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Tinkergarten: mud pies, mommies and high-tech

Tinkergarten leader Jessica Haynes, with one of her first classes at the J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary. The outdoor classes are offered for children aged 18 months to 8 years. (Submitted Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Several weeks ago, a post from local thespian Jessica Haynes on Facebook drew attention. She was asking friends and followers with small children to try out a new project she is starting, called Tinkergarten.

Haynes is a stay-at-home mom of two who is known for her performances in Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company’s musical productions. Recently, she starred in “Peter Pan” as Mrs. Darling.

The idea for Tinkergarten is the brainchild of Meghan and Brian Fitzgerald and began in Brooklyn, New York in 2012.

The project started with the Fitzgeralds’ young children and the need to find safe outdoor play-dates that included education. Meghan is a former teacher and elementary school principal and her husband has a lengthy background in the tech industry. After being successful with their program and hosting classes themselves, they realized there was a need to get children out of their rooms and back to the outdoors — something that parents and grandparents took for granted when they grew up.

The couple set up a platform online that would allow others to receive training and host their own classes anywhere in the U.S. Today, it has served more than 60,000 families, guided by more than 700 Tinkergarten trained leaders.

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Parents of young children, like Haynes and her husband Robin Haynes, are using social media and appreciate today’s technology for education, but they are also concerned that children aren’t experiencing the outdoors.

“I am lucky with my kids,” Haynes said. “We live on the north end of town with some property around us. It’s my family that has the property. They (her children) can go outside and play, but my mother lives downtown and I wouldn’t be able to do that if I would live where she lives. Her backyard has a low fence and people walk the alley and I would not feel comfortable.”

Haynes is homeschooling her 6 year-old son. Her daughter is only two and a half years old.

When Haynes found Tinkergarten on Facebook, she was attracted to the concept.

“I was reading articles about the Finland kindergartens, that kind of open forest school. I was always interested. I was looking through articles on Facebook, so it learned about me and an ad popped up to be a leader. When I read it, I was thinking, ‘Why isn’t this in Roswell?’”

“Tinkgarten is all about playing with guidance, letting the children go out and explore nature. They (scientists and educators) have found that children, when they are still developing in those early years, when they go outside and explore it stimulates all their senses. It actually creates more of a connection in the brain synapsis. They find that letting kids be outside and all the five senses being activated by the outdoors, such as textures, a breeze going, all those senses being activated actually helps a child learn more than they would sitting in a classroom. They are not getting all that stimulation that helps them to learn.”

Haynes started trial classes in the spring, which filled up fast. “Roswell wants this,” she said. “I was shocked about the kind of response I got. I felt that I needed to get this going. It just exploded, so I know people are looking for something like this for their children.”

The structure of the outdoor class is divided into a leader (the Tinkergarten-trained teacher), the guides (parent or legal guardian) and the explorers (the children).

“It is a lot of child-led play,” Haynes said. “There is always an actual lesson or activity that’s being done, but it is very open-ended to where the kids take it. For example, the trial class opens with the children learning about how to make stone soup. We go around and find things to create stone stew, but you can let the kids lead that way. It’s fun.”

Other classes are called “Tiny Friends,” where the children find bugs and bring them back to identify, and “Making Mud Pies.”

Asked about the class to become a leader, Haynes said, “The first step was to fill out a form, then I had an online interview where I talked with one of the leaders. They asked me to submit a video. They watch my video and then you go forward. From there you actually get training, which takes about a month. That is all done through video conferencing and online.

“Mostly you learn about early childhood development and education,” Haynes said. “Behavioral schema is a big thing. There are five of those and there are ways of how the brain works to teach children. One of the behavioral schema is called connection. If you see your child line up a row of cars that is connection. What they are learning in that moment — what looks like them being real neat and clean — is how things connect to each other. Or, if your kid takes stickers and put them all on top of each other, that’s a connection. Rotation is a schema. When your kid is spinning they are learning about their space and balance and motor skills. Those are all big behavioral schema.”

Schema theory was developed by the psychologist Jeffrey Young, Ph.D. It is considered an integrative approach; meaning, it links together several psychological theories. It derives mainly from cognitive-behavioral theory, but also includes elements of attachment theory and object relations theory. Unlike conventional cognitive-behavioral theory, schema theory takes into account the childhood origins of distorted thinking.

According to Haynes, the final lessons for the leader of a Tinkergarten class are how to interact with the guides, the parents, and how to hold the actual classes.

Tinkergarten provides the lesson plans as well. “Everything goes through their website,” Haynes said. “They take all the payments and they send me the materials and supplies.”

As a location for the classes, Haynes chose the J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary.

“That tends to be our most natural park in Roswell and it doesn’t have a playground, which is what I wanted,” Haynes said. She considers the location ideal for children to play in the mud, climb a tree and experience nature to its fullest while still being safe.

There are two classes with Haynes planned for summer, one is Tuesdays from June 26-31, 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. and the other is Thursdays, June 28-Aug., 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. The classes are for children 18 months to 8 years.

At press time, Haynes classes are the only ones in Southeast New Mexico. There are classes offered in Aztec, Los Alamos and Santa Fe.

For more information, visit tinkergarten.com and put in Roswell’s zip code.

Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at vision@rdrnews.com.

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