The pure joy that spreads across the face of a child who has been given the freedom to “get dirty” is unlike any other. Eyes wide, he or she sprints to the nearest puddle of mud. Both hands dip into it, and then are wiped down a once clean shirt.
A calm day at the park that turns into an afternoon of rolling around in the dirt may be a parent’s nightmare, but at Tinkergarten, this type of play is encouraged. “A mess is well-loved at Tinkergarten,” said Amy Singh, of Sea Cliff. “It’s a natural part of a child’s play, and during class, a sign that learning is taking place.”
Tinkergarten was founded by Brooklyn couple Brian and Meghan Fitzgerald in 2010. The first class was held in Prospect Park.
Singh has taught the program since 2015. Originally teaching it in Astoria, Queens, for three years, Singh and her family moved to Sea Cliff in March 2018, bringing her beloved class with her.
Tinkergarten, an educational startup, is a national network that brings families together in a natural place in their community for classes in which kids learn through play. Since its founding in 2012, it has increased in popularity, as its aim to encourage outdoor learning resonates with many parents. This spring, Singh hosted her first Tinkergarten class at Sea Cliff Manor.
“This is so nice to have in our own backyard,” said Maria Brodylo, whose 4-year-old daughter, Annabelle, joined Singh’s class. “She meets new friends and loves the excitement each class brings.”
Singh’s series of summer classes, which take place every week at the Glenwood Landing Life Center, focus on problem solving. “The lessons are aimed towards building stewards,” Singh said, adding that students are encouraged to investigate a variety of scenarios together. The classes are not only for children, however; they are also directed toward the adults who accompany a child. One of the objectives of the program is to allow for parents to understand how their child plays.
In Singh’s class on Aug. 9, the group made bubbles, using sticks and pipe cleaners to make bubble wands. Their brows furrowed, the children twisted the flexible material around the sticks, forming loops.
“But what if this won’t make a bubble?” asked Alessia Succes, 7.
“I wonder what we would have to do to fix it?” replied Singh, helping Alessia form her own conclusion. Exchanges such as this took place throughout the hour-long class, and by the end, the children’s confidence in their own abilities grew.
Singh brought out buckets of “bubble juice” and asked the students to begin making bubbles. They dipped their wands into the liquid and blew into the loops, which sent bubbles floating through the air. The children’s eyes lit up as they squealed with delight. “Grown-ups feel free to join in,” Singh said, smiling. “Bubbles are universal.”
For the rest of the class, children and adults worked together to make bubbles. Mud was involved, too, as the kids dumped dirt into the bubble juice to see what would happen to the mixture. Singh’s daughter Meadow, 5, couldn’t get over what happened next. “This is awesome,” she shouted. “I put mud in the bubbles, and mud bubbles came out!”
With five minutes left to play, Singh and the children sang a cleanup song before gathering on a blanket for a snack. Then they reflected on the lessons they had shared. Asked what he found most joyful, Andrew Scheuerman, 3, of Sea Cliff, said, “The most joyful part of class was the mud.”
Among the many things Tinkergarten has given her, Singh is most grateful for her deepened connection to the community. “When I moved to Sea Cliff, I met like-minded people through this thoughtful work,” she said. “I have never been a part of such a positive culture and am thankful for each family I meet as Tinkergarten grows.”