Tinkering Offers Valuable Skills to Kids


What do you do when you find that your 8-year-old has taken his new video game apart? Or, when your 4-year-old would rather play with boxes over the new tea set you bought for her? What can be done when your child is set on dismantling everything in sight?

Encourage it. When you allow a child to take something a part, it cures their interest with feelings of confidence and discovery.   

For ages children have taken things apart to learn how they work. Tinkering for many children fuels their natural curiosity about life. But, while tinkering is fun, what are the benefits to the demolition crew running around your house? 

Tinkering during play can teach children valuable lessons by helping develop fine motor skills, problem solving abilities, and peer relationships. 

Fine motor development involves the coordination of small muscles in fingers and hands. Strong fine motors skills are necessary for writing, cutting, using utensils, and tying shoe laces. Without these acquired fine motor skills, children may find difficulty in performing simple tasks. 

“Tinkering during play is critical to children’s motor skills by teaching children to use their hands to shape, move, and manipulate,” said Lu Lewis, Creative Discovery Museum’s Early Childhood Coordinator. “So often, children have underdeveloped fine motor skills.”

Developing problem solving skills is an equally important tinkering quality at any age. Childhood expert Lilian Katz, professor of Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, explains why problem solving skills need to be developed. “It is in the building of the play environment that much problem solving occurs for young investigators. [Younger] children engage in problem solving as they figure out how to make a window for a bus, or how to make a horse’s head stand up straight on their pretend horse,” said Katz. Problem solving skills benefit children at any age and can help older children develop confidence and stimulate creativity. By providing problem solving practice in play time, you are equipping your child with a lifelong skill that can be used in all areas of learning. 

Tinkering activities also build peer relationships in children. Tinkering activities can support team work and collaboration to improve the social relationships between children. 

“The long-term benefits of tinkering time are remarkable,” said Katy Scott, Education Technology Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. “In many ways, tinkering resembles inquiry-based learning, cooperative learning, and project-based learning, all of which have been proven to have long-term positive effects on student achievement and success.” 

*Tinkering Tip: If your child loves to take things a part and is old enough to use tools, consider finding him or her second-hand items such as wall clocks and stereos. It will meet the needs of their natural curiosity while saving you time and money!

Sources: Brotherson, Sean, NDSU Extension Service. Katz, Lillian, Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years (2011). Scott, Katy, Monterey Bay Aquarium.