Amy Carson is a teacher, but her classroom doesn’t have rows of desks facing a chalkboard or central air conditioning. She believes nature is the ideal classroom.
Carson leads Tinkergarten in Gainesville. It’s a play-based learning program where groups of parents and children are encouraged to play outdoors, exploring the world around them through guided activities that teach core life skills. She teaches classes outdoors at Northeast Park and Jonesville Park.
Carson, a 38-year-old Gainesville resident, said she led Tinkergarten classes in Texas for a year. But when she moved to Gainesville in July 2016, she realized the program wasn’t offered in the area, so she decided to create it.
The program began in September 2016. Since then, Carson said she has added two additional class leaders to the Gainesville staff and is in the process of training another.
“It’s hard for adults to see the learning that happens when kids are playing because that’s not the way that adults tend to learn,” Carson said.
The program is geared for children between the ages of 18 months to 8 years old because young kids develop best through play, not traditional classrooms at that age, Carson said. The activities vary from class to class and are tailored to the ages of the children in each class.
The weekly classes are sold in eight-week sessions at $160 per student. The classes have a maximum enrollment of 12 students.
Tinkergarten classes take place outdoors at a local park in the area, Carson said. The spring session classes in Gainesville are taught at Northeast Park and Jonesville Park.
Nancy Caniff, a 45-year-old Gainesville resident, said her 4-year-old daughter Emme has flourished in Tinkergarten classes since she has been enrolled for more than two years.
Caniff said her daughter is always excited for classes, which are just over an hour of outdoor time, songs, stories and friends.
On Sunday nights, Caniff asks her daughter, “Emme do you know what tomorrow is? It’s Monday.”
Emme will respond, “Tinkergarten! After we sleep?” Caniff said.
“And she rushes to bed,” Caniff said. “It’s just her favorite.”
Caniff said she recalls a class when the teacher brought plastic figurines that were frozen in blocks of ice. The children used tools like buckets and shovels to uncover the hidden treasure. The activity encouraged the children to use critical thinking skills and execute a multi-step solution to the problem at hand.
“Every class has a pattern,” Caniff said. “You know what to expect — free play, introductions, play, social circle. We regroup, have a snack and head out from there.”