator for our Child Development Program’s labs, meaning I spend a lot of time mulling over small decisions such as, “What colors of paint do we need,” but I also spend a lot of time thinking about the philosophical and pedagogical purposes of the labs. Our Tinkering Lab was modeled heavily on the Chicago Children’s Museum Tinkering Lab and the Maker Lab at Lane Tech College Prep High School. Our lab will begin a “soft opening” this Spring semester for students and faculty in our Creative Activities for Young Children & Math and Science for Young Children.

What Does Tinkering Mean to Me?

I like the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary definition: “Tinker: to repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner: to repair, adjust, or experiment with.”

Tinkering is taking something apart to see how it works, trying to fix or make something better even if you are not really sure how. It covers everything from breaking open a toy to see its moving parts, to inventing a new type of toy and building a prototype, to just staring at something a bit wondering what to do next. To me, the concept of tinkering relates directly to what I believe to be the most important part of early childhood, play. It is the intersection of work and play in which young children live.

Why is the Child Development Program So Interested in Tinkering for Early Childhood Educators?

Early learners not only explore and learn through play, but they also ask real and important questions about how the world works-inquiry. Many of our ECE Students come to us with limited experiences in doing, making, and taking risks in the professional world. We hope to use the Tinkering Lab as part of our parallel process in teaching EC educators using the same philosophies and strategies that we want them to use with young children.
Exploration and Play

“There is safe and unsafe, there is works and does no