Revisiting the Austin Tinkering School

Today's crew at the school. L to R: Jack, Kami, XXX, Oren, XXX

Some of the crew from the Austin Tinkering School in October 2013. (L-R: Jack, Kami, Luke, Oren, and Andre)

In the summer of 2013, I signed a contract to work with Sears and Craftsman to look for groups that needed tools and to write about them. Yeah, dream gig. I was headed down to Texas, so the very first place I contacted was the Austin Tinkering School, a group I learned about through the fixer movement that I’d been involved with for a while. They happily accepted, asked for a bandsaw, proceeded to slay me with their enthusiasm and creativity and fearlessness, and then taught me more than I ever expected to learn about child development. To read more about this wonderful school, its origins, and the tinkering movement, check out this post. Through the magic of the Facebooks, I’ve been able to easily follow the school–they just wrapped up their summer session–and Kami Wilt, the school’s founder, said she’d be happy to send over an update.

I got this email from her earlier today and I swear on my mother’s eyes, there is no secret marketing robot who made this up:

I don’t know how we ever got by before without the bandsaw!  It has been in near-constant use. Before, when we had to make curved and precise cuts, we had to get out the jigsaw, clear off a table, clamp down the wood… it’s a little bit of a production.  And then when we needed to make really finicky small cuts, like when kids want to cut out a really detailed shape, it was pretty harrowing, because the jigsaw is so big and jouncy and it’s hard to give kids free rein with it.
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Having the bandsaw made it possible for us to make much more detailed and precise cuts, and having it there, set up and ready to go at a moment’s notice was really liberating.  The kids loved it!  There was a line to use the bandsaw all summer long.  Kids were able to cut cool little swords with curvy handles, wheels, doors for dollhouses, the letters for their name… the list is pretty much endless.  The fact that they could cut out pretty much any shape they could draw really opened up limitless possibilities.  And apart from the detailed cuts, it became our go-to tool for just making a quick straight cut.  The bandsaw really completed our shop space and made it a lot more functional and effective.  We’re super, super thankful to Craftsman for donating it to the Austin Tinkering School!
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Students are trained first in safety and then supervised, but free to do whatever they wish. Basically, there is no right or wrong, they try something and if it doesn’t work out, they try it a different way. Kids aren’t allowed to fail today and as a result, they aren’t allowed to learn how to solve problems and, god forbid, have fun.

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“If kids never learn how to deal with things that can hurt them, they’ll get hurt when they finally encounter them.” -Kami Wilt

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For more information on the original school that inspired Kami to start up a branch in Austin, check this out, and then get out there and start one in your own town: http://www.tinkeringschool.com/

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