This summer, Tinkering School Day Camp launched a second location for younger folks (Junior Day Camp). It's an experiment where we have limited the age range of the Tinkerers and also limited their access to building materials and tools.
For this experiment, we started by limiting the age range of the attendees to between 5 and 7 years only.
In the past, we've tried out allowing 5 year olds to attend our workshops and camps -- sometimes it's developmentally (physically and also mentally) appropriate and engaging for them, and sometimes the physical labor of learning power tools and working in small team is too much too quick. Ultimately, we landed on age 6 as a failsafe minimum age, but in the spirit of Tinkering, we decided to revisit the restriction and also narrow the age range of the entire community. With a more targeted age range in Junior Day Camp, we can also focus on some of the specific needs and ways to engage these young folks in a way that's more developmentally appropriate to more attendees more consistently.
The second thing we changed for Junior Day Camp was the access to tools and materials.
Normally, in Summer Day Camp the Tinkerers learn to use a chop saw to infinitely alter 2x3 pieces into whatever combination and configuration is necessary to complete a project or meet a tinkering challenge. Partially due to the constraints of the location, we were unable to introduce a chopsaw at JDC. Mostly, the pilates studio next door would get upset by the noise, but also, what would happen if the kids only had access to precut wood?
We embraced the absence of a chop saw and eliminated cutting from the curriculum entirely. The kids work with limited sizes of 2x3s* in increments of 12" and 3" (from 9", 12", 15" all the way up to 96") and also plywood rectangles of varying sizes (15"x15", 12"x36", 48"x48", for example).
*We call these precut pieces "Legos." The incremental sizes were chosen to allow the kids to make perfect squares if necessary -- i.e. assembling two 12" and two 15" will make a 15" square. A 15"x15" square can then be sheathed by a 15"x15" precut sheet of plywood.
This limitation makes both the kids and the Collaborators a bit more creative when it comes to construction and also allows us to focus on the experience of the build over the (sometimes) complexity of the design. Additionally, by storing all the 12s in one bin, all the 15s in another, and all the 45s in another encourages the kids to begin to make the connections between an abstract inch number and its corresponding height or width (a really, really difficult concept to explain to this age group).
The foundational limitations of the experiment so far have been paying off. As staff, we've discovered ways to do more with less, and also the advantages of limiting access to materials. Sometimes, too many choices lead to a lack of action. Deciding the how to do something sometimes prevents the doing. If there are too many choices for how we never reach the do.
And, at Junior Day Camp despite only having a limited amount of wood in limited sizes, we sometimes still run into instances where abundance prevents progress.
Our main example of the abundance preventing progress phenomenon: the drills.
During Monday morning tool training, we need 14 drills in the space. We have three groups that rotate through three different training stations, and two of those stations require drills. With a maximum of 16 Tinkerers a session, we need 14 drills so that each kid can use one during training rotation and so that adults also have them. The math adds up.
But this is only true on Monday morning.
Because drills are battery powered, powerful, and super exciting, they often become the tool of choice during build time. Everyone wants a drill. Everyone wants to feel like they are contributing to the project in a meaningful and productive way. And drills are an easy solution to that. They make noise and make holes and drive screws and are actually really awesome to use.
So much sensory feedback! So much ability to annihilate wood!
But, if I'm 5 years old, sometimes this two-handed tool is too much for just me. I need a Partner Push (I need a partner to help me push hard enough make a hole.) I need another teammate's hand to hold up the back while I drive a screw. I simply need someone who is ready and willing to assist.
Sometimes while Tinkering, we need someone whose job it is to simply provide some help!
But, if everyone is holding a drill, there is no one available to help with a Partner Push. If everyone is holding a drill, there is no one available to help use the clamps. If everyone is holding a drill, who is going to use their body weight to prevent the wood from sliding across the floor? The answer, of course, is that if everyone has a drill in their hand, then no one is available to help in other ways.
Additionally, if everyone had a drill in their hand, the Tinkerers start to become possessive of the tools. "The Drill" turns into "My Drill." My Drill turns into a sense of ownership that can prevent the Tinkerers from working as a team. (If I put down MY DRILL, someone will take it. Other teammates can't use MY DRILL.)
In the spirit iteration, this summer we've been experimenting with ways to better address these instances the hinder teamwork.
- How do we teach the Tinkerers to view the drills as a tool that belongs to the collective community?
- How do we teach the Tinkerers to voluntarily take on different building roles as the projects progresses, for the sake of project progression? (OR, How can we teach a 5 year old to both anticipate, and choose to fill, the needs of a project team?)
Iteration One: Remove Tools.
On Wednesdays, we usually address the "my drill" problem at that morning's opening circle. To do this, we normally have a casual chat about how no one at Tinkering School brought their own drill from home. The drills belong to the program. We all agreed to share the tools. We all need the tools. Etcetera.
One Wednesday, a few weeks ago, we decided to not have the usual chat. I just took the drills off the wall. Of the 14 that usually live there, I left six, and we continued with our day as though everything was normal. After the project meetings, Tinkerers scampered to the tool wall to retrieve supplies and were met with a marked lack of resources.
Yes, there was a momentary freak out. But everything was fine.
And, with the limitation of only six drills, it was suddenly *necessary* for team members to find other jobs to do:
- Human Clamp.
- Future Hole Location Decider.
- Clamp Holder.
- Clamp Tightener.
- Wood Carrier.
- Clean Up Crew.
- Next Step Designer.
- Bolt Tightener.
These are real job titles decided by real Tinkerers. Also! These are all jobs that you can't do if you're holding a drill in your hand.
Placing constraints on these young folks has proven to be worth it. The goals of this camp say nothing about training Tinkerers in every tool ever invented. They don't really need to know that screws come in infinite sizes or that a 2x3 isn't the only shape wood comes in. The important bit has been that we're exposing these young minds to ways of thinking and doing and creating that they wouldn't normally be empowered with and trusted to do at their age. This includes working as a team to make something silly, and sometimes compromising by being a Wood Carrier and not a Hole Maker.
Just remove the drills. You'll probably be surprised what happens.
Update: We've also removed all the tape measures. Results = Incredible.