Why is Tinkering Important?

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. -Thomas Edison

hammering nails tinker

Hammering in the Mud Pie Kitchen, Tinkerlab

True to the name of this blog, Tinkerlab, I’m excited to start a new series called “Tinker With…” where I’ll introduce new tinker with materials, categories of materials, or tools that can be introduced as open invitations for children to explore.

The first Tinker With… will be tomorrow, so read on about why tinkering is important and then be sure to check back tomorrow for more.

What is Tinkering?

Tinkerer: one who experiments with materials and ideas to fully understand their capacities, and who further iterates on their learning to find better solutions to current problems. 

Last week I wrote an article called What is Tinkering?, and you may enjoy taking a peek back to read it.

In its classic sense, tinkering is about puttering around with electronics or machines, but in this more up-to-date definition, tinkering is about playing with materials and figuring out how just about anything can be assembled.

Tinkering is about hands-on experiences, learning from failures, and unstructured time to explore and invent. And through the processes of exploration and invention lies the potential for innovation.

gum drop building

Gum Drop Sculptures, Tinkerlab.

Why is tinkering so important and why should we care?

Tinkering is important because it can help children understand how things are made, enables children to have focussed and unstructured time to explore and test ideas, and it’s at the heart of invention.

Think of Thomas Edison as a classic example.

tinker tinker

Hammering nails into Rain Stick. From Anna at The Imagination Tree

Edison may be best known as one of the most prolific inventors in history. He’s responsible for the first light bulb, stock ticker, electrical power, and motion pictures.

And do you know how it all began?

Edison had a rough childhood. Due to illness, he started school late at the age of eight and was deemed unfit for education by the schoolmaster. Hard to believe, right? His mother chose to homeschool her son, where he learned at a much higher level than he would have been at in school.

At age ten, Edison built a chemical lab in his cellar. Soon thereafter, he was obliged to take a job selling sweets and newspapers on a train. He found an opportunity in what could have been drudgery, and built another laboratory for himself in the back of the train (very industrious and tenacious of this young boy!). In this train job, he further learned morse code and became a proficient telegraph operator.

Overall, he learned how things work together, he was a resourceful self-starter, and he created opportunities to test his ideas from a very young age.

power drill tinker

Taking apart a machine. From Kristin at Sense of Wonder

The world has changed a lot since Edison, but opportunities for tinkering and invention still abound! So I pose this question as something that we can unpack together:

What can we do to give our children opportunities to think like Edison?

Woodworking, from The Chocolate Muffin Tree

Raising a maker-kid doesn’t mean we have to outfit our homes or classrooms with high tech equipment or tools that our outside of our budget or comfort zone. Think back to Edison who was motivated to build a lab in his basement. What we CAN do is provide our children with opportunities to explore materials, take things apart, and imagine new possibilities through the process of invention. And this can be done simply by providing them with low-cost materials and time to tinker.

We’re entering a new era of invention and innovation, and if we want our kids to be prepared for this DIY movement, now is the time to provide them with cardboard boxes, rolls of tape, tools, and a lot of free time to explore and experiment.

makey makey tinker

In addition, we’re fortunate to live in a time where hacking and a DIY spirit are in full swing. Open-hardware invention kits like MaKey MaKey (above), magazines like MAKE and its related hacker-art festival, Maker Faire, open-source software,  maker camps such Camp 510, and websites like Instructables make this an exciting time to be a tinkering maker-kid.

Tinker with…

I hope you’ll join me tomorrow for the unveiling of our first “Tinker With” challenge.

Special thanks to The Chocolate Muffin Tree, The Imagination Tree, and Sense of Wonder for sharing their tinkering images with me.





DIY Masa Play Dough

masa play dough

What? You’ve never heard of Masa Play Dough? Oh yeah, me either! The dough has a crumbly texture and leaves your hands oily, although they felt more moisturized than greasy (the base is coconut oil, which is used in beauty products). The dough also has a lovely tortilla scent that I really enjoyed.

Are you ready? Follow me, and I’ll show you how it’s done.

colorful tortillas

I live in California where there’s no shortage of Mexican food, and we happened to visit one of my favorite Mexican markets last week where I spotted these colorful beauties! My toddler was racing toward the bananas with her mini shopping cart, so I barely had a chance to snap this shot, but I’m really curious to find out what makes these colors so brilliant! Next time I’ll look.

While I was there I grabbed a bag of Masa Harina, a special corn flour that’s prepared with lime and used to make corn tortillas. I was invited to join the Play Dough Pledge (with The Imagination Tree, Nurture Store, and Sun Hats and Wellie Boots) this week, and thought we’d give masa play dough an experimental whirl and see how it holds up against my favorite play dough recipe.

masa play dough ingredients

After a long search for masa play dough turned up absolutely nothing, I realized I’d have to figure this out on my own. Eeeek. But this experimenting mom wasn’t fazed.

I adapted what follows from my play dough recipe and a few others I found online. Because this recipe calls for corn-based flour, I’m not sure if cream of tartar is necessary, but I was too chicken to leave it out. If you have a thought on this, I’d love to hear from you.


This was a test, and I’d encourage you to try your own recipe, or play off of ours. This is a cooked play dough, which means that it should have a longer shelf-life than the uncooked varieties. If you’ve ever made corn tortillas, the dough has a similar texture to tortilla dough. And you could just make tortilla dough if you didn’t want to go to all this cooked trouble, although the oil that’s added to this dough keeps it from quickly drying out and will give it a longer life-span.

  • 2 cups Masa Harina
  • 2 cups Salt
  • 1 tbsp Cream of Tartar
  • 5 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 cups of water
  • food coloring or liquid watercolor

Mix masa, salt, and cream of tartar in a large pot. Put it over a low heat and add in the oil. If it’s solid, allow it to full melt into the dry mixture. Slowly add water until the mixture is smooth. Play Dough will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of the pot and is somewhat dry in appearance. If the dough turns out too dry, add more water and/or oil. Squeeze small amounts of color into the dough and mix until you reach the desired color.

I added an additional tablespoon of oil at the end because it felt like the dough was drying out.

When you’re done with the dough, store it in a sealable plastic bag or food storage container.

masa play dough

I removed our dough from the pot before the color was fully mixed in because I knew my kids would enjoy hand mixing it. My toddler loved the warm dough and the sensory experience of repeatedly poking her hand into it.

masa play dough

I pulled out some play dough tools and she covered the dough with a mountain of cookie cutters.

masa play dough

Then we made cupcakes and snacks with a wooden knife and ice cube tray.

masa play dough

And I tested out the dough with cookie cutters too. The texture is grainier and more crumbly that our favorite play dough, but my children played with it for close to an hour, if attention span is any test of it’s success.

And I’d say it is.

So there you have it, Masa Play Dough. You heard it here first!


Double Page Spread: Week 4 {Inspiration + Art Prompts}

The Double Page Spread Challenge started just one month ago on May 7, and as of today 105 photos have been uploaded to Instagram with the hashtag #tinkersketch. I’m so grateful for this fun and supportive little (growing) community and look forward to sharing updates and prompts with you each week.

Although I started the DPS Challenge with adults in mind, the challenge is open to anyone who’s inspired to open a notebook and make something happen inside. If you’d like to infuse your life with more creativity, you’re invited to join the DPS challenge at any time.

The drawings don’t have to be gallery-worthy (although some of them certainly are), they just have to happen. One idea fuels another, and no drawing/sketch/painting/collage is too insignificant to be included.

Special thanks to my power team, @angaleta and @cmarashian (Chelsey and her co-pilot Lucy) for showing up almost every day to make this happen! More fabulous contributors from week 4: @sarahholst @jlbee @sisterbeats @supershortcake


Afsaneh Tajvidi sketchbook

Follow my Double Page Spread Challenge Pin Board over on Pinterest for more inspiration. (Sketchbook by Afsaneh Tajvidi, courtesy of Anthology Magazine via Pinterest)

Art Journaling Techniques and Inspiration Pin Board from The Mad Pinner, on Pinterest.

quick and easy art journal backgrounds

A Weekly Plan for 5 Different Types of Art Journalers, from Balzer Designs (above)

No More Blank Pages: How to make quick and easy backgrounds for your Art Journal, from Balzer Designs

alisa burke sketchbook

Alisa Burke’s Sketchbooks (above) are to-die-for.

This week’s DPS Prompts

I’ll post prompts on my site at the beginning of each week. Some of you requested them, others did not. Feel free to use them if they work for you, or ignore them completely.

  • Crumple up a piece from a paper bag, smooth it down, glue it into your sketchbook, and embellish it with at least two different materials
  • Fill a page with curved doodles. No straight lines allowed.
  • Take a close up photo graph of an object; so close that the image abstracts the original shape. Make a drawing from this photograph to make an abstract drawing.
  • Print with leaves or flowers
  • Pound flowers onto your sketchbook until the color transfers to your paper
  • Write a letter to a character from a children’s book
  • Drip paint all over the page.
  • Find some kids’ crayons and draw a childhood memory, with your non-dominant hand
  • Find two pictures that inspire you and copy something from each of them into one drawing of your own


  • Facebook: Upload a photo of your DPS directly to the Tinkerlab Facebook page
  • Instagram: Upload a photo of your DPS with the hashtag #tinkersketch. My username is tinkerlab, in case you’d like to follow me
  • Google+: Upload your DPS photo to your own page. Tag me @rachelle doorley  and/or @tinkerlab. Add the hashtag #tinkersketch
  • Twitter: Add the hashtag #tinkersketch


Creative Adventures: Tidepooling

 Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. – Edward de Bono, psychologist and writer

This post is something new for me. I usually write about our hands-on projects, but I thought it would be fun to take our creative thinking out into the great wide world. In reference to the quote above, not only am I breaking out of the pattern of my blog posts as I write this, but it’s experiences like the one I’m about to share that encourage children to look at things in a new way and help build their creative thinking skills.

As you read this, consider how you can break a pattern in order to look at things in a new way.

Can you believe this view? It’s a favorite beach about 45 minutes from my house…not too far, really…and here’s the pattern that we broke: this was the first time we’ve been there in over a year!  Sad, right? It’s an awesome spot called the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, located in Moss Beach, CA, just north of Half Moon Bay. And what makes it doubly amazing is that you can walk all over the fascinating tide pools and check out the sea life up close. A kids’ dream.

tidepool kids

The reason we haven’t been in ages because my youngest, Baby R, hasn’t been stable enough to handle the rocks on her own and I wasn’t sure of my own footing with her in the carrier.

Well, she’s hardly a baby anymore at 21 months, so there we were. I didn’t know how it would go with her, actually, but after holding my hands for a bit she wanted to brave the rocks by herself. She fell a couple times, nothing major, and seemed to enjoy the challenge of navigating the slippery, uneven terrain.

Creative adventure at the tide pool | TinkerLab

N is almost 4, and turned this into a jumping adventure. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my kids like to dress themselves. Who wears dresses and tights to the tidepools? Um, that would be my daughter.

tidepool kids

When I was a kid I loved discovering the squishy sea anemones that retract and squirt water when you touch them. So of course I had to introduce them to my little friends. They were hooked and would squeal with laughter when they found a colony of these little slippery creatures. This turned out to be a great bonding activity for these two.

beach lunch kids

We found the perfect spot to eat lunch and talk about the molting seals (they’re sitting on those far-off rocks), talk to the park ranger about sea stars, and take in the fresh air.

And without any extra effort on my part, this outing encouraged my kids to explore and follow their curiosities; building blocks of creative thinking. On the walk back to the car N asked when we could come back to see the sea stars that the ranger told us about. She wanted to know all about the harbor seals and how they’re different from ringed seals. And where do they go when the tide comes in? And she wanted to bring her dad back to introduce him to the tide pools.

Spending time in nature, outdoors, and in a new environment does wonders for the mind. These experiences can challenge, excite, and educate us.

So now I ask you: What can you do to break your established patterns in order to look at things in a different way? 

Favorite web spots for outdoor adventures

Go Explore Nature: Connecting with Kids and Nature. A beautifully written and photographed blog by Debi Huang, an LA-based mama of two boys. This is a must-read site if you live in California. I get all sorts of good tips for traveling with kids to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, not to mention anyone who can explore nature in LA gets major props in my book. She also has a fantastic list of nature-related resources. Not to be missed.

Let the Children Play. Written by Jenny, an Australian-based preschool teacher. Jenny’s child-raising point of view is play-based and project-oriented. You’ll often spot her little charges learning through play in their natural outdoor space, and her ideas often influence my own backyard transformations. She did some great leg-work and put together this useful list of Top 10 Outdoor Play Blogs

Double Page Spread: Create Some Distance

“Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.”  -Jonah Lehrer

Hey there. Yesterday was the bi-monthly Creative Challenge, so I’m a day late with my Double Page Spread (DPS) sketchbook challenge prompts and whatnot. If you’re new to this, click here or on the DPS tab in the navigation bar (above). Click on any of the links up there for all the background information you’ll need.

Can I tell you how much I’m enjoying the DPS Challenge? It’s inspired me to get back on the creativity horse and I love the community that’s building around this project. Those of you who are participating are so creative. And different from each other. And brave. Here, I’ll show you what I mean…

This Week in Review. A Sampling.

Anna from The Imagination Tree created this DPS in honor of the Jubilee.

Chelsey and her daughter always create their DPS’s together, and designed princess castles.

Angaleta created this DPS with post-its and washi tape

This is Jalarah’s first DPS, made with white crayons and water color


If you’re not already on Instagram, please consider joining. First of all, it’s totally free. I love free. And it’s one of my very favorite aps and social media outlets, and I cannot recommend it enough. Once you’re on board, you can tag your DPS with #tinkersketch and you’ll see a beautiful stream of images from all the tinkersketchers. Woah, inspiration!

If you want to take a peak inside the Instagram/tinkersketch machine, you can click onto Followgram and see the whole stream.

Related to this, I just added my Tinkerlab stream to the sidebar over there on the right side of the page. Not only can you follow my creative kookiness and pursuits, but you can see what my kids look like when they’re napping and catch what I’m eating for lunch. Now if that’s not gonna pull you in, I’m not sure what will!

I wanted to pull in the whole #tinkersketch stream but it would only pull in my DPS images. If you have any advice for me, I’m all ears.


You can also add your DPS images to Facebook. Just add them to my wall or tag me @tinkerlab


I started a DPS pin board, chock full of all kinds of DPS goodies like drawing prompts, sketchbook inspiration, doodling ideas, and examples of your tinkersketches. Oh, if you write a post about a DPS, let me know and I’ll add it to the board.

Prompts: Distance

And finally, here are this week’s prompts. This week I’d like to encourage you to create some space, distance, or movement in your life. Get out of your comfort zone (whatever that means to you) and look for inspiration in places you wouldn’t normally look.

  • Collect paper from random places and use it in your DPS (junk mail, magazines, kids’ drawings, etc.)
  • Leave home. Go for a walk, sketch in the post office while you’re waiting in line, doodle while your kids are at soccer practice. Inspiration often strikes when our minds get distance from our comfort zone.
  • Just doodle. Doodle for two minutes. Copy that doodle and change one thing about it: doodle for two more minutes. Keep this going until the pages are filled.
  • Write your favorite words in gigantic letters. Experiment with fonts.
  • Pour a bit of watercolor paint on a wet rag and experiment with blotting, rubbing, dabbing your papChoer. Use this as an underpainting, or stop with the watercolor.
  • Go to the library and pick out three books with illustrations that you love (fine artists, kids’ books, etc….it’s up to you). Copy elements from these illustrations.
  • Glue a page from a book or magazine into your sketchbook. With a black Sharpie or paint, block out words that you don’t care for. What remains uncovered is what matters the most.
  • Make a list of things that make you happy. Decorate the list with doodles.
  • Make a list of things you would never do. Circle two that you might try. Add some color to it. Try it on for size.

Look forward to seeing your #tinkersketches this week. And see you next week for more prompts and such.

Creative Challenge: Flowers

It’s time for another round of CREATIVE CHALLENGE MADNESS. Okay, so this isn’t exactly a madness hot spot, but the creative challenges always bring out the best in bloggers and generate a lot of enthusiasm. Oh, and this is the TENTH Creative Challenge. Dang.

creative challenge flowers

I like them because I get a thrill from watching creative people reinvent and play with the same material in numerous ways. In April, little ones got busy creating and inventing with egg cartons, and this month our creative challenge material is flowers.

The challenges are open-ended in order to leave room for multiple interpretations. Projects can include fresh flowers, dried flowers, fake flowers, flower stickers, etc. The only requirement is that the post should document an activity that’s child-centered, child directed, and/or process-oriented. Adults can join in, but they shouldn’t lead the activity.

Why is this important?

The idea behind these challenges is to support creative thinking by encouraging children to initiate and follow through on their own ideas. Children who learn how to think for themselves, pose problems that they can solve, and explore ideas that interest them will be better prepared to deal with the challenges of an unforeseeable future.

I’ll give you a sampling of the projects in this challenge, and then you can scroll through ALL of them in the link round-up below.

Flower Stencil Spray Painting: Make stencils from fake (or real) flowers and spray them with paint. From Deborah at Learn with Play.

fine motor skills flower plucking

Fine Motor Flower Fun: Deborah from Teach Preschool shows us how to build fine motor skills and encourage close looking with magnifying glasses.

outdoor nature collage

Outdoor Nature Collage: Melissa from The Chocolate Muffin Tree writes about her daughter’s self-initiated nature collages with flowers and leaves. In Melissa’s words, “This was my daughter’s idea.  I gave her some scrap matte board and white glue and she went to town! Busy for about 1/2 hour.  Lately it has been difficult to get C into making things and this definitely sparked her interest. If it is “her idea” she is more likely to create…maybe it is just those 5 1/2 year olds?”

For my contribution, my daughter collected flowers petals and leaves from the garden and pressed them between two sheets of clear contact paper. We have a ginormous roll of contact paper that comes out a lot, and she created a contact paper collage winter scene a few months ago and she must have remembered the process.

For this fabulous installment, I bring you twenty-five dedicated and talented kid bloggers whose children have taken the challenge to create something with or from flowers.

Rainy Day Mum *  Learn with Play *  Hands On: As We Grow  * Creative Playhouse  * Smiling Like Sunshine *  Growing a Jeweled Rose *  A Mom with a Lesson Plan  * Carrots Are Orange  *  Montessori Tidbits  *  The Educators’ Spin On It  *  Nurture Store  *  Kitchen Counter Chronicles    Experimenting Mom  *  Imagination Soup  *  Glittering Muffins  *  Famiglia and Seoul    Inspiration Laboratories  * The Golden Gleam *   The Good Long Road *  The Chocolate Muffin Tree  *  The Outlaw Mom *  Play Dr. Mom  *  Familylicious  *  Mum Paints Lives  *  Royal Baloo  * For the Children  *  Share and Remember  *  Red Ted Art

You can see check out each of their thoughtful contributions in this linky: