by Meghan Fitzgerald
You are the Founder of STEM Skool, Inc. Can you tell us more about your work in STEM and how it ties into Tinkergarten activities?
STEM Skool, Inc. is my non-profit organization that offers science, technology, engineering and math programs to learners of all ages. In addition to Tinkergarten, I offer two other programs: Math Edventures and Engineering is Elementary.
Tinkergarten has been so enjoyable for me. The program has opened my eyes to how children connect with nature and build problem-solving skills. Combining what I've learned as a Tinkergarten leader with my professional work has allowed me to visualize the path a person takes from childhood to adult-level critical thinking and creativity.
Regarding the setup and flow of my classes, I always start with a STEM-laden opening activity. For instance, before reading “The Squiggle,” I had my explorers build "great walls" out of simple materials. Then when the little girl in the book made The Great Wall with her squiggle, I remarked about it.
You are also a homeschooling mom. What types of activities or lessons have deepened learning for your own children?
Even though I am a homeschooler and have admired and drawn from the Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches to early childhood education, I didn't quite "get" the importance of nature play. I was one of those parents who had a difficult time spending time outside with my kids (15 months, almost three and five years old). And when I sent them outside to play, they were as clueless as I was. They would either take their iPads outside to play on them or sit on a chair for three minutes before complaining about the weather.
Not only did Tinkergarten help me realize how easy it could be to get my kids outside, the program introduced me to behavioral schema and all the other little things my kids need to do outside to build their skill sets. I had an epiphany. I didn't need to be a super crunchy hiking-type of mom to enjoy going outside with my kids. Right in our small backyard, we could gather soil, pots, stones, water, and seeds, in any combination, and have endless fun! My kids make stone soup at least twice a week.
We've had a total transformation as a family. We spend a lot of our free time outside now. Some of that time is at playgrounds, but my kids spend most of their time gathering sticks, rocks, bugs and flora. Last year, my oldest daughter was terrified of ladybugs. In my trial class last week, she sported a caterpillar on her finger the entire time!
What advice can you give parents who would like to support their own children’s learning at home?
Set the stage, and then give them some space. Trust them; they will amaze you!
As parents and guides, we're there to merely present the children with an opportunity. We're there to say, "Wow! Look at what I found out here in the middle of this beautiful park!" And then, "What can I do with what I just found?" After that, the children really do know what to do. They transport, transform, work in teams, imagine, build and create.
The same can be done at home. I would advise parents to grab a good children's book, head outside, and just let their kids' imagination and creativity run wild.
Hear what parents say about Ge’s classes:
“Ms. Ge is wonderful - Tinkergarten is a bright spot in our week.”
“We’ve learned so much about how easy it is to help the kids learn more. Thank you!”