TinkerLab – Book Review

Today’s review is Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors.

Author – Rachelle Doorley

She is an arts educator, who studied costume design at UCLA, worked in film, taught art in LA schools, earned a master’s in arts education from Harvard, and oversaw education programs at an art museum. She founded the blog TinkerLab, and you can find TinkerLab on Facebook and on Pinterest. I also really appreciate her Facebook group, Club TinkerLab, where people ask for (and get!) advice on teaching / engaging kids in science, making, and art.

Book Description (condensed from Amazon)

“55 playful experiments —hands-on activities that explore art, science, and more.  For children two and up.

Kids are natural tinkerers. They experiment, explore, test, and play, and they learn a great deal about problem-solving through questions and hands-on experiments… Children gravitate toward sensory experiences (playing with slime), figuring out how things work (taking toys apart), and testing the limits of materials (mixing a tray of paint together until it makes a solid mass of brown). This book is about helping parents and teachers of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers understand and tap into this natural energy with engaging, kid-tested, easy-to-implement projects that value process over product. [Experiments] foster curiosity, promote creative and critical thinking, and encourage tinkering–mindsets that are important to children growing up in a world that values independent thinking…. also includes a buffet of recipes (magic potions, different kinds of play dough, silly putty, and homemade butter) and a detailed list of materials to include in the art pantry.”

Audience

Primarily aimed at parents, though preschool teachers would also find lots of great ideas. The author states that activities are designed for ages 2 to 6. They are probably best suited for about 2.5 – 4.5. Some activities will appeal to much older children but that’s not the target audience.

Reviews

In 142 reviews, average rating is 4.7. Reviewers describe it as inspiring, beautiful, creative, and accessible. They appreciate that each of the 55 activities come with variations and ways to extend the fun and learning.  They appreciate the fun, easy activities that are done with materials that parents already have. They appreciate the focus not just on the activities but the environment and mindset that surround those activities.

There were very few negative reviews. Those are generally from people who wished more of the activities were suitable to older children. One review said that the title TinkerLab led them to expect activities like taking apart electronics, understanding circuits, woodworking and so on aimed at older students – their misconception shows that they likely hadn’t read the book information in detail. However, in case anyone else has misconceptions about the intention of the book, they recommended a more descriptive title such as “Arts and Crafts for Toddlers” – I might amend this to: “Craft Projects, Art Process, and STEM Exploration for 2 – 5 year olds, plus inspiration for parents on ways to nurture creativity.”

Content

55 activities like bubble prints, paint experiments, gum drop structures, ropes and pulleys, CD spinners, pounding nails, does it float, slime, ice cream in a jar, outdoor scavenger hunts and shadow investigations.

There’s a lot more to this book than just the activities: the first 48 pages are on “creating your TinkerLab, Tools for Tinkering, and Ten Tinkerlab Habits of Mind.” (Habits include: Encourage questions, see mistakes as gifts, and think of everything as an experiment.) Throughout the book, there are interviews with other experts in the field, and quotes from artists and inventors. These all serve as inspiration for parents in how to create a family life that nurtures creativity. (I will note that if a parent feels like they have to follow all the suggestions to be a good parent, it might feel overwhelming. But if they take it as suggestions and inspiration to do what works for their family, it’s lovely.)

Format of activities

  • Title, picture, intro paragraph, supplies, prep (if needed.)
  • Invitations – the teacher / parent sets out the supplies, gives a few suggestions or models for the child some possible ways to explore the materials, then steps back to let them explore; the teacher / parent occasionally asks questions or makes suggestions to further the exploration.
  • “Experiments” – these are really what I would think of as “extensions” to the original idea – suggestions for alternate materials, or ways to add on to the project, or new ways to explore the materials, with questions to guide that process.
  • SOME projects have step-by-step instructions or recipes, but more are just the process based invitation.

Here are some sample pages (click for bigger image)

   

Clarity of instructions

Clear and easy to follow. The tone is warm and inviting. Focus is more on process than product.

Summary of Strengths

Kid-tested, easy projects. Encourages tinkering, curiosity and creative thinking. The focus is on sensory experiences and “invitations to play”, where the parent sets out supplies, gives a few suggestions about possible ways to explore the materials, then steps back to let the child explore, occasionally asking questions to further the exploration. Fun photos of young children experimenting provide good inspiration for parents in engaging even the littlest kids in science and art.

 

Note: This review is part of a series where I  review STEM activity guidebooks that are written for parents or teachers who want to teach science and engineering concepts to kids age 3 – 7 or so. For a full list of resources I recommend, including books for adults, books for kids, websites, curricula, toys, apps, videos, podcasts and subscription kits, see my resource page: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/resources/.

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