Bright lights shined in the evening at Placerita Canyon State Park.
On closer inspection, hand-in-hand, parents and their children bundled up against winter’s cold prepared for Tinkergarten’s annual lantern walk. The walk is a family event held in conjunction with other lantern walks through the United States to welcome winter’s darkness with open arms.
“You can think of Tinkergarten as ‘every family’s guide to purposeful outdoor play,’” said Meghan Fitzgerald, co-founder of Tinkergarten. “We support parents and caregivers, and kids ages 2 to 8, at getting and learning outside.”
Santa Clarita Valley residents participated in the first lantern walk on Dec. 11. Families and children came as a community to learn about why it gets darker this time of year and enjoy the outdoors.
Children carried homemade lanterns and giggled as they walked around Placerita Canyon with their loved ones.
According to Fitzgerald, anyone can participate in Tinkergarten events.
“Every season we teach our curriculum, and we have classes that meet either online or in local parks with Tinkergarten teachers, our leaders.,” Fitzgerald said. “We train and support those teachers. We give them curriculum and materials to teach the program which builds skills for kids when they play outdoors.”
Fitzgerald, who co-founded the organization with her husband, said Tinkergarten was a personal project.
Her husband, Brian, is an education technologist, who builds products for Yahoo, Amazon and Audible to help people learn. Fitzgerald was a teacher and she helped with staff development, so at her core, she is an educator.
“We kept seeing evidence that childhood was changing, and that’s not always in the best way for kids,” Fitzgerald said. “Kids weren’t getting outside as often as their parents did. That’s affecting experiences that help us become collaborative people, creative problem solvers and obtain the skills that we learn by playing outside, freely with other kids in the neighborhood.”
Fitzgerald wanted to bridge the gap between nature and play, and how those two things can impact child development. Tinkergarten’s lantern walk is one of many activities and community events that families and children can participate in.
“We decided to welcome friends to come, make lanterns with us, and walk through (our local) park. Hundreds of people came through word of mouth, it was overwhelming,” Fitzgerald said. “It made us realize that people not only need to connect to nature again, but they need community.”
Tinkgarten has served more than 400,000 families through its programs and activities. Families can participate in in-person events like the lantern walk, or download activities at home.
“It’s possible to be a part of Tinkgerarten in different ways,” Fitzgerald said. “Come to our Tinkergarten to look at our activities on our blog. Sign up for our calendar where we list new ways to play outside and connect what’s happening in nature, the full moons, and other natural and cultural events.”
Nature — that’s free to anybody, she added.
For information, visit tinkergarten.com/calendar.