Tinkergarten teaches outdoor play to kids and caregivers

By SHERIDAN ROY

STAFF WRITER

Outdoor play for children and interaction with other young ones is vital, and in the 21st century where technology often replaces physical play time, parents in Southington can turn to a valuable resource of outdoor play, learning, interaction and bonding with their little ones.

“Tinkergarten” is a series of child-led, guided play classes for children ages 1-8, along with their caregivers. The series is always held in an outdoor green space.

“At Tinkergarten, play is supervised by adults but not ruled by adults, and children feel free to explore and make up the play they want,” said class leader Chelsea Bowles. “Instead of adults taking the lead and giving instructions step by step, we provide the environment, tools and support they need to take the lead in their play.”

Each week, the class presents a new activity to challenge each child, but it is not uncommon in a class to see a child deviate from the activity to play in dirt, want to climb a tree, or stop and smell the flowers.

“Instead of stopping that child from exploring, we would support that child, let the child take the lead and take a step back,” she said.

Bowles said the outdoors is the most stimulating classroom there is. Children experience everything using their senses.

“Because nature is always changing, there is always sensory stimulation, and things to learn,” she said. “The outdoors is a place where a child can feel free to roam and discover.”

Over the last decade, childhood has moved indoors, behind screens, or in structured competitive activities. Studies have shown that inmates are getting outside more than kids today, Bowles said.

Tinkergarten provides an opportunity for youth to play together outdoors with a wide range of other aged children. Mixed-aged play provides children with a learning environment they don’t encounter with same-ages play, Bowles said.

“Younger children look up to the older children, and because the little ones are such sponges, they’re taking in all of the advanced behaviors of the older kids,” she said. “This environment helps teach and strengthen younger children’s language, cognitive and motor development skills. And for the older children, this opportunity gives them the chance to be a leader and role model.”

Bowles said Tinkergarten parents have responded with just as much excitement as the children.

“This is a program that parents have been looking for. It’s time where they can bond with their children, disconnect from work and technology, and share special moments,” she said. “Parents like the play just as much as their children do.”

The classes can be an eye-opening experience for parents, too, as they can learn to support their child’s play without trying to lead or control it. Bowles learned this first-hand with her own one-year-old.

“We were leaving the park and [she] found a stick. She was playing with it, brushing it in the water and then on the cement,” she said. “Normally, I would have said ‘put it down,’ taken the stick, and she would have cried all the way home. Because of everything I have learned myself from this program, I learned she was participating in the behavioral schema of transformation—she was learning.”

Tinkergarten classes are held all over the country, and the trend is growing. Classes can be held in any setting in which kids have access to sky, earth and other living things.

Southington’s Tinkergarten classes will be held at Panthorn Park. Four free trial classes will be held in May and June for those who are new to the classes on May 12, 14, 17 and June 16.

Class sessions for the summer with Bowles include: Tuesday mornings June 18 to July 23, Sunday afternoons June 23 to Aug. 11, Friday afternoons June 28 to Aug. 16 and Monday mornings July 8 to Aug. 12.

Classes fill up at 12 spots, and summer classes still have availability. Visit www.Tinkergarten.com/classes and search for Southington classes to sign up, view more information, see schedule options and fees.

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