Demonstrating that it’s okay to mix the colors of clay, 2-year-old Harlow Pearl Jauregui practices what she learns in Tinkergarten. Photo by Phil Houseal

“Go outside and get the stink blown off.”

Aug 16, 2017–Those loving words passed through my mama’s lips every time we kids got underfoot and on her nerves growing up. Turns out, although phrased more diplomatically, that advice might be the best way to raise kids.

Alison Luther is a young mother of two aged 2 and under. Going from a full-time writer and editor to a full-time mom changed her thinking about parenting.

“I didn’t realize how crucial it is to step back and let kids explore,” Luther admitted. “As parents we want to guide them. But kids already are natural-born learners.”

Luther is organizing a children’s play/learning time called Tinkergarten. Tinkergarten is a nationwide movement described as providing high-quality early childhood learning in the healthiest classroom of all—the outdoors.

Mom was right–learning in the outdoors has many benefits. It not only teaches kids how to observe and respect nature, but Luther cites studies that show being in nature has been shown to lesson aggression, anxiety, and depression, increase creativity and imagination, and enhance the ability to focus, leading to self control later in life.

“That’s why we are doing it outside rather than in a classroom,” she said. “Nature is the most inspiring and stimulating classroom we could imagine.”

Nature also helps first-time parents get over their biggest hurdle–letting children “get messy.” She gave an example I admit even I have been guilty of–only getting out one color of modeling clay at a time.

“A lot of parents want to open one at a time, keeping the colors separate and micromanaging how the kids play,” she said. “Because that’s how our minds work; but it’s not how kids want to play.”

No, they want to mix it all together. And that’s OK. In fact the messier, the more OK for Luther. She calls it “rebranding Play-Doh.”

“In Tinkergarten, we call it forest putty,” she said. “We mix it with sticks, leaves, rocks and what we find around us at the park. There are no worries about keeping the colors separate–brown is a color!”

Einstein considered play the “highest form of research.”

“That’s how these guys want to learn. They want to sit down and explore and get messy. Learning isn’t organized.”

Of course Tinkergarten is not just “let’s meet at the park and play.”

Bringing a special kind of outdoor learning to children such as Brandon and Hayden, Alison Luther is offering her first Tinkergarten classes this fall at Lady Bird Park.

Luther’s role is to provide a safe, structured environment where children are allowed to let imagination run wild. Each class follows a “rhythm” that builds over the 8 sessions. The group starts with an opening activity and song, then talks about what they will be doing, what she calls “providing the entry point.” The main activity lasts about 30 minutes, then the group comes back together, to clean up and have a snack.

The learning includes the parents. Following each class, Luther sums up the developmental impact of the activities, explaining what type of learning is going on. Parents will also get suggested activities they can try at home. The curriculum is designed to help build foundational skills that matter in life, including curiosity, persistence, problem solving, grit, collaboration, and creativity.

“These are all traits that what we want our children to have, to help prepare them for real world tasks and set them up for learning,” she said.

In the end, Tinkergarten is simply an opportunity for kids to explore, to connect with nature, and to remind their parents what it’s like to be a kid.

“We’re not inventing anything brand new, we’re just providing a really cool environment where parents and kids can step out of their comfort zones and try something new together,” she said. “It’s rewarding to step back and learn to trust your children. They will surprise you every time. This curriculum is full of joy and wonder, and we’re going to have such fun!”


Alison Luther is offering two 8-week Tinkergarten sessions, with one meeting on Tuesdays and one on Fridays from 9:30–10:45 a.m. starting Sept 12 and Sept 15. She will offer a free trial class on Tues, Aug 22, and on Fri, Aug 25, at 9:30 a.m. Sessions meet at Lady Bird Johnson Park on Hwy 16 South of Fredericksburg. Class is open to ages 18 months to 5 years, and pre-registration is required. Details at or at