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New business teaches kids value of outdoor playtime and how to do it year-round without leaving home

Business & Money

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Merrilee Leslie, right, having fun with kids outside. | Courtesy Merrilee Leslie

REXBURG – In today’s modern world of technology, video streaming services and countless other entertainment options, an ongoing challenge for many parents is helping their young children disconnect from devices and play outside.

A local organization is designed to help kids do just that. It’s called Tinkergarten.

Merrilee Leslie and Rachel Leavitt helped form the group in Rexburg earlier this year. Leslie tells they focus on providing purposeful outdoor playtime tips and tricks for kids year-round.

“Through play, children will be ready to thrive, ready to learn and ready for anything,” Leslie says. “When we play with our kids outside, we teach them really important skills that they don’t learn other places.”

Leslie accomplishes that with a series of classes every season. Classes are held weekly for six to 10 weeks, which are held at a park under normal circumstances. Classes are currently being held online due to COVID-19.

The classes are for kids ages 2-8 and focus on creativity, wellness and problem-solving.

“Those are the age groups we tailor our activities too, but of course siblings, younger and older, can come as well,” says Leslie.

The cost is currently $140 per family.

With a plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities throughout eastern Idaho, you may be wondering why you need to pay to play outside. Leslie says that’s a common question many people have asked.

“There’s a little bit of a learning curve trying to help our community understand that the way our children are growing up and learning is different than how our parents and grandparents grew up,” she says. “There’s a connection to nature and the way our kids learn naturally.”

Tinkergarten got its start in Massachusetts in 2014. Company founders Brian and Meghan Fitzgerald felt there was a gap in children’s education because it tied them to a screen and they wanted to get kids back outside, Leslie says.

The business quickly took off and has grown to include locations across the country. Leslie heard about it and wanted to get involved.

“I wanted my boys to be a part of it,” she says.

The business opened this spring.

Outdoor activities were in huge demand during the lockdown, and Leslie says Tinkergarten couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We get so caught up in teaching our kids how to read at an earlier age and I think we often (overlook) the importance of play,” Leslie says. “You don’t have to go anywhere or do something. You just have to walk outside and experience purposeful play and follow your children’s lead.”

Going forward, Leslie hopes others will see the value in what Tinkergarten offers and she’s inviting you to give it a try. Visit the website or Facebook page to learn more.