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.