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Early Childhood Resources Review

Tinker Kit: Educator's Guide - Boston Children's Museum

During the last decade, student learning through “tinkering” has been highlighted in many books and articles geared toward educators of young learners. While the definition of tinkering (Merriam-Webster 2019) is to “repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner,” tinkering is now acknowledged as a highly effective pedagogy that can introduce and strengthen STEM learning. By using common household tools and materials, well-planned tinkering activities can engage young students in observations, inquiry, collaborations, and experimental design.

Preschool educators are creative problem-solvers. They handle everyday responsibilities in a graceful and intuitive manner but sometimes face challenges (i.e., time, funding, and/or self-confidence) that may limit them from bringing tinkering to their classrooms. The Boston Children’s Museum (BCM) offers a free online and downloadable PDF resource, the Tinker Kit: Educators’ Guide. According to this BCM manual, “learning to manipulate tools, understand the properties of materials, and identify unique solutions to problems is at the core of all making and engineering.”

In an introductory section called “Why Tinker?” (p. 3), educators are introduced to the benefits of tinkering in their classrooms, where students can develop skills such as problem-solving, creative thinking, and self-sufficiency. A colorful graphic (p. 4) clearly details the interrelationships between a child’s tinkering, making, and engineering. On page 6, teachers can find age-appropriate child development suggestions for tool use as well as helpful teacher/student communication tips and prompts. Subsequent sections include a tool suggestion list and very important information on tool safety. The Tinker Kit contains methodologies (beginning on p. 13) for 24 student-directed explorations, and each of these activities is easy to follow and organized by sections, such as “Set-Up,” “Do!,” “Do More of It!,” and “Reflection/Documentation.”As the students tinker, there is ample opportunity for teachers to assess student learning and progress. A “Take It Home” section for each activity provides further instructions to families for deepening the inquiry experience at home. A good suggestion at the end of each activity is an age-appropriate book to be read in association with the study. The activity side-margins suggest materials to use and Learning Guidelines for Preschool Learning Experiences (The “Green Book”); however, these guidelines are out of date.

In 2013, the Massachusetts Learning Guidelines for Preschool Learning Experiences were replaced with the MA Pre–K Science, Technology and Engineering Standards. These newer standards are based on A Framework for K–12 Science Education and include many of the same crosscutting concepts. The Tinker Kit activities are easily adaptable to these new standards by using the “MA Crosswalk” (draft 2014) document that connects some previous Learning Guidelines to the newer MA Pre–K Science, Technology, and Engineering Standards. With slight changes in teacher prompting, many of the new performance expectations for Physical Science Standards can apply to the Tinker Kit student activities (Table 1). Additionally, many Pre–K Science and Engineering Practices and the MA Common Core ELA/Literacy and Math/Geometry goals can be met as well (Table 2).

Table 1

MA PreK Physical Science Standards


Investigate natural and human-made objects; describe, compare, sort, and classify objects based on observable physical characteristics, uses, and whether something is manufactured or occurs in nature.


Differentiate between the properties of an object and those of the material of which it is made.


Recognize through investigation that physical objects and materials can change under different circumstances.


Using evidence, discuss ideas about what is making something move the way it does and how some movements can be controlled.


Through experience, develop awareness of factors that influence whether things stand or fall.


Investigate different sounds made by different objects and different materials and reasonably discuss explanations about what is causing sounds. Through play and investigations, identify ways to manipulate different objects and materials that make sound to change volume and pitch.

Additional Learning Goals

Additional Learning Goals

PreK Science and Engineering PracticesAsking questions and solving problems (Engineering)Constructing explanations/theories and evaluating solutions (Engineering)

MA Common Core ELA/LiteracySpeaking and listening. Presentation of knowledge and ideas

MA Common Core MathGeometry: Identify and describe shapes

Whether one is an experienced educator or not, this free, online Tinker Kit resource offered by the Boston Children’s Museum can serve as a practical and useful guide to educators wishing to bring tinkering into their early education classrooms. This resource encourages student-directed inquiry and promotes many of the engineering skills and core concepts set forth by the Next Generation Science Standards. The easy-to-follow and low-cost activities can make the tinkering experiences not only fun for the students but also very enjoyable for teachers.

Crosscutting Concepts Physical Science Early Childhood Elementary Grade 1 Grade 2

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