‘Tinkergarten’ Introduces Youngsters to Nature

Outdoor Classes Promote Early Childhood Skills
Aug 08, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Each Tuesday morning, in a shady spot set back from Wells Mills Road at the Waretown Lake and Recreation Area, little ones tinker, learn and grow.

They and their parents are participants in Tinkergarten, a national program that introduces young children to the great outdoors with hands-on activities designed to promote sensory awareness, problem solving, focus, communication, motor skills, empathy, collaboration and creativity.

“Before kids can be taught to care about nature or want to preserve it, they have to experience it and see it as a place that really has value,” local Tinkergarten leader Sunday D’Arcangelo said. “I think that without a structured class like this, a lot of busy parents don’t have time to get out into the woods and get their hands in the dirt as a family. I love that this class is providing that.”

This year marks Tinkergarten’s 15th season, with some 2,000 leaders nationwide. The format is appropriate for kids 18 months to 8 years of age, but all the little explorers in the Waretown group happen to be younger than 4.

D’Arcangelo, an Ocean Acres resident and mom of 18-month-old Jules, first learned about the program from another mom and decided to pursue it.

“I was starting to miss teaching, and also to feel a bit isolated as a new mom,” she explained. “I love to be outside and in the woods as much as possible, and I really wanted to grow a community of people who do as well. It’s really a win-win for me. The Tinkergarten philosophy is really about giving kids the space to tinker and explore, which is a STEM idea. That is always how I have tried to be as a teacher: hands-off and giving space.

“As a parent, I’m very happy for the opportunity for Jules to learn to be more independent. I’m a stay-at-home mom, so he gets all my attention all the time; it’s good for him to be in a situation where he has to share the attention a little bit.”

D’Arcangelo’s husband and Jules’ dad, Albert Miller, also attends the sessions as mom’s assistant and Jules-minder.

A recent session started with a welcome song that named different animals verse by verse: Sparrow, sparrow, time to fly; through the meadow, through the sky; sparrow, sparrow time to fly; come to Tinkergarten.

The question of the day was, “What colors do we have in nature and how can we use them?” The kids used flowers and other natural materials they found in their outdoor classroom, and then crushed or otherwise manipulated them. Some made little works of art on paper. But they were under no pressure to meet a given objective.

“You might like to spend this whole time touching the materials, or smushing them,” D’Arcangelo assured the little ones.

“I’m hoping that the ‘explorers’ in the class will learn to tinker around and to persevere through frustration, and find the joy in problem solving,” she explained.

Getting the word out and generating initial signups had proved challenging, but D’Arcangelo is confident “this is something that will just have to grow over time.

Renee McWalters, mom of 4-year-old Avalynn, has been a friend of D’Arcangelo since high school. Two other moms, Giulia Reese and Beverly Najarian, are friends who joined together; their boys Robbie and Talin are both about 2 years old.

“Most people don’t really know what the program is about, but once they hear about it from a few friends, I think it will grow in popularity. It’s such a great class, and kids really love it once they are here.”

The current summer course will continue through the first week of August. D’Arcangelo will offer fall trials Sept. 5 through 15 on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The fall season will begin Sept. 18.

The Saturday class will be offered at Lighthouse Park in Ocean Acres, and the Wednesday one will most likely be at the Waretown Lake again.

For more information, visit tinkergarten.com or email D’Arcangelo at sundaydarcangelo@gmail.com.

—Victoria Ford


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