Tinker Time

Do you have a little scientist or engineer on your hands? Want to encourage creativity, problem solving, and outside-the-box thinking? Set aside some tinker time!

Tinkering can take on many forms, and it can involve building, creating, and experimenting. The best part is: you can use whatever you have on hand to guide you! There is no need to go out and purchase supplies. Challenging yourself (and your children!) to use what is already available can actually add to the fun.

BUILDING

Just about anything can be used to build. This includes actual building blocks or LEGO, but can also include boxes, plastic containers, books, and random items you find around the house. Gift of Curiosity has a list of great building challenges and ideas that can get you and your child started. It includes making a construction set out of cardboard, building with toothpicks and gumdrops, and more. Life over C’s also has some great challenge ideas that use items you have on hand. Ideas include building a bridge and stacking challenges.

You can also encourage creativity with specific building challenges that push kids to view things in a whole new way. Check out “Balancing Sculptures” and “Surprising Seesaws” to get started.

CREATING

Dump out the recycling bin and challenge your kids to make something. It can be a craft, a toy, a building – whatever they’re interested in creating. You can add to the challenge by saying they can only use items from the bin, or by adding only selected items such as glue or scissors. See where their minds take them!

You can also encourage creative thinking by giving them options or ideas. These projects for “Dancing Boxes” and “Spinning Tops” can get them started while also being open-ended enough to encourage imagination.

Another option is to put together a box or bin filled with random craft supplies or odds and ends you find around your home. Hand them the box and encourage them to make something! It may take them a few minutes to get started, but once they do, the results can be amazing.

EXPERIMENTING

Experimenting is all about trial and error, seeing what happens when something else happens, and looking at the world in a new way. One great way to experiment with items you have on hand is by creating a Rube Goldberg machine. These devices are really just a bunch of random items interacting with each other to get something simple done in a very complicated way, and they’re all about chain reactions.

Science experiments are also a great way to tinker, especially if you encourage your children to go beyond the initial experiment. Add a second layer to the project or ask them what would happen if… Here are some sites to get you started:

LEGOS

LEGOs are great for tinkering, especially if you add challenges or a few extra supplies such as balloons or string. Here are some sources for LEGO challenges and ideas:

There are seemingly infinite sources for challenges out there. Just do a quick search for “LEGO Challenges” on Google, and you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with!

FURTHER TINKERING

Searching online can yield a ton of results and ideas for further tinkering projects. One great source I’ve linked to above, as well, is The Tinkering Studio by the Exploratorium – a museum in San Francisco. Don’t underestimate the power of the imagination, however! Giving your kids a bunch of supplies and some free time can yield surprising results.

Make Back to School Fun

Summer is coming to an end, and a new school year is right around the corner. Make the transition fun for your family with these ideas!

START A TRADITION

What summer activities are special to your family? Take some time to have that fun one more time and make a toast to the end of summer. Take pictures of your family celebrating the end of summer or beginning of the school year. Make a scrapbook using pictures and trinkets from your summer excursions, or prepare a scrapbook to be filled with all of the fun memories from a new school year. Discuss what you’re looking forward to about starting school.

No matter what you decide to do, make it a tradition. Encourage your family to embrace the transition and learn to look forward to each changing season.

START NEW (FUN!) ROUTINES

Back to school often means back to typical routines of homework, chores, and drudgery. But while your family is shifting back into “normalcy,” add some fun routines to the mix.

Add a weekly game night into your schedule. If your family doesn’t like board games, try puzzles, sports, or even crafting. Take family walks around the neighborhood before school or after dinner. Or turn typical family dinners into fun occasions with games and conversation starters (check out these sites for inspiration: https://raisingarrows.net/family-games-dinner-table/ and https://www.thescramble.com/family-dinner/dinnertime-can-be-all-fun-and-games/).

Even if your family starts to grumble at the thought of less time glued to their screens, they will soon look forward to the time to connect. Encourage them to share things they would like to do together, or routines they would be interested in trying.

SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER

In the hustle and bustle that comes with the school year, try to squeeze in some time together as a family.

Turn homework into a family affair by having everyone work together in the same room. Even parents can get in on the action by doing their own work (paying bills? paperwork?). If you don’t have work of your own, take the time to catch up on your reading or a quiet project.

Try not to overschedule your family members. By limiting extracurricular activities, you’ll have more time to relax, connect, and have fun. Plan family fun days, when you can all partake in an outing or special activity together. Check out the events calendar, info tabs, or previous posts for ideas. Make these days important, and schedule them as you would a doctor’s appointment. Remind your family that spending time together matters. And have fun together!

What are your family’s favorite things to do for back to school?

Start a Family Book Club

Good books are meant to be shared. Connect with friends and family near and far by starting your own book club!

READ TOGETHER

Children of all ages enjoy being read to. Whether it’s at bedtime or in the middle of the day, it’s a great way to bond and share stories. Take things one step further by discussing what you’re reading. Ask your child what they think is going to happen next, or if they agree with a character’s decision. Pretend you’re in the characters’ position – how would you act or react? how would your child? You’d be surprised what kids will come up with!

This option is even great with family members who live far away. A grandparent, for example, can read aloud to a grandchild over Skype or Zoom, then share conversation and laughs over a book discussion.

READ APART

Older kids and teens may prefer this option. Pick up two copies of the same book (or more, if you have more children or family members participating). You and your child(ren) can read the book on your own time, then meet either at the end or periodically while reading to discuss what happened. Encourage them to discuss how the story made them feel. Teens may also enjoy discussing underlying themes or controversial topics that are present. Was the story engaging? Did they connect with the main character? Was the resolution satisfying?

This option is also great for family members – and friends – who don’t live in your household. Increase your book club members by reaching out to cousins or close friends who would enjoy reading and discussing the book, as well. Then meet on Zoom or Google Meets to share thoughts and conversation.

LET CHILDREN LEAD

While reading or discussing a book, encourage your child to start the conversation, ask questions, and really get involved. Having an adult guide the conversation too much can make them feel as if their opinions are “wrong” or “silly.” If your child is reluctant to engage, share how the book made you feel, especially if your feelings are surprising. Young children may prefer to draw pictures about the book, particularly if the book was a chapter book with few pictures. The act of drawing can help them connect with characters and situations. Have them discuss what’s happening in their drawings to get a peek into their thoughts and feelings.

You can also encourage your child to take the lead by having them pick the book you read. Even if they pick a very short picture book, respect their choice and take it seriously. As they feel more confident, their choices will reflect this. You can also try alternating books, during which you pick a book, and then rotate among your children who picks the next book. This helps ensure everyone’s opinions are considered.

HAVE FUN!

The most important step is to have fun! Having a book club shouldn’t feel like homework. Keep the discussion lighthearted. Have snacks – themed to the book is even better! If the book warrants it, decorate the discussion space to match the topic or theme. Reading a book about animals? Bring all the stuffed animals you own into the room. Discussing magic? Give each participant a magic wand or fairy wings. Is there a particular item that plays a part in the plot? Set out an item that represents it. If you can’t find something similar, post a picture. Get immersed in the story, act like the characters, and enjoy the process. If the “meeting” ends in giggles, that’s perfectly alright. Sharing books together will bring you closer and help encourage a love of reading. Enjoy!