Tinkerhaus’ New Learning Opportunities for Youth

Mary McDonald describes the intrest young creaters have for making somthing "real" 

Allies and Partners

Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship with an appreciation for our surroundings and the well-being of future generations. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

Our past communications have focused mainly on our adult members and users and the advantages to learning and incorporating “Repair and Reuse” skills at Tinkerhaus as we contribute to reducing waste. Looking forward in 2022, we are giving focus to our youth and children’s programming and some of the big goals we have for them.

Through our shared space, equipment and materials, we have been hosting “Maker Experiences” for over three years.

"Creating something real"

During this time, we’ve noticed patterns and recurring moments that stand out. As much as children enjoy creating something decorative with paint or clay, there is a particular kind of satisfaction that comes from creating something “real.”

Whether that real thing is constructed from wood, metal or PVC or it’s cobbled together from a paper cup, a drinking straw and a rubber band, anything that embodies mechanical movement, levers, use of gravity or the harnessing of energy brings a particular feeling of delight.

As soon as one of them “gets it” and has some success with the concept, you can feel powerful determination take over the space until everyone has figured out how to properly attach parts and adjust tension. So, one of our goals for this spring is to introduce more intentional opportunities to make “real” things.

Since our maker sessions tend to be 90 minutes or longer, there is plenty of time for discussion while working. This has allowed us to gain insight into the deep interest our maker kids have in the local environment.

In between conversations about the Mandalorian and their favorite Marvel characters, they talk about the sewer discharges in the Merrimack River and beach erosion on Plum Island pretty regularly. They ask questions about waste stream and chemical pollutants.

This leads us to envisioning a pilot program where kids would make “real” things related to studying issues around the ocean and coastal ecology. There would be real research conducted to include input from experts.

Testing and Improving

There would be design trials and innovation sessions. There would be days used to bring our “real” things to the places we might use them, test them, improve them.

A small trawler net to collect water samples after storms, a SeaPerch robotic ocean floor rover, a simple water filtration system and a model of how river bed plants and marsh grass clean water are all projects in the envisioned program that would be part of this endeavor.

We believe it will be ideal to start with a simple exploration of the issues during April vacation. This would be the background for an ocean rally on Earth Day and allow for more in-depth projects available during the summer.

We have long envisioned multi-generational projects as a benefit of our all-ages membership. Needless to say, COVID-19’s impact has been significant and most of our existence as an organization has seen barely any multi-age, intergenerational exchanges. We are planning on this to change with the greater availability of vaccination and testing. We have also become more flexible about using outdoor spaces to do work that would have been confined to a classroom in the past.

We are looking forward to engaging with the greater community to gain the support that will allow us to offer these opportunities.

To be successful and to realize this vision, we will outreach for funding for materials, volunteers to help with the making and visits from people who work in both the “maker” sector and the research sector. Please share any thoughts you may have about this opportunity for positive experiential learning opportunities for all generations with me at

This column was coordinated by ACES Youth Corps member Caleb Bradshaw. To share any comments or questions, send an email to To learn more about ACES, go to

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Mary McDonald

Always preferring small groups with hands-on activities, Mary used her education degree to teach in non-school settings. After decades spent at nature centers and museums, she discovered "Makerspaces" and established Tinkerhaus.

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