Tinkergarten invites kids - and their parents - outdoors



By Cynthia Price

Research indicates that being out of doors is good for everyone – potentially boosting everything from creativity to immune systems (apparently due to breathing in ‘phytoncids’ that plants release) ­— but it is especially good for children.

Since many of the benefits of being outside involve physical activity, little growing bodies gain health from outdoor fun. In addition to the creativity involved in unfettered play, which many think is enhanced by being outside, numerous studies have found that nature has a de-stressing effect, reducing inflammation.

In addition, being outdoors tends to increase sensory skills, providing a different type of stimulus to many of the five senses.

Business Insider reports about another study, “‘Every green environment improved both self-esteem and mood,’ found an analysis of 10 earlier studies about so-called ‘green exercise.’”

Research in Japan even found that increased time outdoors helped prevent nearsightedness (though it is not clear if that has been replicated).

The people at Tinkergarten, a national company, are aware of all that. Their website says, “We’re growing a ... network ... that bring families together in a natural place in their community for classes where kids learn through play. Each class becomes a tight-knit group of children and adults who learn together through well-designed, outdoor play-based activities. We help kids develop a host of important capabilities, including empathy, collaboration, creativity, persistence and problem solving.”

Now, people in Muskegon can join one of those groups. Local resident Joanna Cousineau will be leading a Tinkergarten class at McGraft Park (which is the park with an entrance off of Sherman Blvd. that has Ruddiman Creek at its “back”) every Saturday from noon to 1:15 p.m. April 27-June 15.

The classes are intended for children age 18 months to five years, as well as their parents and caregivers; infants may attend with their older sisters, brothers and parents. (Cousineau says she is considering a class for the very little kids up to 18 months at some point in the future.)

On April 13, Cousineau hosted a trial class attended by six or seven children. After receiving a painted rock with their names on one side and “explore” on the other, the little attendees roamed around a small area of McGraft Park and collected natural treasures.

Cousineau then “called them in” to take a seat on a large blue tarp spread out near the McGraft Park bandshell, talked to the parents about the objectives of the day, and read them a book about Stone Soup.

Adults will recall that stone soup is a story about a traveling salesman who sells people a stone to set in a pot of water. When people object to the tasteless soup, he tells them that the idea is for people to bring their own ingredients to flavor the soup, and everyone ends up agreeing it’s the best thing they ever tasted.

In this case the story was toned down a bit to focus less on the trickery of the salesman and more on the sense of community engendered by everyone contributing to one pot.

Then the little learners filled their buckets with water from a supply Cousineau had brought, followed by dumping in their collected treasures, like acorns and sticks, as well as other items pulled from the nearby park, in this case a lot of dry grass.

When the soup was stirred, turning a delicious-looking murky brown, kids pretended to eat the soup. This was followed by a real snack (which the parents will normally supply) and a feedback session from kids and parents alike.

“It was kind of chaotic,” Cousineau said, “but we need to go with what the children want to do. We need to allow them to set the tone for their play.”

Despite the chilly weather, the kids all seemed to have a good time and there were no fights, perhaps because everyone was focused on making a really good soup.

It should be noted that parent participation is very important to the Tinkergarten experience.

To find out more, visit www.facebook.com/groups/162363627899932/ and to register (the cost is $140), go to https://tinkergarten.com/classes/88710.

The deadline is April 24 for the April 27 start.