Early childhood education at a park near you
Lately, kids are spending more and more time indoors, yet pediatricians and researchers strongly promote the importance of outdoor play to children’s physical, cognitive, and social development. In fact, the outdoors is one of the best places for toddlers to master many different skills, learn about the world through their senses, become inspired, and just be (loud, noisy, boisterous) kids. So, take it outside!
Tinkergarten is a 10-week nature-based learning class for ages 18 months-5 years. Here in Toledo, the class is led by Instructor Lauren Okowita at Wildwood Preserve Metropark. Okowita, who has a Master’s in Education and two toddlers of her own, said, “At Tinkergarten, we believe that independent exploration and well designed play-based activities are the keys to developing a host of important capabilities, including self-reliance, creativity, leadership, and problem solving. Nature is the ideal learning lab, parents are the most powerful teachers, and fun, adventure, risk taking and a sense of wonder make a powerful combination for fostering child development.”
What to expect: embrace the mess
The Tinkergarten philosophy of independent exploration intrigued me and I enrolled my three- year-old nature lover this fall. My expectations were beyond exceeded; it was a perfect way to connect with nature and discover the great outdoors. We got down and dirty from the get-go, an immediate delight to my son, but admittedly, an adjustment for me. The first activity involved playing and experimenting with mud to integrate the children’s senses, and help them strengthen their sense of touch. We poured water onto dirt and stirred it around with both sticks and (gasp!) our hands to make mud, an enchanting activity for the children and a good reminder that it’s okay to get a little messy. “Early childhood is a time for such tremendous growth and development (physical, cognitive, and social/emotional), and is the most critical window for developing a foundation as a learner and a person,” Okowita enthused.
Stone soup & forest fairies
Many wonderful activities followed throughout the course of the program, one of which was inspired by the classic tale Stone Soup. The children created a communal batch of stone soup by hunting for ingredients in the woods, adding them to the pot with some water, and stirring it all up with sticks- a great way to engage in imaginative play.
Another time, we searched for colors in the woods, matching them to red, yellow, brown, orange, and green shades of construction paper, made our own paint out of supplies found in nature, and painted our own picture. During a particularly enchanting class, we were led on a scavenger hunt by “magical forest fairies. The children discovered trinkets along the way to solve the fairies’ mystery- a blast for all of us.
Let there be light
Colorful lanterns lit the night during Tinkergarten’s Fall Lantern Walk on November 6th at Wildwood Preserve Metropark, an annual event open to the public. Designed to help kids see the beauty in the end of Daylight Savings Time, event participants used colorful handmade lanterns to celebrate the changing of the season by singing songs and walking together in the night guided by the exquisite glow.
What: Tinkergarten led by Lauren Okowita
Where: Wildwood Preserve Metropark
How to enroll: www.Tinkergarten.com/classes
When: Winter Sessions (18 months – 5 years) meet from
10:00-11:15am Sundays Jan 15-Mar 5, and Tuesdays Jan 17-Mar 7.
Free Trial Classes (10:00-11:15 am): Tuesday, Dec 6, Sunday, Dec 11,
Sunday Jan 8, & Tuesday Jan 10.