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.
Tinker Tots is a series of projects where I share tinkering materials or tools that can be safely introduced as open invitations for children to explore and tinker.
- Toy or Stuffed Animal that could be easily taken apart. Choose a toy that’s not well-loved, or do what we did and pick one out at the thrift store. Our criteria: A clean toy that my daughter was interested in deconstructing.
To learn how a toy is assembled through hands-on exploration, and have fun along the way.
You might want to brace yourself for this one as it may seem a bit graphic. although my 4-year old didn’t seem to be unsettled by this at all. I’ll share some photos to inspire you, along with my daughter’s thoughts on the process.
N, who I call “Nutmeg” for the sake of this blog, was able to cut parts of the toy open, and I helped make sure she used the scissors safely and also helped cut the more difficult parts. She wanted to start by cutting off the doll’s arms.
Nutmeg: Let’s call this “animal-cutting-open-pouch.”
Me: Do you like taking things apart?
Nutmeg: Yeah, I do. This one is especially fun because it’s hard to cut open. When you open it you see everything inside.
This was followed by cutting off the nose and cheeks, which she could tell were filled with fluff. She wanted to pull every last bit out, which we stored in a large bowl.
Nutmeg (to me): Now cut the nose off.
Me: What do you think is in there?
Nutmeg: More cotton. That looks ridiculous!
We turned it inside out to find some clues as to how it was made.
Me: How do you think this was made?
Nutmeg: I don’t know. I wonder how they put the hair on. That’s a big mystery. But the biggest mystery is how they put the whole thing together. That’s what we’re trying to find out.
Me: What did you think would be inside?
Nutmeg: I thought cotton would be inside.
Once the toy was disassembled, she came up with a plan to glue some of the pieces to paper, and this was followed by cooking with the stuffing. She also asked to save the stuffing in order to make our own stuffed toys.
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.
Do you think we were successful? We took a stuffed animal apart — can you think of other toys that could be easily and safely disassembled?
This project is inspired by the Exploratorium’s project: Taking Toys Apart. They have a wealth of tinkering activities on their site and it’s worth pouring over if you like this sort of thing.