by Meghan Fitzgerald
As a teacher and a principal, I was fortunate to work alongside many dedicated and talented colleagues. One subset who really stood out to me were the teachers whose children were part of the school community. Although at times, it seemed a challenge for them to wear both parent and teacher hats, there was something special about how these teachers connected to and invested in the school community. They were right there to share in rituals and special moments, and it seemed as if they knew that their efforts lifted the school and, in addition, their children. That’s why, when I used to dream about starting a school, ensuring that teachers could bring their own kids was always part of my plan.
When we were preparing for the first Tinkergarten class six years ago, Brian and I thought a lot about how to involve my then 2-year-old in the experience. In ways (and certainly on some days) it would have felt easier to lead without Maeve in the mix. But, I quickly realized that the experience was far richer for all of us when she was part of it.
Once Maeve got used to sharing me, she saw me not just as “mommy,” but also as a teacher. She took to being my little helper and still takes great joy in that today. I also learned so much about how to help parents and caregivers with supporting their children because I walked that very walk in class myself. Perhaps best of all, the parents and caregivers in my classes seemed to connect with me and open up most on days when I had a little extra parenting to do—especially on the days when Maeve was a real two-year-old. It meant the world that Maeve was a part of what I was doing, and it seemed to really mean something to the other adults that I was in the same boat, rowing right along with them.
That’s why, when you attend a Tinkergarten class today, there’s a good chance that the leader will have their kiddo (or kiddos) with them. In fact, around 66 percent of our leaders bring their kids to their classes regularly and even more lead classes with their kids some of the time.
More and more, parents who choose to step away from full-time work are finding a middle ground by bringing other work into their day. There are many how-to articles written on how to manage the preparation and planning required to finesse this balance, and scads of search results for “part-time gigs for moms.” The more you read, the more you see that there is a lot of value to both parent and kids in adding in other work, even though balancing caring for kids and working on other projects is a real juggling act.
Giving kids the chance to see their caregivers wear more than one work hat offers a valuable learning experience for our little ones. It opens their minds to the many different hats they can wear, and just how much we are all capable of. And it can be especially valuable for moms to demonstrate a variety of passions and ways to work because there is simply not enough representation of it in books and films.
That’s why we’re proud to be able to offer a work option for talented parents that includes their children. It’s important for us, it’s important for our parent-leaders, it’s important for kids. Both our parent-leaders and the families in our classes say it’s well worth the challenge, as the rewards are great. Read on to learn a bit more about what it means to a few of our leaders.
Melissa Ferrao from Bridgewater, NJ
I started at Tinkergarten two years ago when I took a leap of faith and left teaching to stay at home with my twins (who were then 2.5) -- and it has been a gift for me and my whole family. My kids have been coming to class for eight seasons now, and my husband comes on the weekends.
Tinkergarten has changed our family culture. It helped my husband understand behavioral schema. Now, he is much more in tune with what the kids are doing, and why they are doing it. And it’s transformed how we see the outdoors. Now, whether we’re in our backyard or a nature preserve, it’s our classroom.
Leading with my twins has come with its share of challenges. It was a learning curve for them to see their mom as a teacher, and to allow me the space to guide other explorers. But the challenges have been valuable. The moments when I have to practice great patience with my own kids is a beneficial thing for other parents to see. I believe they appreciate it.
Overall my twins take a great leadership role in class even when they are not the oldest explorers in the class. Classes have become our time to connect and I absolutely love that they get to see their mom working and doing something that makes me happy.
Sophia Tolentino from Puyallup, WA
Leading Tinkergarten with my 4-year-old daughter has been a wonderful experience for both of us! I love watching my daughter exhibit leadership skills with compassion and understanding for the younger explorers. I often watch her take the hand of one of her peers, or demonstrate how she went about doing something, with such care and concern. This is something I would not be able to observe if not for Tinkergarten.
Being able -- and actually encouraged -- to bring my daughter to class with me has been a beautiful gift from Tinkergarten. I love that she gets to watch me live out my passion for teaching and nature. I hope this experience will leave an imprint on her, inspiring her to one day dream of work that fills her life with joy.
Katharine Barrett from Shoreline, WA
This spring marks my one year anniversary as a leader! After winter, I will have led five classes over three seasons -- all with my son who will be three in June. It has been a real experience, and we're still figuring it out. But I am so thankful that he can come with me, and I think we get so much out of it!
At first, when he was only 23 months, it was a challenge. However, he quickly started getting the hang of the class. He got comfortable asking guides for things and playing with the other kids. Though he was still sometimes needy, it wasn't so much that it distracted me from class. Instead, it offered me the opportunity to check in with him and address his needs.
Now, he really loves coming to my classes and does a great job in class! His father is there to help him in some classes, and in the other classes he asks the guides. He and some of the guides are so comfortable with each other -- I see them helping him and carrying him about -- we're like a big family. It's so sweet!
Becca Spence Dobias from the Inland Empire, California
I've been leading Tinkergarten since Spring, 2016 and my kids have been coming with me the whole time -- my son since he was 2.5 and my daughter since she was in my belly. The first class she came to after being born was when she was 2 months old and she has always loved it. I see so clearly how much she gets from watching the older kids explore. She is such an explorer herself and now, at 18 months, she participates so much!
We’ve had some challenges with my son as my helper leader, but I know it is so good for him to see me in a leadership position and to feel out what the boundaries are when I'm leading. It's good for me -- and my parenting -- to have my patience tested when I know parents are watching because it gives me chances to be extra mindful about how I respond. And then on days when it is easy, it's amazing!
My kiddos both love Tinkergarten and talk about it all the time. When I say it's a Tinkergarten day, they both cheer. My daughter regularly talks about "Garden!" and my son tells people his favorite thing is that “at Tinkergarten, it's ok to get wet and dirty.” I love watching them interact with other explorers and guides and I especially love getting to see their sense of wonder.
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