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.


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.


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 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 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!


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.


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