Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, if you’re interested in promoting creativity, problem solving, curiosity, critical thinking, and tinkering in the lives of the children you love and teach, then get ready —- you’re going to love Rachelle Doorley’s new book,Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors(*affiliate link).
This book has tons of fantastic activity ideas ranging from simple painting projects to basic wiring projects (like the drawing robot we’re getting ready to do at our house — done! Check it out here!). In addition to the project instructions, this book also does a spectacular job of explaining the “why’s” of creative activities, as well as pointing out how to make the most of creative spaces and creative moments in your home or classroom.
It honestly is a brilliant book.
TinkerLab author Rachelle Doorley has an impressive professional background, which includes an arts education degree from Harvard University, design experience on big-time Hollywood sets, various arts education programs at universities and museums, and (certainly not least of all) the the creation of the popular blog, TinkerLab.
She’s also a friend of mine.
And she’s totally awesome.
So when her new book hit the shelves, I was lucky enough to find myself with an early copy as well as an opportunity to hear directly from Rachelle about why this book is so important:
Tinkering, in the traditional sense, means to take something apart, figure out how it was made, and then invent new (and potentially better) ways to build something else. In the context of a “TinkerLab,” tinkering is all about testing out how materials work, experimenting, and ultimately combining materials and ideas together in new, inventive ways.
For example, if you set a child up in the garden with dirt, water, a spoon, and a bowl, she may begin by mixing the dirt and water together to create mud. After a bit, she may forage for some leaves and flower petals to “improve” the concoction.She then goes into the house for a jar of glitter to make the mixture sparkle. While in the house she sees a tray of cupcakes and an idea to pack the mud into the bowl to make mud patties forms! Those mud patties would have never existed without the initial invitation to mix dirt and water together. So, coming back to what tinkering means to me, it’s a process of discovery that starts with curiosity and experimentation.
Think of this: the world as we know it is changing right before our eyes, and the way that we solved problems last year might already be obsolete. The old way of learning — by memorizing facts or formulas — will not help us in the future as it did in the past. Moving forward, we will need to be able to think and react with more agility than ever. As such, children who can think independently will be best equipped to have agency in the world of tomorrow.
Creativity and all of the skills that go along with it (curiosity, experimentation, invention, observation, judgment, etc.) are the learning tools of the future, and we need to begin by fostering these habits of thinking today. Okay, hopping off my soap box.
This is tricky since there have been so many personal and fascinating exchanges with these leaders. The one that’s standing out the most at the moment is from Elliot Eisner’s Ten Lessons the Arts Teach (page 87).
Eisner is considered by many to be the father of Arts Education, and was a professor of Art Education at Stanford.He taught many of today’s trail-blazing educators, was a leader who carved out new ways for thinking about curriculum in the subject, he was an inspiring philosopher in the arts, and he was a friend.
I was very lucky to know him, and was thrilled when he gave me permission to share his oft-quoted piece in the book. Sadly, Professor Eisner passed away a few months ago, and it’s a huge honor to know that this book is helping carry on his passion for arts advocacy.
You do a masterful job of weaving art and science together. (The intersection of the two is something Rachelle and I will discuss in our G+ chat with Heather Shumaker very soon!) Those are two subjects people don’t often think of as being connected. Can you talk a little about why the two are so similar, particularly for children?
As an arts educator I’ve always been fascinated by artists’ processes. In general, artists don’t just sit down and make a painting or carve a sculpture. Rather, they begin with a curiosity about something and then spend hours upon hours testing their ideas.
For the most part, scientists do the same. They wonder about something. And from there they will experiment and test their ideas out. While the ultimate goals of artists and scientists may differ, their processes both rely on curiosity to move their ideas forward.
Questions such as, “what will happen if…?” are alive in the both the arts and sciences. And it just so happens that this is one of my favorite questions to pose to children when we’re in the midst of both art and science experiments. For example: “What will happen if I mix the red paint with the green paint?” or “What will happen if I pull a rope over a tree branch and try to hang from it?” Curiosity and a quest to discover the unknown is key.
For the longest time, Potion Station (page 140) was the most popular thing in the house. I finally bought a gallon of vinegar and multiple boxes of baking soda to fill the mad scientist need. While my kids will move on to other things, this is one activity that they never tire of.
The activity that reminds me most of my own childhood is Kitchen Challenge: An Edible Investigation (page 177). My mom often let my siblings and I have free reign over the pantry, and I have a fond memory of making a crazy kitchen concoction of chocolate chips, oats, honey, flour, corn flakes, cheese, milk, fruit, and whatever else I could find, forming it into little cakes…and then feeding it to my little brother. I’m pretty sure that his memory of this is not so fond.
While the world of writing somehow found me, I’m a maker at heart and have always had a soft spot for found materials. I wish I knew why, and I’m sure it has something to do with being raised by frugal and resourceful parents.The Scrap Building activity (page 113) was inspired by how I used to make art as a child — gathering anything I could find, from old shoeboxes to broken jewelry, and then cobbling it together into something new. I’m forever fascinated by how simple and familiar materials can change form in a new context, and I’m currently playing with old envelopes, cupcake liners, and toothpicks.
Considering the efforts to define and redefine education today, and with concerns over America’s “Creativity Crisis” still lingering, I can’t think of a better time for this book to be launched out into the world!