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Early Childhood Tinkering

Early Childhood Tinkering

At the Tinkering Studio, we are exploring the ways the tinkering approach can open up new possibilities and pedagogical alignments with the early childhood field with our high-quality developmentally appropriate practice that’s play based. The tinkering practice emphasizes the importance of the child’s play and exploration which is at the center of the learning experience.

The tinkering approach fits well with existing childhood practices. It begins by playing with physical objects, engaging in an iterative process of trial and error, pursuing tentative ideas, and focusing on the process of discovery, rather than a final end product. Integral to the tinkering practice is an engaged adult educator supporting the learning experience: scaffolding, adding complexity, making suggestions, offering prompts, asking questions, and introducing a material or a concept at just the right time. In tinkering, the role of the educator is that of a co-learner. The Tinkering Studio leans into equity practices inherent in the values of progressive education and constructivist pedagogy to elevate the voices and experiences of all learners.

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Why Tinkering for Early Learners?

The tinkering approach can open up new possibilities for children and adults. It empowers educators to take their practice to places they hadn't even imagined or thought possible, all without expecting them to completely change themselves or their educational programming. Small shifts in practice, a focus on process, iteration, and reflection, and a growing community of practice are part of what makes this transition possible and easy. Educators can integrate tinkering whether they have a home- or center-based program. The tinkering approach can also work well in informal environments such as libraries, out-of-school time programs, and even home settings.



Our Early Childhood Tinkering Projects

Our early childhood tinkering work takes a variety of forms. Our key early childhood tinkering projects are featured here.

STEAM Starters: Tinkering for Early Learners

STEAM Starters Online Learning Modules now available! Get Started →

In 2018, with support from the Early Learning and Care Division of the California Department of Education, we launched STEAM Starters, a two-year pilot project to bring tinkering into child development centers in San Francisco. This project included direct work in classrooms, the development of age-appropriate adaptations of tinkering phenomena and experiences for young children, and the training of early childhood educators to become tinkering facilitators.

New Early Learners Promo Video V5 (1)

STEAM Starters: Tinkering for Early Learners is a new collection of online learning modules offering starting points, practical resources, and reflection tools to introduce tinkering into your early childhood classroom or care setting. California educators can find the online course on the California Early Childhood Online (CECO) website.

Each module consists of videos, printable articles, prep guides, and book selections designed to give you the confidence to plan, facilitate, reflect, and relaunch your own tinkering activities.

STEAM Starters can lower barriers for those who are nervous about teaching science. It also aligns well to best practices of teaching and learning, such as inquiry, guided play, and reflective practice.


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This course was developed collaboratively by the Exploratorium Tinkering Studio, WestEd, and early learning and care educators across CA. This set of modules was supported by the California Department of Social Services.

Get Started →

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This project was made possible through generous support from the California Department of Education, Early Learning and Care Division and the California Department of Social Services, Child Care and Development Division.



Tinkering Together: Exploring Findings and Futures in Early Childhood Tinkering (EFFECT) Conference

The virtual Tinkering Together: Exploring Findings and Futures in Early Childhood Tinkering (EFFECT) Conference in spring 2022 took place as an opportunity to convene a diverse group of researchers and practitioners working to bring STEM learning to the youngest students through tinkering.

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We surfaced promising practices, discussed challenges and trade resources, and identified areas for future research, building relationships and strengthening the early childhood tinkering community along the way.

Learn More →


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This project was made possible through the generous support of the National Science Foundation Award Number (FAIN): 2006098 Exploring Findings and Futures in Early Childhood Tinkering (EFFECT) Conference.




Tinkering @ Home Initiative

During the summer of 2020, the COVID pandemic was at its height. Vast numbers of children were at home and unable to participate in their normal activities, engage with other children, or attend childcare and preschool programs. The Tinkering Studio seized the opportunity to extend learning in the home by experimenting with new tools and resources to help parents support young children’s engagement in tinkering at home.

The Tinkering@Home initiative was designed to better understand how adults, particularly those without extensive training, would respond to and use invitations to engage in tinkering with children in their care. Download the report to learn more.

Special thanks to the following donors for their generous support of this initiative:

  • Enlight Foundation
  • Lance and Shari Fors
  • Jaff Shen & Leping Social Entrepreneur Foundation

For more information email us at