Tinkering is for Middle Schoolers, too

15 years ago, reDiscover was founded to serve preschool and early elementary classrooms with creative reuse materials. 10 years ago, we added Tinkering programs to engage upper elementary kids using those same materials, plus power tools. 4 years ago, we started prototyping programs for middle schoolers, starting with camps for advanced tinkerers.

Tinkering is play. It is an extension of the exploratory joyous fun of early childhood to an age where children can rapidly learn new skills, make useful objects, and get into virtuous cycles of thinking, making, and tinkering. reDiscover aims to reach new kids, in new age brackets, new cultures, new settings, and get more and more people into that playful maker mode. Middle school is the current frontier.

Tinkering, reDiscover's unique blend of art, engineering, woodworking, and creative reuse, grew out of constructionism, Reggio Emilia educational theory, and LA's assemblage art movement, with a big pinch of Gever Tulley's ideas around letting children do dangerous things. Over the past 10 years, we've honed the Tinkering experience for elementary school students, and in the past 18 months have been prototyping in-school Tinkering programs for middle school students as well, working with partner schools in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. With middle schoolers, use a similar tool set to our advanced elementary school Tinkering programs, with a more robust design process, greater precision expected in sketching, cutting, and assembly, and more articulate communication of process and product.

It has been a learning experience for our staff, only some of whom have experience working with this age and the social dynamics that can arise. How do you spark a playful spirit of exploration, of failures lightly held and easily overcome, when kids fear cruelly cutting comments from their peers? How do you ensure a safe workshop environment when students boast they have already mastered a tool and feel they can't back down and learn it correctly without losing status? For an after school class, how do you compete with the camaraderie of sports, the lure of video games or social media, the freedom to just hang.

Oh, but when it works, how fast and how far they can fly, how beautiful their creations, how wild their ideas.

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