I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. -Thomas Edison
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. Imagine the ingenuity to remake your drivers license. Never thought of this underworld market item before, but it must take many dedicated hours to make fake id like this.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 for sharing tinkering images with me.