Learning Through Making and Tinkering

This post, part of our special series on the Coronavirus outbreak, was written by Susan Ciavolino, BGCA Academic Success Director.

What do our kids need right now? First and foremost they need connection—those 5 Key Elements for Positive Youth Development are even more crucial now than they were a few weeks ago when your Clubs were full of members. But they also need to keep learning—get involved in hands on, minds on activities. In many communities those will be digital and virtual. But in others, there isn’t the needed infrastructure in the community or the home to support that kind of interaction.  It’s not that our heroic teachers aren’t trying, but never has the digital divide been more significant for young people.

Educators will be experimenting with different approaches and it will take some time to determine if we are successful. But one strategy to consider: creating opportunities for your youth to participate in Making and Tinkering at home. The Boston Children’s Museum defines these words like this:

Tinkering is using stuff. Making is using stuff to make stuff. And engineering is using stuff to make stuff that does stuff.

Stuff is a great word: open ended, vague, and different depending on each unique setting and person. For example, do you need a holder for your phone? Look around you—what could you use to create one for that next video conference? That’s making and tinkering!

The idea is that Making isn’t about computers or phones or even more reading. It is about doing. Creating projects that you imagine for yourself. Both tinkering and making grow from a very open-ended, playful experience that includes exploration of materials with the opportunity to take time to imagine that these materials could become something else. It takes time. And that seems to be something we have right now. It doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment. It is using what you have around you to create new objects that aren’t quite like anyone else’s.

How can you do that for your Club members? Some ideas:

Post Making Challenges on your social media pages.

I’ve seen some great things from Clubs. One of my favorites is from the STEM Director at Boys & Girls Clubs of of North Alabama. You’ll get some great tips for building with cardboard from Ms. Angela.

I remember my own kids making a cardboard mansion for our cat. His name is Mr. Darcy and he totally got his own Pemberley. It was impressive!

Host a live program session and try some real time making and tinkering together.

Check out the Virtual Club Weekly Sessions from BGCA to find a making and tinkering activity during Week 2. The activity links to our new DIY STEM activities on My.Future.


Get families involved.

Family Maker Camp, from our partners at MakerCamp is up and running. You’ll get great ideas and even connect your families with a broader community who can make and create together. And they have this funny guy—Mario the Maker Magician. He’s hilarious and incredibly inspiring! You won’t want to miss him!


When I was at my Club, my favorite Maker activity was cardboard roller coasters. Take a look at this paper roller coaster from Instructables. So much fun! You know each one would be so different and what fun to show them off! Makers could post their creations to your Club’s social media pages.


So, what do your members need to get started? You—a role model, coach, and cheerleader! I loved this example from Ana, from BGC of Albany, who learned to use Animoto.com so she could make a ‘how to’ tutorial for folding origami bunnies. But I think the coolest part is that her Club members will see her learn to do something new and then get better at it because she didn’t give up! Kids need to see us grow and learn and do things that aren’t easy for us either.

What else do they need to get started? Whatever is in front of them. Making and tinkering is about using and reusing what you have in front of you. But one tip: when you first introduce these activities, suggest to families to create a set of simple tinkering tools in a box, so it is all in one place. (And easy to clean up! Parents will say thank you!) Don’t make it too hard: scissors, glue, tape, scrap paper, markers, pencils. If you want to go ‘all in’ consider creating these boxes for them, and then giving them away at food distribution sites, along with a link to your Virtual Club sessions.

It’s possible that freed from the constraints of testing, children will develop their curiosity, imagination, and inquisitiveness. We want our members to become creative thinkers and problem solvers. To learn to embrace failure and work through frustration; to realize the importance of taking risks. To persist through obstacles. To be resourceful and inventive. A lot of that could happen in this new world of education.

Making and tinkering is one of the best approaches we can use to help develop creative problem solvers and adaptive learners—the kind of young people who will grow into the adults who will solve the problems humanity faces, including future pandemics. We are investing in the future . . . just like we do every day at the Club!

Check back in with the ClubX Blog often for more ideas and resources on how to maintain your mental and emotional well-being during this challenging time.  Stay safe.  Wash your hands.  Take care of yourself.  We are in this together! 

Get the latest updates from BGCA at BGCA.net/Coronavirus, find programming ideas at MyFuture.net, like the BGCA Youth Development on Facebook for YD updates including video from Sarah, and join the brand new BGCA Youth Development Community also on Facebook to connect with other Club staff on programming through coronavirus.


making pin


One thought on “Learning Through Making and Tinkering

Add yours

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Up ↑