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Educational Helps: Tinker Toys...a STEM Project

Educational Helps: Tinker Toys...a STEM Project

Kids love to tinker. Cardboard boxes, paper clips, pipe cleaners, aluminum foil--nearly anything can be useful in the eyes of children. (Sometimes I wonder why we have so many toys..) That’s why I’m so excited to share this STEM activity with you, the tinker tray. A tinker tray is basically a tray full of materials that you can create with. You can use them to build, make art, or just play with. The only rule is that you have to use your imagination!

I surprised my kids with a tinker tray one morning and said, “Here you go, do whatever you want with this stuff.” Their eyes widened. No rules?? Not only that, they had ideas right away. Wooden spools became binoculars. Pipe cleaners transformed into an airplane. And wooden sticks became magic wands. It kept my three- and five-year-old occupied for an hour and a half. My husband even sat down and made a yo-yo. 

You can make it fun for yourself by going with a theme. Here are some ideas:

-Things from Nature

-Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

-Monochrome

-Material: wood, metal, fuzzy

-Sports

-Animals

-Rainbow

While it can be as simple as laying small objects out and letting kids have at it, there are some guidelines to a successful tinker tray. 

Here are some guidelines for what to include in your tinker tray.

  1. Tray. Obviously. But make sure it’s something that has different sized compartments for holding different sized and shaped things. If you don’t want to spend the money, you can use egg cartons or adjustable drawer organizers.
  2. Tools. In order to get from point A to point B, you’ll need some help. Include pen, paper, scissors, ruler, glue or measuring tape at the very least.
  3. Things to connect. Look around the house for loose items. Or start with a theme and hit the craft store. We have a fun reusable art store near us that has scraps of all kinds.
  4. Connectors. Anything that pokes, sticks, twists or clips. Again, reusable art stores are a jackpot for these kinds of items.
  5. Sparkle. My kids love sparkle. Add some enhancements like shiny bells or glitter glue. Really anything that sparkles or shines.
  6. Surface. You’ll need some empty space that can get messy. Glue drips, fuzzy things shed and pinecones crumble. I like to use a cookie sheet so that each child gets their individual workspace. Under that, for extra protection, I always put a cheap outdoor tablecloth (Laurie’s wisdom passed down).
  7. Space. And by that I mean no hovering. It might be hard not to guide your kids or make suggestions but trust me, it’s worth it. You’ll love what they come up with!