Inside the TinkerLab

In our last post, we told you a little about the philosophy behind the Bennett Day School TinkerLabs. This week, we’d like to give you a clearer picture of what these incredible learning spaces offer children and the role they play in the greater learning experience.

Modeled after Malaguzzi’s aquarium, these spaces will be full of light and color, and will be a place both for independent exploration and outside observation.

True to their name, our TinkerLabs will also give students a wide—and perhaps surprising—array of materials and objects with which to “tinker.” That is, with which to build, explore, and discover. These elements range from the organic (sand, water, light) to the manufactured (art materials, plastic containers, computers and other electronic devices).

Through a child’s curiosity and imagination, the TinkerLabs allow these materials to transform from ordinary into the extraordinary. Suppose a TinkerLab were filled with cardboard tubes of various sizes.  What could a child do with these? What could he or she accomplish in a room designed to encourage experimentation and expression—and filled with the tools with which to do both?

Some children might build. Working together or individually, they’ll explore the structures that can be made with their cardboard tubes, which materials might hold them together, and what forces they can withstand.

Other children might make sounds. They may discover that banging the tubes together will make a hollow plink, while running grains of sand through the tube will produce a soft, rain-like whisper. (What other sounds could they make?)
A few children might create art. Some may apply paint to the outside of a tube, and roll it over a piece of paper to create a series of patterns. Others may poke holes or shapes into their tube to explore the ways light and shadows can change the way an object is perceived.

If this all sounds like play, you’re right. In the TinkerLabs, to play is to learn. We believe play is essential to the education process, because it teaches kids several extremely important lessons:

First of all, the TinkerLabs teach children about relationships. Not just the relationships between people and objects, but the relationships between ideas and reality, hypotheses and experimentation.

They also teach children that the reason for learning is intrinsic. It’s what arises naturally from the questions we have as human beings. In this way, the learning process becomes less of a chore, and more of an extension of who we are.

And finally, the TinkerLabs teach children that learning is not simply memorization, regurgitation, and regimentation. Rather, it’s what happens when one creates challenges for oneself and forges one’s own path to surmounting those challenges. Just as discovery happens when we take the road less traveled, so does new and better learning occur when we break away from a one-size-fits all teaching approach, and allow children to make their own way—with careful guidance, thoughtful leadership, and a wealth of resources at their backs.

In our next post, we will explore documentation in the TinkerLabs: its purpose, its process, and its presence in the learning space itself.