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New Year Brings Expansion for Austin's Tinkering School

Typically, children and power tools don't mix.

But, for Kami Wilt, founder of the Austin Tinkering School, it’s been her mission over the last few years to help kids get messy – putting power tools and paintbrushes in students’ hands, while supervising and providing instruction when it’s needed.

Wilt hosts tinkering classes out of her backyard workshop, but, after a Kickstarter campaign that netted the school over $20,000 in contributions last month, she hopes to find a dedicated space in 2015 to continue to bring DIY-minded education to kids in Austin.

“We try to empower these kids by teaching them to use these tools safely and effectively,” Wilt says. “Then, we try to create projects where they can lead the design process. So, instead of us saying, ‘You’re going to build a birdhouse and it has to be this certain way,’ they’re going to design and build their own birdhouses. So, they’re going to feel more excited and engaged in that process.”

Wilt says she was initially inspired by San Francisco-based tinkerer Gever Tulley’s TED Talk, “5 dangerous things you should let your kids do,” and even received Tulley’s blessing before starting the Austin Tinkering School in her East Austin backyard.

Now, she says, the school has outgrown its flagship location – there’s another tinkering workshop on North Lamar – and the over $23,000 secured in its Kickstarter campaign will go a long way for supplies like a new welding setup, a 3-D printer, computers, a kiln and additional computers.

The Austin Tinkering School will ideally be relocated within the next few months, just in time for summer classes, Wilt says.

Meanwhile, those looking to tinker before the year’s end, can join the Austin Tinkering School at the city’s Butler Park New Year’s Eve celebration, where they’ll have a “Nerdy Derby” challenge in which contestants build and race their own derby cars.

KUT/KUTX is a media sponsor of Austin’s New Year 2015.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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