BERLIN – Self-reliance. Creativity. Persistence. Problem-solving skills.
That’s what leader Ali Giska says children ages 18 months to five years learn at Tinkergarten, an outdoor play-based learning program.
Introduced to the Berlin area this spring, Giska said Tinkergarten provides children and their caretakers unique outdoor learning experiences.
“Tinkergarten brings families together in a natural space within their own community for educational classes where kids are learning through play,” she said. “It’s a child-led class, but the kids and adults learn together through expert-designed, outdoor activities.”
Giska – a part-time literacy coach for Worcester County Public Schools – said she discovered the nationwide program while seeking unique outdoor experiences for her own three children, and soon applied to be a local Tinkergarten leader. She said the program’s mission to facilitate memorable and educational play experiences in outdoor spaces echoed her desire to see children learn from nature.
“I remember playing outside was one of the most influential parts of my childhood,” she said. “My richest memories were born when I was interacting with the outdoors, and I don’t want to lose that for my own children or for this generation.”
In the spring, Giska launched her first local Tinkergarten class at Showell Park, where a group of 12 “explorers” and their parents focused on outdoor activities that promote creativity. She said children created colors from nature using berries, turmeric and leaves, investigated water and wind and interacted with mud in different scenarios, among other things.
“There was so much growth by the end of the season in how kids played independently and with each other,” she said, “and even how the adults facilitated that play.”
Following a successful first season, Giska said she is excited to host a series of summer classes on problem solving and S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in the Berlin area. In one class, for example, she explained that children will find a way to release objects frozen in ice.
“The explorers have to find a way to release the treasures,” she said. “They are discovering items found in nature and keeping cool at the same time.”
Giska noted the value of learning from nature, despite the growing interest in digital learning.
“As a child, being able to engage in all of your senses is only something you can do outside. You can’t do that with a screen or any kind of digital learning. It’s the most heightened kind of learning …,” she said. “Eighty percent of brain development occurs before age five, so this is the time when kids need to be outside, opening up and pushing their limits, tinkering, creating, solving problems, in a space that doesn’t have limits.”
This summer, Saturday sessions, which began June 30, will be offered from 9:15-10:30 a.m. through Aug. 11 at Showell Park. Weekday classes will be held on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:45-11 a.m. July 9-25 at the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum.
“People can still sign up,” Giska said. “Saturday still has a few spots left, and the weekday class is wide open.”
For more information or to register for a local Tinkergarten class, visit www.tinkergarten.com. Free trials will be offered before every season, beginning in the fall.
“We believe every family deserves an opportunity to experience Tinkergarten and to see what it’s all about,” Giska said.