We all have drawers at home filled with junk …. nails, tape, buttons, pins, wires and many such knick knacks, don’t we? Open it up to your kids. They’ll mess and meddle up, but they might also create something that will delight them. Have patience, their clumsiness can lead to them being curious and inquisitive. After all, you need to break it to make it. Our children deserve the freedom of space to take things that they see in their environment and turn them into something that they see in their imagination. It will give them the wings of self-confidence and independence. To innovate and invent, we need to create an ecosystem where they learn to “think with their hands”. Let them tinker…. explore and experiment….and most importantly, let them have fun while doing so.
By nature, children like to tinker. It keeps them motivated and engaged. In a world that is getting increasingly individualistic, tinkering can help develop skills of collaboration and communication. It can also help them overcome ‘the fear factor’ of tests, exams, rote learning and assessments because they have nothing that can go wrong as there are no perfect yardsticks to match up to and deadlines to beat. In such a learning atmosphere, tinkering provides that much needed playful yet meaningful enquiry-based approach. The word ‘tinker’ till a few years ago was not a popular activity in schools or at home as it was associated with dabbling, muddling, fixing, trying, but now it’s a popular buzzword among educators and teachers alike, because it keeps children cued up and engaged during their unstructured free time between school schedules, playtime and home life. Probably, a few hours of ‘messing up’ in a week can help build a foundation of imagination and creativity…. to work on something, however simple it might seem in an unskilled experiential manner.
Many might think, do creative problem solving and invention have anything in common? Yes, indeed, they are closely linked. When children are creating art from recyclables or dismantling gadgets or just puttering around…. they are in the tinkering mode. Even psychologists have opined that children kept engaged in this way have longer attention spans, enhanced creativity and better team skills…. in short, they start looking at the bigger picture. They also start believing that innovation and invention need not necessarily take place in big laboratories, with expensive equipments and materials. It can be a mere thought or an ideation that could pave the way in later years to research, innovation, prototyping or maybe a detailed drawing or algorithm.
The world would have been oblivious to the creative genius of Stephen Hawking had he not tinkered in his early years. In his book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, he says, “As a boy, I was passionately interested in how things work. In those days it was more straightforward to take something apart and figure out the mechanics. I was not always successful in reassembling toys I had pulled to pieces, but I think I learned more than a boy or girl of today would, if he or she tried the same trick on a smartphone”. One of greatest discoveries in medical science, Penicillin, was a result of scientific clumsiness on the part of Alexander Fleming. In his eagerness and hurry to go on a vacation, he left a dirty pile of petri dishes on his workstation.
On his return he found moulds and blobs of bacteria growing, but surprisingly one portion remained unaffected by the bacteria……thus leading to the antibiotic that would revolutionize medical treatments in times to come.
Our children are increasingly kept busy like bees with hardly any time to think. As birthday gifts shower them with toys, Lego sets, gadgets …. why not give them some time to think, to ponder, to imagine and to create. Tinkering develops precisely the skills to observe the world with childlike innocence, uncolored and unfettered, paving the way to develop thoughts and ideas. Educators round the world desire that the young minds develop competencies of the 5 P’s – Preparation, Precision, Persistence, Practice and Perfection. This is possible only when they are nurtured in a learning environment that is rich, diverse and dynamic. It helps them handle failure, address problems and find solutions, face challenges with grit and determination, and most importantly rise above petty issues to do good to humanity and the environment. We tend to forget our mistakes and obliterate any trace of them, yet they may offer suitable opportunities. Let’s empower our children to laugh at their mistakes and at the same time unlock the power of the unfocused mind. For this to happen, our classrooms need to be reimagined. We must make them platforms for ‘learning by doing’. Curricula have to be developed to increasingly cater to hands – on activities, activity-based projects, mini researches, DIY. The syllabi and pedagogies should embrace a variety of skills and mindsets that not only create a fun learning environment but also prepare them for life and the real world. Conjuring creativity can open that day dreaming door, an opportunity to detach from set routines and habits. So, let our children be thinkers, who tinker. Let them all have their own Eureka moments to cherish. Help them keep an open mind, they might just stumble upon something extraordinary.
About the Author:
An educationist who is passionate about social change and education reforms, she believes that there is a need to shift the culture in our classrooms that can contribute to a progressive growth mindset in our students.