Tinkering Lab at Chicago Children’s Museum is a workshop of freedom and flexibility. Families enter the space and instantly start to gather that it is a place where they have the chance to work with real tools and materials in whatever way they see fit. After a little bit of time becoming saturated with the space, children start gathering supplies. Each person begins to formulate ideas of what they will do, what they will make. They draw inspiration from prior projects, materials available, and whatever else is going on in the space . . . and the work begins.
Through the Maker Education Initiative three Maker Corps Members worked in the Tinkering Lab from mid-June to mid-August. They too were confronted with the freedom and flexibility of Tinkering Lab. It took them some time to soak in the space and get a feel for what kind of projects happen in there. Much like families they started drawing inspiration from previous projects, materials, and perhaps unique in their case, they began to apply a wealth of prior knowledge about building, making, and tinkering.
Heather, Andrea, and Kaity immersed themselves in the idea that when we trust children with real tools they show great competency. All three Maker Corps Members proved to be supremely adept at letting children explore a tool, while simultaneously ensuring their safety. Providing “just in time” information that enhances a child’s exploration takes a thoughtful person, with an ability to see the whole child. The facilitator has to read the child’s body language and keenly observe while making sure the child has plenty of physical, emotional, and mental space.
The next trick is to figure out how to help children work on a project while ensuring they keep complete creative control. Kaity’s natural sense of curiosity led her to tackle this challenge with a scientific patience. By studying a child’s creative style she was able to reflect and hone her ability to urge the project to the next level while simultaneously letting it be a true representation of the child’s imagination.
Enthusiasm plays a key role in quality facilitation of creative programming. Andrea’s enthusiasm is infectious and shined through in our Cardboard City Project. Tinkering Lab received a rather large donation of cardboard, spurring us to create a miniature city scene. Andrea took the idea and ran with it. She went straight to work. Her first project was a suspension bridge that inspired many families to join in. Next, she further embraced the nautical theme, making a beautiful lighthouse. By this time families were entranced with the easy manipulation of cardboard. Cardboard is a fruitful material to work with. Whereas wood takes time and skill to manipulate, cardboard lends itself easy to splashes of imagination.
Heather’s easy grace and inquisitiveness made her a natural at inviting families to participate in programs. Her skill-set was incredibly helpful when we began the big project the three Maker Corp Members worked on this summer: a large-scale collaborative stuffed art sculpture.
The initial idea for a giant fabric sculpture was sparked by our wealth of fabric scraps, a heretofore unused sewing machine, and the Maker Corps Members previous work with fabric art. The initial challenge was how to engage guest in a meaningful program that sparked their creativity. The tinkering began with finding the most effective way to introduce the project. We were constantly adjusting the language we used to spark interest and inspire people to spend time creating.
As the sculpture began to take shape the introduction became less crucial. The sight of what we were creating enthused participants.
In the end about 100 people added a patch to the sculpture. It is now hanging in the Tinkering Lab. Each of its limbs tells a unique story. A story about how we can figure things out by fooling around. A story about how despite not knowing exactly what is going to happen, we are excited to find out. The story about how when we all work together on something, even with people we will never meet, we can make something incredible.
Being a maker is: being passionate, patient, and imaginative. It is a process that reveals (the fact) that the world is yours to shape; you can bring your imagination into the physical world.
Being a tinkerer is: being brave, generous, creative. Tinkering implies that we don’t quite know what we are doing, but we are excited about figuring it out.
This summer with the help of Heather, Andrea, and Kaity many children found the joy of making and the bravery of tinkering. This summer the Maker Education Initiative helped Tinkering Lab come alive with passionate makers who helped children and their caregivers find out, more than before, that they can shape their world and that inside of them there is an inventor, a crafts-person, a tinkerer, and a maker.
While our bodies rest, our minds are busy processing the most incredible week of camp ever.
When you have an adventure like we had it stays with you forever. You carry it with you, it shapes your experiences. We stay curious, we breathe deeply, we take time to reflect, but soon we will be anxious for more.
As I walked through the field barefoot and shrouded in moonlight I was reminded that the best moments of camp/life cannot be captured. When you see, catch, and investigate your first lightning bug, when you taste a wild blackberry ripened by the sun, when you play an epic never-ending game of capture the flag. . . a picture may still speak a thousand words but always falls well short of the experience.
Today we made movies and stuck close to the water. The heat was sweltering. The tree house was left untouched as we found ways to cool ourselves and satisfy our need for tinkering, through exploration, adventure and silly, giddy play.
Here are some pictures from yesterday (building the aforementioned ladders and benches) and just a couple from today swimming and playing in the creek as the cameras were all be used by the film making crew.
Giving tinkerers cameras to make movies is a fascinating experiment that (apparently) results in highly improvised murder mysteries that keep the audience guessing. The creativity, passion, humor, and thoughtfulness with which these young people approached the project was unbelievable.
As we swam in the lake and watched the sun go down on a fantastic day of tinkering fun, we all enjoyed a silent swim. It is a unique and wonderful experience to be surrounded by quiet people, to keep your thoughts to yourself, and enjoy the pristine beauty around you.
Tomorrow, We collect clay from the creek for a big ceramics project, work on the tree house, watch the ever changing weather forecast, and oh my! who knows what else we will get into.
We built ladders and benches, made mini-eco systems, went exploring the creek, swimming in the lake, baked pies, made homemade ice-cream, celebrated Hillary’s birthday (we sang her happy birthday every hour on the hour), we sang other songs too, told jokes, played with clay, found huge antlers, had a camp fire, caught lightning bugs, went on the tire swing, and oh so much more. It was indeed that day of camp where everything happens. It was an incredible celebration of all things summer. Tomorrow I will tell the tale of our treehouse, for now enjoy these pictures.
TINKERING SCHOOL CHICAGO is in full swing. The first 24 hours went by with much planning, swinging, laughing, and exploring.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the tinkerers make friends. It is incredible to watch how at ease they become with each other almost instantly.
The wild blackberries are sometimes tart and sometimes delicious. The allure of the adventurous culinary experience is too much for Sam to pass up on.
Lots and lots of brain work goes into planning our BIG BUILD this year. There are lots of trees, and we have lots of lumber. Our brainstorming session generated a million and one interesting ideas. Now to narrow them down and find our way up into the tree.
It is time to take action now. We are going to go put some boards up in some trees.
Week 1. PIano Key Sculpture, nope scratch that : Xylophone.
The first program embodied the flow of a Tinkering experience. Dustin walked into the lab with a tub full of old piano keys and somewhat of an idea (see photo week 2). The first guest who walked up was a 7 year old, who instantly decided that we should make a xylophone. A couple of metal pieces were laying around, that had initially been intended to connect the piano keys, she struck them with a make-shift mallet, a beautiful tone was produced and we created something like this.
By the time this photo was taken the xylophone had been changed, rearranged, deconstructed and reconstructed. The original incarnation, made over a two hour period, did not include the inside of the toy piano (featured top right in the photo). Originally the right-side of the musical contraption was a bunch of bolts, an old wrench, and a small tin bucket. Sounds pretty good still. Tinker Band?
Week 2. Piano Key Sculpture, for real this time
A family of four walks into Tinkering Lab, Dustin introduces himself and the project, the family jumps right in, and with little direction. . . spends about 45 minutes creating this.
The piano keys are off a hundred year old player piano Dustin took apart last year for a Chicago Ideas Week workshop. They were rather fragile, but the 4 year old boy and his nine year old sister quickly mastered the process: pre-drill then slowly place the screws in the center of the key.
Week 3. Marimba
After the wondrous xylophone experiment we were inspired to build a Marimba. On a relatively quiet Thursday night a rather rambunctious 10 year old scoots into Tinkering Lab, ready to rock. He was instantly enthused by the marimba idea and began gathering wood. Once we discovered that each length and then each different kind of wood had a unique tone and timbre the excitement escalated and we played every chunk of scrap wood in the place.
Upon entering the program participants were faced with wire cutters, a variety of different types of wire, needle nose pliers and the warning that after you cut the stuff IT IS SHARP.
Although there are no official statistics an interesting pattern emerged. Every group of guest that played with the wire longer than 5 minutes stayed for at least 30 minutes. I suspect that Bending Wire is a strong program if you can some con people it getting into it.
Come on people lets get into it!
Week 5. Remote Controls
What do you do when you are lucky enough to find a box of old laserdisc remote controls at your desk? You break out the little screw drivers and see what is in there. And that is just what Dustin and about 16 other people did for an afternoon. They eventually got fairly in depth about the evolution of the remote control and thoroughly explored the inner workings.
Week 6. Scribbling Machines (aka: Doodle-Bots)
Hacking remote control cars is super fun and functional. Out of the box a remote control car is a riot, but only last for about 10 hours before they break. When they break they still typically still have lots of usable parts.
Elaine, CCM’s master tinkerer for the past few decades, was playing with some old remote control car parts one Friday. Synchronistically Dustin walked into Tinkering Lab after checking out a blog post about doodle-bots and instantly took action. He went and grabbed a big sheet of paper some markers and got to building. Watch our first machine in action here!
The following Saturday Dustin spent most of the afternoon fussing with blocks of wood, motors, wheels, tape and markers. The spirography that ensued engaged visitors as they attempted to coax and modify the hodge-podge of parts to draw. One guest commented
“Oh, perfect, now I can continue to do art while I am eating my lunch!”
Week 7. Makey Makey
The Maker Education Iniative is awesome! CCM is a host site for 18-22 year olds interested in Maker Education this summer. 3 Students will be working in Tinkering Lab creating programs and taking it the next level.
As part of this partnership we received a box of goodies in the mail. Dustin was most excited for the Makey Makey. Check it out here.
We had such a fantastic week of camp. Allow me to introduce the people whose passion, hard-work, and limit-less abilities made it incredible.
Patrick Downs, currently employed at the Chicago Childrens Museum, is a lifelong tinkerer. Figuring out how things work has been a not just a hobby for Patrick, but a passion. Starting at a very young age with simple wooden blocks, moving on to tinker toys, Legos and K’nex, all the way up to ham radio sets and personal computers, putting useful things together has been Patrick’s life. Among his many skills woodworking and carpentry have always been at the forefront. This was never more evident than during the 6 years spent working at the Bristol Renaissance Faire as a hand tooled woodworking demonstrator. Those 6 years Patrick would spend demonstrating period woodworking of the mid 1500′s to live audiences, primary to the demonstrations was tool safety. Now Patrick spends his time doing smaller projects when he is not at his job with the Chicago Childrens Museum building and maintaining the exhibits there.
Ashley Sullivan spent most of her childhood outdoors. Whether biking back to the woods, creating a fairyland in the lilac tree, or hunting for new-born kittens in the barn, it was no easy task for her parents to corral her inside for mealtimes. When the midwestern winters brought her indoors, Ashley was constantly busy with a project – sewing doll clothes, coloring patterns on graph paper, fashioning ornaments, playing piano, or filling endless sketchbooks with drawings. Twenty-eight years later, not much has changed. Ashley has been an artist for as long as she can remember, and went on to earn a masters degree in Art Education from Miami University. After transplanting to Chicago five years ago, Ashley has been involved in after-school arts programs and worked at Chicago Children’s Museum as a play and learning facilitator. She has been the Visual Artist for Zephyr Dance Performing Arts Camp for the past three summers. Tinkering School promises to bring back memories of summers in the backyard with Dad, creating the all-important tree house, or lounging in an old parachute and dreaming up the next project. web.mac.com/giantwombat
Matt Nicholas Originally from Upstate New York, Matthew worked as a Weldor and Fabricator before relocating to Chicago to complete his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since then Matthew has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and pursued an interdisciplinary art practice. For the past five years Matthew has worked in the Exhibits Department at Chicago Children’s Museum supporting access and inclusion initiatives as well as educational programming.
Hillary Burchall I try to spend most of my time exploring, collecting, tinkering, and observing. After a few years studying art education at university, I focused my studies on creating sculpture. I have been both camper and camp counselor, and have award-winning marshmallow-roasting skills. I think everyone should have the opportunity to become empowered by their own creativity and that is why I love tinkering school!
Ben Waite is currently a play and learning facilitator at Chicago Children’s Museum. While working in numerous capacities in the field of informal education,Ben has fed his passion for adventure. He will be attending graduate school in the fall, where he plans to apply his tinkering expertise to the field of social reform. Ben distinctly remembers building two giant snow forts connected by a tunnel a 1/2 block long as a child. Tinkering School gives him the chance to recreate that same sense of timelessness.
Dan Osediacz went from camper to counselor at a big rural camp. He is an artist, experimenter and adventurer extrodinaire. He enjoys building and getting his hands busy anytime he can. He is currently working on being one of goofiest and ultimately sincere people at the same time. Tinkering School is his perfect training ground.
Sam and Caitlin make-up Squawk Productions, a video production company out of Minneapolis, MN. Squawk makes videos that educate, entertain and enlighten. Whether it be a music video or animated promotional video they find any opportunity to take everyday materials and repurpose them. They are also collaborating on a DIY screen printing book they are pretty pumped about called Screen Printing: On the Cheap, expected to be released this summer. Squawk is so excited to be a part of Tinkering School Chicago, they are totally inspired by the adventurous spirit and can’t wait to get their hands dirty!