August 11, 2010

Where kids can play with fire (literally)

“Is that a stick? You know the rule about playing with sticks…” When Gever Tulley overheard a parent say these words to a child, he was inspired to start The Tinkering School. As he describes it in a 2009 TED talk, “The Tinkering School is a place where kids can pick up sticks and hammers and other dangerous objects and be trusted.” He goes on to say, “… within that context, we offer the kids time—something that seems in short supply in their overscheduled lives.”

Located just outside San Francisco, The Tinkering School offers six-day immersive sessions for kids ages 8 -17. The last summer session just wrapped up last week on August 7. There's no set program—Tulley consults with the kids to determine which projects they want to work on. Past projects have included building boats, zip-lines, swings, and bridges. Take a look:

Tinkering School Tinkering School
Tinkering School Tinkering School

The kids have incentive to make sure they are building these things soundly; they will have to test them when they are pronounced done. Tulley told NPR, “if we're going to build a boat, we're going down to the harbor and put kids in it and push them out into the ocean. We want them to have the sense that if they don't build this correctly, it's going to come apart and they're going to have to swim back to shore.”

In an era where hooded sweatshirts are considered a deadly menace to our children (they just might strangle themselves with the cord!), it’s a wonder that Tulley is able to find enough willing parents to entrust their children in his care. Yet not only is the camp quite popular, Tulley is even able to convince the parents to agree to these terms in writing: “I understand that my child may be injured or killed at this camp.” So far, six years in, the kids have avoided any major catastrophes.

Meanwhile, what they gain is invaluable—patience and confidence; critical thinking skills; and a healthy sense of mastery, responsibility, and play.

Photos by Gever Tulley (cc).


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