This post below first appeared in August of 2014. At that time my children were 3 and 4 and tinkering had not swept the nation to the degree it has now. With 2 children home for the summer, now 2 years older, I had to rethink our Tinkerlab space and what types of materials and experiences I would set up as invitations. As my guinea pigs, my own kiddos experiment with many ideas I am exploring for the work of CraftED. I thought I would share some pictures and ideas for those of you who are interested in tinkering, both with your children at home this summer or setting up your classroom for some new experiences next school year. Enjoy!


I moved our Tinkerlab outdoors to take full advantage of summer weather and natural lighting.  They are loving this new space for exploring.


My former art cart can easily be swapped out for a TinkerCart (with all new recycled goodies, of course) that can move anywhere in our house or garage depending on the task my kids are interested in exploring and/or building.


While my children love organic play, after having some of the same old materials I realized they would benefit from some ideas for what they could make. Tinker Task Cards coming soon from CraftED for sale for the new school year!

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Now that they are a bit older we can go a little more “meta” and talk about what types of behaviors are needed for Tinkering. I can’t wait to share this fun new resource for sale soon by CraftED-Norms for Tinkering Posters for your classroom!


“…But the results are not as important as the process. The process of being curious about something, asking questions, and exploring various solutions are all part of the fun of learning” (Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Innovators)

The demands of standards (old an new alike) have left teachers and school leaders feeling as though there is no time for enrichment, celebration or play in their classrooms. As a result, our understanding of “play” in schools today has become limited to what happens on the blacktop at lunch. As an educator this reality disappoints me for many reasons, but mostly this saddens me because I am a parent who has seen first-hand that “play” has peaked a curiosity and passion in my children that I believe is a gift all kids deserve-a shot at bringing deeper learning to life. While I may dedicate my life to increasing opportunities for deeper learning in our schools, the reality is my children may not benefit from it…and that is just unacceptable… And so the following is the story of how our family’s tinker lab came to be. If the following quote inspires you, then read on!

Regardless of any future technological innovation to come, our hands combined with our minds are the most potent, reliable tools for innovation in the country to come. The danger in becoming disconnected with the tangible world is that we lose touch with the virtues and characteristics that make us uniquely human, our sense of imagination and ability to make unique connections among disparate situations. To think outside the box, you have to know what the box is. To change the world, we have to understand the world in which we live. Nothing replaces the authenticity and impact of an interaction or a learning experience in the real world. (Grace Hawthorne, DIY Kids: Building Tomorrow’s Innovators Through Hands-On Making)

If you are an educator who is open to exploring how a maker space could find its’ way into your room, then read on! If you are a family member who wants to build an art studio or tinker lab for children at home, then read on! Anyone can play…

Step 1. A colleague and friend (@EricaSynder) mentioned the book Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors– I was immediately interested and picked up a Kindle version a few moments later. By the second page I was inspired to make room for a tinker lab in our very small home. I cleared out the house, sold some things on Craigslist, and found a corner in our garage that would work (this also happened to be where I was comfortable letting some of the mayhem of a tinkerlab occur). There was some open drywall and indoor-outdoor carpet that made the space feel doable. I then spent some time on Pinterest (, ) getting affordable ideas for designing our space. With a design in mind and my husband out of town, my kids and I decided to make this our weekend project!

Step 2. We made a few trips to The Dollar Store to get some starter supplies. Instead of going down my usual toy and art isles (don’t get me wrong, we got our fair share of markers, rulers, glue, tape, crayons, etc.) we explored the kitchen and tool isles. I found myself really thinking outside the box and purchasing random pieces that peaked my own interest (strange looking strainers, odd shaped tools, funnels, etc.). I have to admit it was the best trip-we had a blast! We then went down the street to Home Depot (an educational experience in and of itself!) to get our pegboard, spray paint and hooks. Finally, we made our way to Target to get a few baskets to store our goodies and a couple nesting tables for my kids to engage in their explorations.


Step 3. With some old oversized t-shirts on we set up our space together. We painted, hammered and organized. That night when the kids went to bed I set up their first “invitation” (the tinkerlab book talks a lot about the process of setting up enticing ways to invite the children to explore in their tinkerlab). When my kids awoke the next morning you would have thought it was Christmas-they were so excited to see what I put out for them and the finishing touches I put on our space. It has now become routine for my husband to find me at late hours of the night setting up an invitation in the garage, followed by my son waking up every morning to run into my bedroom and ask “what did you put out new for me today in my maker space, mommy?” (and so the later explains the former).


Now that I have them (and hopefully you) hooked, here are a few things I have learned-both cautionary and celebratory:

-While the book suggests making all things accessible to children, I’m here to tell you not ALL things should be accessible (see picture below of permanent maker on my son’s face that occurred while I was on a virtual conference call a few weeks ago). You may consider putting some materials up higher than others.


-My kids aren’t interested in the types of technology we used to be dependent on…don’t judge me-my kids watched a show every morning and every night, just to give us parents a break. They haven’t asked to see a tv show or an ipad since we built our tinkerlab. Good old fashioned fun!


-My son’s fine motor skills have developed exponentially in just a short time and my daughter has started to show an interest in building and more gender-neutral activities than she previously did. Disney’s Frozen will not be invited to our Tinkerlab!

-Both children’s creativity and inquiry continues to develop before our very eyes. They no longer depend on set activities-they can come up with their own ideas for what to do with materials and are even starting to think about new materials they would like to use. They also ask a ton of questions about how things work and are becoming comfortable with problem-solving situations, which in the past lead to frustration and disengagement.


-Music is a nice addition to your space-it makes our tinkerlab happy, welcoming and adds to a warming buzz as my kids work. I took our outside wireless (fake rock) speaker and put it in the garage so that my kids could listen to their own playlist of Jack Johnson and Pharell Williams while working.

-Oh the world is but a project! I have successfully trained all my family members to save everything for our “recyclable” basket (lids, plastic berry containers, chop sticks, etc.). From there the kids come up with really cool things to do with them. Honestly, a basic trip to the grocery store or a walk outside gives me a million ideas for what I could put out for an invitation tomorrow.


-Our tinkerlab has peaked my own curiosity and creativity; in fact I write this blog post in the early morning on a Sunday hanging out in our tinkerlab together; and you can often find me sending emails or drafting PD agendas from the floor next to my kids hard at work. I find that I get great ideas just being out here and I have started seeing small things in the world differently.

Creating a time and space for play, building, discovery and art is one of the best gifts we can give our children-in home or at school. I hope you are inspired to give the gift of learning…deeper learning, at any age!

If you need ideas or want to share please comment here so we can all learn!