Jenny Jacobs Arrived in Ann Arbor With a Mission: To Teach Kids About the Great Out

. April 30, 2016.

It was all thanks to a chance encounter online that local mom Jenny Jacobs, who moved from the sun and surf of California to the unfamiliar territory of Ann Arbor in August 2015, got involved with Tinkergarten.

“I was packing up my stuff and I saw an advertisement to be a leader of Tinkergarten flash up on facebook,” said Jacobs. “Coming from Cali, the idea of a cold winter and being trapped inside was intimidating. As someone who is really interested in nature and working with kids, it immediately caught my attention.”

Tinkergarten is a national organization that matches kids and their families with local community leaders. Leaders go through an in-depth application process and intensive training with Tinkergarten, and then they lead classes in their community, using the curricula developed by Tinkergarten.

“I have been so amazed and impressed with the number of parks and natural spaces. Those include city parks, county parks, metro parks. There are just so many places one could go to experience nature,” said Jacobs. “I have yet to explore all these areas, but it is an endless list of places one could go. You can’t not run into a park.”

Forging a community

Started in New York, Tinkergarten just expanded west of the greater Northeast area in Spring of 2015 — in fact, Jacobs is the only certified Tinkergarten leader in the state of Michigan. The program places emphasis on free play and exploration within a structured format that continues throughout each eight to ten week session. Classes for children aged 18 months to 36 months run for an hour, and classes for children aged up to five run for an hour and a half. Parents or caregivers attend with their child, and become an integral part of the learning community.

Jacobs described a typical session as beginning with a free-flowing opening activity that helps families get into the spirit of class before moving into a welcoming circle that includes songs, a main activity structured around the theme of the session, and then clean-up and a closing circle with snacks. Although the program officially kicked off with free trial classes in April at Island Park, sessions will run throughout the spring and summer season, and in the future Jacobs would like to extend Tinkergarten classes beyond beyond the immediate Ann Arbor area.

“What I have to do is get out and explore some of the areas outside of Ann Arbor,” said Jacobs. “My classes now are in Ann Arbor, but I really want to make this an Ann Arbor-area program.”

More than just making a mess

In addition to classes, Tinkergarten provides registered parents and children access to many play-based outdoor activities that they can do at home, along with resources on child education and development. 

“There is a lot of explicit learning that is going on. Some people may think that we’re just going to play in the mud and mess with water, but the process of playing and exploring with dirt and water helps children learn a lot of different skills, and that’s something we try to emphasize and share with parents,” said Jacobs. “There’s a lot of research coming out that says how important it is for children to have free play and experiences outdoors in an unstructured environment. That’s what Tinkergarten is about. It’s more than just making a mess.”


The first Tinkergarten eight week session for children 18 months to 5-years-old
starts April 28 and runs through June 16 and costs $200/per child,
with a 20% discount for additional siblings.
Shorter classes for children 18 months to 36 months are slightly less expensive.
For more information about Tinkergarten,
and for a full listing of classes, visit