Building a Tinker Box

Do you have a Tinkerer? I sure do. I think he was just a little over a year old when he discovered what a screw driver was. There was no going back after that. I tried to appease his need to tinker with a fun toy tool bench. He did love that, but was still getting into my tools constantly. At 2 he started taking things around the house apart. Um, not okay! It didn’t help that his Poppa (my dad) would encourage him and started buying him his own real tools. His toy tools quickly lost their appeal after that. This is about when our journey with loose parts began. I needed to find a way to channel his drive to figure  things out. About a year ago daddy came home with a ginormous tackle box. I don’t remember exactly what the original purpose was, but it was the perfect container for a tinker box.

Building tinker box loose parts

What are Loose Parts exactly?  In 1972, architect Simon Nicholson developed the Theory of Loose Parts (You can read his writings HERE). It seemed more like common sense to me. Of course my brothers and I were also Tinkerers, and my dad made sure we always had resources. So my view point may be skewed a bit. Reading up on Loose Parts led me to the Reggio Emilia Approach  of teaching, and down that rabbit hole I went. As with all aspects of our personal  homeschool journey, I take what fits and leave the rest. Loose Parts really spoke to how Squishy was exploring his world, so it has been one thing that has become a lifestyle choice for us.

 “There is evidence that all children love to interact with variables, such as materials and shapes; smells and other physical phenomena, such as electricity, magnetism and gravity; media such as gases and fluids; sounds, music, motion; chemical interactions, cooking and fire; and other humans, and animals, plants, words, concepts and ideas. With all these things all children love to play, experiment discover and invent and have fun. All these things have one thing in common, which is variables or ‘loose parts’. ” -Simon Nicholson

We have loose parts in almost every area in our homeschool environment, and they are always available for Squishy. Outside in The Pit I have funnels, two by fours, bits of hose, rope, wheels and pulleys, ect. In our art area we keep tape, toilet paper rolls, paper, feathers, clay, and that sort of thing. A lot of our art loose parts are recyclable. I could go on and on about that, but I will save that for another post. We have our Nature collection, which in and of itself is loose parts, but often find their way into every project. (We walk a fine line with hording, lol) That brings us to Squishy’s Tinker Box. This is where all of the loose springs, nuts, bolts, magnets, switch boards, and what ever else he has salvaged from his take apart days get sorted.

(Magnets can be extremely dangerous in small hands. Know your child, and if they have a tendency to mouth small objects avoid any magnets smaller than their hand. Squishy is a seeker and mouths objects, but is also an avoider to the texture of magnets. So I feel safe with his fascination with them.)

Tinkering loose parts

I have the Tinker Box set up in a corner of the living room. It originally had his tools in it as well, but he got more tools and a new tool box for Christmas. So his tool box is stored next to it. About once a month Squishy and I take a trip to the Salvation Army, the Restore, or another thrift type store. He gets $5 to pick out something interesting. I don’t interfere in his decision at all except to make sure that it is safe, and it’s always fun seeing what he decides on. He has picked some doozy’s: Remote control Monster Truck (with controller), an electric jar opener, a ceiling fan, and well, you get the idea. The possibilities are endless.

I give Squishy that month to take whatever contraption he picked out apart. He gets to figure things out, which is what his brain craves. He plays with gears, counts screws, and uses his tools (yay for fun fine motor practice). He chooses pieces that he has salvaged off of each thrift store find that appeal to him, and gets to keep them in his Tinker Box. Some of the loose parts get pulled out to use with his play dough, or an art project. While others get to participate in our science experiments. He may just want to build something completely new, or he may just think its pretty. I honestly don’t know exactly why he picks each piece to keep, but i don’t need to understand that to see the benefits.

tinkering with friends

When Squishy has friends come over the Tinker Box almost always comes out. It has been great for team work building skills, and cooperative problem solving. Of course my homeschooling mom brain hears that, but when I step back I can just enjoy the peace and quiet. Wait, what!? Yes, you heard me right. Blissful quiet from my child who very rarely takes the time to breathe between words.

If you don’t already have a space set up for this kind of exploration, here is a simple Free Checklist:

I have added affiliate links to help you locate the items I am referring to. If you purchase off of my links, I do earn a very small commission.  Thank you for your support.

Printable Version ~> building-tinker-box-checklist

Tinker Box Supplies:

Tackle Box

Small Screw Drivers (This is an amazing kid sized tool set)

Magnifying Glass

Magnetic Bowl

Magnet Wand

Old rags (for grease, I use shop rags from Squishy’s Poppa)

Small can of WD40


I would love to hear what you stock in your Tinker Box, and be sure to follow us on Pinterest for more hands on learning ideas.







2 thoughts on “Building a Tinker Box

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