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Not your grandfather's tinkering: 6 reasons why hands-on creation is vital for kids today

Posted October 2

Courtesy: Museum of Life and Science

Pinterest and HGTV are full of DIY projects. And a growing number of maker spaces and fairs, across the country, are encouraging people to tinker.

Tinkering, however, isn't really a hot new trend. People have been at it for centuries - fiddling with something in the garage or crafting something for the home.

And, these days, the art of tinkering is more than just a homespun hobby - it develops critical skills in a world where creativity and outside-the-box thinking are more valuable in the job force than simply the ability to do the same thing over and over again.

After all, technology is advancing at a rapid pace. Gadgets and software, considered unimaginable two decades ago, are now part of our everyday life. What's more, artificial intelligence is making it possible for robots and other technology to take over jobs that were once held by humans.

Skills developed through tinkering, said Steve Scholle, program manager for the Museum of Life and Science's tinkering and emerging technologies programs, will be vital for the future jobs that will be available to today's kids.

"It can facilitate future learning," Scholle said. "That's a very marketable skill. There will be more opportunities for people who can see problems and put together novel solutions to a growing complexity of problems - not simple, repetitive tasks. We're going to have to think pretty big and pretty far outside the box."

The Durham museum recently launched a new family series of tinkering programs, which offer opportunities for families to work on hands-on projects so they can hone their creative and critical thinking skills. The next Tinker Tech Family Workshop is scheduled for Oct. 13 and Oct. 14 and are designed for kids ages 6 and up with their families.

I checked in with Scholle and Lauren Auchter, the museum's education specialist for tinkering and technology, to learn more about the benefits of tinkering for kids - and, really, all of us.

Here are six benefits:

Hands-on learning: We learn things best, said Scholle, when we use our minds and bodies to explore ideas, not just memorize facts and figures. "In the case of making and tinkering, you are making something to understand the world around you," he said. "That deeply personal experience is what teaches you most profoundly. You genuinely wonder what's going to happen next. And you genuinely are paying attention to the result."

Skill development: Cutting with scissors or molding clay to use as a base for some creation, doesn't just get a job done. It helps kids build their fine motor skills required for success in school and life. "The act of hands-on learning is literally building muscles," said Auchter. "You are building those physical muscles to be able to complete it. You're refining those and building other skills with it - including critical thinking, problem solving and visualizing something. Taking something in your hand and building it is a skill."

Critical thinking: Instead of seeing only one way to solve a problem, tinkering helps kids build critical thinking skills that allow them to analyze and evaluate the best way to complete a project. Helping children develop critical thinking skills is a major focus of the museum

"Everything is changing," said Scholle. Knowing how to use the original version of Microsoft Office, for instance, doesn't get you very far today when using the latest version of the software. Learning how to learn is vital.

"Having good judgment about ideas and what's important and being able to prioritize your tasks, those are far more important than [memorizing] content," Scholle said.

Team development: In companies big and small, teamwork is become an increasingly important part of work. Tinkering, together, also can build valuable teamwork skills. During the family workshops, for instance, parents and kids work together on a task. To do it well, they'll need to communicate, listen and be respectful of other people's ideas.

Plus, it's a great way to bond. "They're finding that common ground between a fifth grader and a high schooler and a business professional," said Scholle.

Learning to fail: Things often break and fail in the process of design and creation. For kids, those can be valuable lessons. "Instead of saying, 'this doesn't work,' you're saying, 'why not?'" said Scholle. "You're asking critical questions instead of just throwing it away."

Auchter, a former middle school teacher, said it's important that kids learn how to be self critical. "You can look at something you created and you can look at something to improve and it's not a bad thing that there is something to improve," she said. "Being able to self reflect and be critical is really important for our workforce and people."

Possibilities are endless: A child might not be a biologist or an engineer, right now. But, for a day, as they are tinkering, they can consider themselves one. "When you're in the workshop, when you're putting together something, you are completing an engineering challenge," Auchter said. "It's not just for those we have deemed to be a scientist. We are instilling in kids that they can be these people, not some time in the future, but right now. It really helps promote that this is something that's attainable to them."

During the Durham museum's family workshops, participants will use all sorts of materials and technology. In October, for instance, families will reuse and combine stuffed animals to create their own custom creation complete with light, sound and movement. (And, they can take it home).

The cost is $25 per participant. The museum's website has more information and registration details.

On Go Ask Mom on Wednesday, the museum will share some hands-on projects that you can do at home with your kids!

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