One of the best ways I know to incorporate the “Tinkering Philosophy” into an early childhood program is through a really nice woodworking area. Woodworking is one of those practices that many teachers feel very uncomfortable with. I see this when I visit programs. Rarely, do I see a woodworking table open and available for the children, although many programs have them (they are usually piled high with other stuff-clearly not in use, not unlike a lot of water tables…that’s another story for another day).
Allowing children to build and create using tools and materials IS tinkering. As long as nobody is telling that what they have to do or make, and they have the freedom and autonomy to explore on their own, they are tinkering.
The best way to get comfortable with this, is to create easy-to-follow directions for safety.
All tinkerers must wear safety goggles at all times while tinkering.
All tinkerers must wait for a grown-up to come and supervise the use of tools.
Only 2 tinkerers allowed at the table at a time.
All tinkering tools must remain on the tinkering table.
That should do it. Now the children can explore the tools and materials safely and while doing so, they are problem-solving, estimating, designing, sorting, and measuring. Tinkering is a direct route to early math. Yeah!