Over the past year I’ve become a huge fan of tinker trays. I am a firm believer in open ended art for young children, older children too. Tinker trays are the perfect jumping off point for limitless possibilities and creativity. I know for a lot of moms, one look and you just think of a disaster all over the floor. I get it. Tinker trays can look a little overwhelming at first glance. But in reality, they have lead to less mess for us, in addition to some outstanding exploring, decision making and lessons in responsibility. I encourage you to read on to see how tinker trays can add depth and richness to your child’s play and creativity.
1. Tinker trays don’t have to look like the one above. We’ve made tinker trays from paint trays, shadow boxes like this white one, recycled apple crates, tin cupcake holders, and egg cartons. If a “permanent” tinker tray is a bit much for you, try an egg carton and just put a few things in each space so it can be easily cleaned up.
2. Tinker trays, like the one you see above, are not meant to get cleaned up after one use. They are an evolving space. We’ve had this tinker tray set up in our art studio for over 6 months. I never “clean it.” I just keep adding things as they become available and as we use up the materials. Our tinker tray sits on a low shelf in the studio so the kids can access it as they want to. This can work really well in a classroom or studio setting after clearly discussing the guidelines for the tray. (i.e. everything has a home and needs to go in it’s home. No lifting the tray. Only take what you need. Take items one at a time, etc.) If you are at home, you might fill one up and bring it out when you have time to work with it. When you’re not using it you can cover it with tin foil or tape a towel over it and place it in a cabinet. Keep bringing it out as inspiration strikes.
3. In the six months we’ve had this tinker tray, it’s never been dropped. Using the tray has given us an opportunity to talk about responsibility and care for our materials. If it needs to be moved, an adult moves it.
4. If you take the time to train your child or students to use the tinker tray with care, they will rise to the occasion. I worked with the kids from the very beginning of the school year to show them that each material has a special home and all the pieces need to go back to their home if they are not used. I pretend to grab tons of pieces and ask the kids if that’s a thoughtful way of using a tinker tray. “Noooo,” they all chime in in unison.
Okay, now you might be thinking, looks cool but why do I even want to get involved in that? I’ll tell you 5 reasons why tinker trays are worth the effort.
1. Tinker trays foster independence. You want a few minutes to yourself? How about 30-45? Doesn’t that sound nice? Tinker trays can give you that gift because they engage children wholeheartedly. Adults may look at tinker trays and think of the potential mess to clean, but kids look at tinker trays and think of possibilities. They get ideas. They get excited. Their eyes light up! Hence, giving them time, a lot of it, to work on their ideas.
2. Tinker trays foster problem solving skills. We live in a world where everything is at our finger tips. We barely have to think anymore to get anything done. Tinker trays offer children the opportunity to explore materials and come up with new and exciting ways to use the materials. Tinkering lays the ground work for successful learners and thinkers.
3. Tinker Trays promote creativity and decision making. With so many choices in the tray, kids are forced to make decisions about what they want to use and for what purpose.
4. Tinker Trays introduce kids to new and interesting materials. I don’t know about you but I find tinker trays so interesting to look at, which drives me to find unusual things to put in them. With such small cubbies to fill, you can get really creative with what goes in them.
5. Tinker trays are awesome. C’mon, just go for it.
1. Collage – this is a basic tinker tray activity. Get a piece of cardboard, paper, or canvas, put out some glue and start collaging. There’s no telling what will be created. Eventually you can make pattern collages, shape collages, or how about a rainbow collage?
2. Make a self portrait. Look in the mirror and study your facial features. Talk about all the attributes of a face. Choose materials to make your own face on a piece of paper. You can make it temporary (meaning you put the materials back after you use them) or permanent, with glue.
3. Make Tinker Art. Use loose parts in a picture frame. Take any picture frame and use the outside to contain your picture. If you put a piece of paper underneath it can be permanent with glue. If you just do it on a table cloth or table, it can be a temporary picture. Take a picture when you’re done to remember it by.
4. Make a house. Add a bowl of recyclables like toilet paper rolls and boxes. Use the tinker tray to embellish a habitat of whatever interests your child.
6. Make a temporary mandala with loose parts on a mirror or round piece of paper. This is easier for older kids.
7. Create a pattern board. Take a piece of cardboard and talk about patterns. Use different loose parts from the tinker tray to demonstrate different pattern combinations.
8. Make a layered picture.Take a drawing or photograph and place it under transparency paper. Decorate the drawing with temporary or permanent loose parts and sharpies.
9. Make a family portrait using different loose parts in a picture frame. Don’t forget to take a picture of this one! Great keepsake. You can make it permanent too with glue.
10. Make a name plate. Write your name on cardboard and then use loose parts to go over each letter. Glue them on for a permanent name tag. Great for a child’s bedroom door!
For more Steam related activities check out these amazing blogs to keep you inspired.
If you’re in the market for some art supplies, here is my all time favorite art supply list.