For the last two years, we have conducted a tinkering camp at Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School (www.TakomaCooperativeSchool.org) inspired by the work of Gever Tulley (www.GeverTulley.com). To be sure, our Tink Camps vary from his on some level, but the basic premise is the same—collaborative, community problem-solving. The children work together to create a single project.
Last year, we worked with Community Forklift to create a dry stack wall of found objects and repurposed building materials. This dry stack wall addressed a need we had at the school. We needed to keep a small hill we had created in our play yard from eroding. We built the wall along one edge and is so doing made a lovely pathway and yet another play destination. What would normally take weeks and weeks of planning and construction if adults had undertaken it, this project was accomplished in 5 short days by 15 children, ages 4 to 10.
The idea behind these collaborative efforts is that the children gather skills in building, construction, and project management and while doing so, practice interacting and supporting each other in a very constructive way. In the end, they can see a completed project and these are shared with educators and parents around the world. It differs substantially from other summer camps because children do not work alone on projects they will take home. The projects they work on are recycled, repurposed, or are permanent installations at the School.
While we can see the collaboration happening on the ground during camp sessions, what is as important is the collaboration that is taking place “out there” either through direct support, like the materials found at Community Forklift, or through inspiration gathered from fellow educators in Europe, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Our current theme for Tink Camp at the Cooperative School is Dens, or what we, here in the United States call Forts. In fact, part of our problem-solving meetings involves a translation of “Dens” because so many of the children associate this with animal habitats. We hold the camp for 5 weeks and during each session; we focus on a different kind of den. Our goal for these camps is for the children to take the skills they learn here and spend more time outside, building forts, dens, hideouts, etc.
Our latest collaboration with Community Forklift is our Insect Hotel. Now it is important to note that insect hotels are quite common in Europe, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom, but Australia has some spiders that are deadly. The insect hotel is made from wood scavenged from building sites. We did not saw these down to square, which created another problem-solving opportunity and a wonderful asymmetry to the finished construction. I visited Community Forklift and collected the “beautiful things” we needed—tiles for the roof, glass blocks, terra cotta French drains, and cinder blocks with round holes. The best part about hunting for things at Community Forklift is that each time you go, there will be something different.
We hope that we will have a return of the io and luna moths in our play yard. These moths have not been seen in several years because the cocoons must Winter over and even though I have found a cocoon or two in the past, we had no effective means to keep them safe and to be sure that they don’t get raked away with fall leaves. Keep your fingers crossed and hope that Australian redback spiders never learn how to fly airplanes!