A Tinker Box That Guarantees Hours of Play — with Almost Zero Prep Time

published Jul 25, 2021
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Summer is in full swing, and it’s too hot to think straight, let alone come up with creative activities for the kids. Allow me to introduce you to the easiest, most open-ended and sustainable activity in my toy closet: The Tinker Box. The Tinker Box is a creative treasure chest and it’s perfect for grade schoolers. Younger kids can absolutely partake as well, with adult guidance.

The concept is super simple. Grab a large shoebox or lidded plastic bin and fill it up with odds and ends that your child can use to tinker with or create a new “invention.” 

Over time, as you clean up everyday, before you throw a broken pen in the garbage, or recycle a colorful lid, ask yourself “Would it be fun to make something with this?” 

Chances are that day-to-day scraps and “junky” items (like those small plastic slinkies that seem to be in every goody bag) are the perfect raw materials for future creations.

Every spring, stray button, or broken toy you come across is a Tinker Box treasure. Also, keep a lookout for items that can be dismantled into parts, like a soap bottle nozzle or a pen — they’re perfect for little hands to explore.

Once the box is about half full, label it “Tinker Box” and make sure it’s accessible to your child in the closet. The next time you hear the inevitable “I’m booooored,” head over to the Tinker Box, open it up, and rummage around with your child. An easy initial prompt could be: “Let me grab some glue, tape, and scissors. What do you think we could make?” A low-temperature glue gun is the perfect companion to the Tinker Box.  It strongly and quickly bonds various materials together (unlike white glue), but make sure your child is old enough to handle the glue gun with care or with your guidance. 

I love how the Tinker Box inspires resourceful creativity and sparks imaginative thinking. But I also believe it introduces basic concepts of engineering. My daughter Uma, 8, recently made a rolling suitcase for her dolls with an empty white-out correction tape dispenser, popsicle sticks, and rainbow tape. Taking the gears out of the tape dispenser helped her to understand how the dispenser works, and putting it back together without the dispenser components inside but with the roller still moving was a mini-lesson in engineering and spatial relations. 

Your child will also love adding to the Tinker Box, and will be giving new life to items that would typically be headed to the landfill. Every time your child opens up the box, their creative experience will be different, inspiring them to come back to the box time and time again to “make something” — which is a major building block of childhood.

Here are a couple of Tinker Box prompts to get started:

1. Create a creature: Set out some googly eyes with the hot glue and encourage your child to mix and match different items in the box to create a creature. This was a favorite activity of mine as a child, and it is so fun to name the creatures as well.

2. Time them for a Tinker Challenge: This activity is especially fun with siblings. Set the Tinker Box out in the middle of the table, and have scissors, glue, and tape ready for each child to use. Set the timer, and each child must create something that they will present to the group when the timer is up.

Lastly, a wonderful book to inspire your young creator is “Rosie Revere, Engineer” by Andrea Beaty.  The pictures in the book and the spirit of imagining, inventing, and creating are the perfect inspiration for a summer afternoon. Happy tinkering!