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Making Space for Creations

Giving children the freedom to walk into a toy store and play freely with anything they choose is a good mental picture of what Tynkertopia is. Except, in this innovative setting, they create the toys.

With shelves stocked with colorful materials and objects of various sizes and forms, Tynkertopia welcomes children of all ages to come to create inventions. Their parents, grandparents and siblings are also welcome.

“Our mission at Tynkertopia is to empower children to cultivate skills, strategies, perseverance, resilience, curiosity and a sense of wonder. We focus on STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) skills and knowledge,” said Founder Dr. Alice Christie, who has 50 plus years of experience as an educator and is one of 30 Arizona State University President’s Professors.

Rather than retire, Christie, who is an energetic and vibrant 70-something, chose to pursue her vision. “I wanted to create an outside-of-school, safe, welcoming and inclusive space where kids could develop creative confidence as well as better inquiry skills.”

Thirteen-year-old Sol Berry, who attends Pine Forest School, visits Tynkertopia about three times a week. “It’s really fun. I get to build a lot of cool stuff and I get to explore. I’m also a Junior Intern so I help organize and clean. It’s really cool because I get community service hours for my work,” he said.

Christie believes Tynkertopia is a good fit for Flagstaff because of the city’s status as America’s first STEM community. “I’m so proud to call Flagstaff my home. I’ve written a book on STEAM and I’ve traveled to 37 states providing professional development on STEAM to educators.”

A hallway of shelves is stocked with the various inventions children have made, but before children can participate, it is mandatory they take the Workshop Safety Course to identify what tools they can use based on their age.

“Every tool is marked and identified by color for specific age groups. For example, purple tools such as electric drills, saws and other more dangerous tools are for adults only.” Christie said children sign a pledge and shake hands, ensuring their commitment to comply with the safety rules.

“The children take this pledge very seriously and we haven’t had one episode of any kind.”

Janelle Brookshire heard about Tynkertopia from a friend. “This is our first time coming to Tynkertopia and I think it’s awesome.”

The 2,000-square-foot building includes a STEAM Challenge room where there are puzzles, a digital 3D printer and microscope that captures images and magnifies them onto a screen. “Children love to bring items in to view but are especially fascinated by looking at their fingers.”

Aero gardening is another concept that Christie has added. “Right now, we’re just growing herbs, but we grew lettuce and had it with our meals, “ she said.

Coding, which Christie feels is a 21st century skill, is another element that she feels is vital for children to learn. “In today’s economy, we are in urgent need of people with coding skills to meet the demands of a burgeoning tech industry. Introducing your child to coding is a crucial investment in their future.”

The cost to drop in to Tynkertopia is free to the community, but donations are appreciated. Children under 17 must be accompanied by an adult.

Tynkertopia has been open for a year and a half, and has welcomed 9,000 visitors. FBN

By V. Ronnie Tierney, FBN

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