By Justine Roberts
So, why do museums like tinkering?
I started to think about what tinkering offers these museums and realized that it fits into where many science and children’s museums are heading. Tinkering helps to meet the needs of some important forward-looking initiatives:
- Tinkering is intergenerational - Museums increasingly understand the importance of supporting adults’ active engagement and are looking for experiences that encourage adult participation.
- Tinkering supports repeat visitors - It is an inherently rich, layered experience. It is easy to customize, and it supports long dwell times. This allows people with a range of abilities and levels of expertise to be successful.
- Tinkering is interdisciplinary - Tinkering, with its combination of engineering, experimentation, technology, construction, and aesthetics has multiple entry points, is open to diverse play and learning styles, and can have many outcomes.
- Tinkering develops skills - Whether taking apart an old toaster or building a robot the activity is process-oriented and fosters critical thinking. Such experiences encourage lifelong learning, which is increasingly emphasized by many museums.
- It is authentic – Whether taking toasters apart or building robots, welding or sewing, tinkering uses real tools and materials. Often it is messy and it certainly could be a little dangerous!
- Documentation and Reflection - While tinkering, visitors make things. These artifacts can be displayed to inspire others, or used to document the maker’s learning (see the Standards of Excellence report for more on this).
- It supports constructive play - Tinkering emphasizes inquiry, science concepts, engineering and invention. There is room for imagination as tinkerers build scenarios around their creations. But it departs from more traditional immersive role-play exhibits.
- Its good for business - Tinkering is also good for the business of museums. Tinkering’s mix of engineering, science, and creativity is highly fundable. It is seen as developing the innovative thinking critical to the 21st century workforce.
All together these aspects of tinkering describe a different type of museum, and one that helps position its users for success in the new economy in ways even they didn’t predict.