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TinkerLab offers effortless ideas for sparking kids’ creativity

Tinkerlab's founder Rachelle Doorley in her Cubblerly studio. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.
photo by Tinkerlab

Playdough can be a path to creativity for kids. photo by TinkerLab

It all started with homemade playdough. New mother Rachelle Doorley was determined to foster creativity with her toddler, but hit a wall when she realized she had no clue how to make playdough (seriously, who does?). After searching in vain for an easy recipe on the web, she realized that there was a niche for simple, actionable art projects that parents could do at home with their young children.

Thus was born TinkerLab, a place where parents can find directions, photos and inspiration for nurturing creativity and exploration. And of course, Rachelle’s recipe for the best playdough (it does look pretty awesome).

Tinkerlab taps into a growing interest in creativity

Rachelle launched TinkerLab in Palo Alto in 2010 with the goal of documenting her journey to develop creativity at home, not knowing how much interest she would generate. Four years later, TinkerLab has developed a massive following on social media, with 250,000 fans on Facebook, over 20,000 followers on Instagram and subscribers from all over the world.

Rachelle Doorley sets up a creative table in her Cubberly studio. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

Rachelle Doorley sets up a creative table in her Cubberly studio. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

Rachelle has also published one book about creating art with children, and recently launched a new online series called “The Creative Table,” which shows parents how to assemble everyday materials to engage kids.

bookcover“I think what resonates with people is that I’m trying to figure this out too,” said Rachelle, whose two children are now in elementary school. “Even though I’ve worked as an artist and art educator, when it came time to doing projects with my own girls, I was unsure where to start. As I’ve learned myself, it’s been fun to teach others through TinkerLab.”

“Playful experiments” build interest in science

TinkerLab also features fun science projects that encourage children to explore physics, biology, engineering and more. Check out Rachelle’s recipe for ‘Gak‘ or how to make a ‘Rube Goldberg’ machine.

Local experts add ideas for cooking, improv and more

For her first book, “TinkerLab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors,” Rachelle sprinkled advice from local experts to help parents tackle challenges related to nurturing creativity, such as Dan Klein, an improv teacher who works at the Stanford D School and Bruno Chemel, chef of the only Michelin- star restaurant in Palo Alto.

photo by Tinkerlab

photo by TinkerLab

Encouraging exploration…and mess

While TinkerLab’s photos and text are engaging, Rachelle wants parents to see the mess and failure that sometimes comes with experimentation. “Tinkerlab is not the place to find images of perfect art projects,” Rachelle says. “We are more interested in child-driven exploration- that means allowing kids to make mistakes, get dirty and invent their own outcomes along the way.”

Tinkerlab encourages parents to let kids get messy and explore. Photo by Tinkelab

TinkerLab encourages parents to let kids get messy and explore. Photo by TinkerLab

After turning the entire living room of her small house over to art projects for several years, Rachelle is grateful to have a light-filled space at Cubberly Artists Studio where does most of her experimenting and photography. She also invites the community to explore TinkerLab during “ArtMaker Saturdays” several times a year.

Learn more and visit TinkerLab online or in person

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visit Tinkerlab April 30th at Cubblery Artist Studios. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

visit TinkerLab April 30th at Cubblery Artist Studios. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

photo by Tinkerlab

photo by TinkerLab

Rachelle Doorley's inspiration boards in the Tinkerlab space at Cubberly Artist Studio

Rachelle Doorley’s inspiration boards in the TinkerLab space at Cubberly Artist Studio

About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.