Encourage Free Play and Tinkering

One day last week, my kids were disappointed because  a scheduled playdate had to be cancelled.  The weather was beautiful, so I sent them outside to ride their bikes. After about 20 minutes, I realized I didn't see their bikes whizzing back and forth in the driveway so I went outside to investigate.

This is what I found:

They were trying to rig their bikes together to create a bicycle built for two. Some people might have been concerned about kids disassembling a bicycle, but I was pretty excited they were working together to create something new. And really, why can't they take their bikes apart? Plus, I trust my son not to do anything that will endanger his little sister (at least not too much).

I left them to work but kept my eye on them from inside.

When they were unsuccessful in getting the mechanical connection to work, they tried using ropes. First one, then two. Here they are trying it out.

Alas, they were unable to make it work. 

How much did I contribute to their efforts? Nothing. Basically, I stayed out of it and let them problem solve. All I did was give them permission to get a rope from their father's supplies and remind them to keep all of the nuts, bolts, and tools together so they wouldn't lose anything. They kept at it for several hours. Even a sudden rainstorm didn't bring them in. 

I know my son is still working this around in his mind planning new ways to hook the bikes together. I can't wait to see what they build this weekend.

How have you encouraged your children's free play and tinkering? 

UPDATE 5 March 2012: 
Two blog readers suggested related links over on Facebook:
  1. Julie Littlefield Leonard (whose unschooled kids tinker all the time) suggested Tinkering School. From their website: "Gever Tulley founded Tinkering School in 2005 in order to learn how children become competent and to explore the notion that kids can build anything, and through building, learn anything."
  2. Anton Neilsen (a tinkerer who, among many other things, built a plane and later flew it) suggested Home-Built Tandem Bikes.
So far, my kids haven't succeeded in making a tandem bike. But, yesterday my son built this:

Because what else is a kid to do when he has two bikes he can't ride due to flat tires? 

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