The joyful conundrum that is our tinker table

When maker spaces started popping up in school libraries, we were honest with ourselves and recognized that for our school, the 3D printer & other technological tools are best housed in our tech wing. In our Gr 9-12 library, we choose to offer a low-tech tinker table with space and supplies for hands-on activities that are often, but not always, crafts – for example, friendship bracelets, Spirograph, colouring pages, etc.

We aim to switch up the activity every week and try to be creative in terms of materials, repurposing wherever possible (one-sided abandoned print jobs, scraps of fabric). Our community is kind and generous, for example, digging out old Rainbow Looms from home when we had a recent request for that blast from the past.

What is fascinating and frustrating is our inability to predict the success of the activities. My colleague Viola is the mastermind behind the planning and scheduling and is often stymied in understanding why a particular activity didn’t gain interest or traction.

Here is an example of the wins, the perennial favourites:

  • Button-making
  • Large-scale sticky mosaics 
  • Seasonal card-making 
  • Perler beads (requires supervision of iron)

Here are some duds, activities that gathered dust and/or were pulled early due to lack of interest; 

  • Origami (works in group instruction, not when left for self-direction)
  • Sketch a snowflake (too many instructions?)
  • Make & take in general (like to do it, don’t want to take it)
  • Tshirt bags (who knows)

It is clear that self-care projects are popular; we now know that make-your-own-lip balm will be a crowd scene and prepare accordingly. With the cold weather, we’re bringing back hand warmers (little bags of rice that can be microwaved). Soon we’ll be trying out school-tartan hair scrunchies using sewing machines generously donated by our Parents’ Guild.

We know that nostalgia plays a part – it definitely factors in when we put out the Lego. However, Playdough seems to fit that category but has been very hit-and-miss. Viola is on to something by thinking that it’s about getting the first penguin in the water; once a student sits down, they are often joined by another. Sometimes we’ll ask a library regular to get the party started; they’re always happy to help and it can generate some momentum.

Until we crack the code, we will keep throwing spaghetti at the wall!

Photo below is from Lunar New Year activities – fortunes and lucky red envelopes (with chocolate coins); note that the puzzle table is usually adjacent.

4 thoughts on “The joyful conundrum that is our tinker table

    • Can AISL also get a Bluesky account (now that invites aren’t needed)? Some of us have decided to leave X due to the ongoing racism, Nazi promotion and other issues in the Musk era.

  1. Hi Shelagh,
    I’m curious about when your students take advantage of these offerings. Is it during lunch? On spares? Especially if there is an instructional need for the activity, I’d love to get a sense of how/when this happens. I love the idea of the red pockets – it was a ‘why didn’t I think of that’ moment for me. Thanks so much for the inspiration.

    • Sometimes during spares and after school, but usually during busy morning break, lunch and afternoon flex. We aim for no-instruction-needed, or simple instructions (including QR codes for videos), and plan the ones needing supervision (iron, microwave, etc) at times when we have the staffing.

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