HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Every season can be a teaching opportunity, and that is why the folks at Tinkergarten create outdoor community events that celebrate some aspect of the natural world in a playful way.

What You Need To Know

  • Tinkergarten, founded and designed by Meghan and Brian Fitzgerald, is for families with young children who want to experience learning through purposeful outdoor experiences

  • This was the ninth year for Tinkergarten's annual lantern walk

  • Families across the country participated in the event, creating unique lanterns for the walk, which welcomes the seasonal darkness

  • Tinkergarten's year-round, outdoor, play-based learning programs are expanding, and the company is currently looking for new class leaders

During the winter season, when the daylight hours have grown shorter, Tinkergarten hosts its annual lantern walk for families to embrace the arrival of the nighttime.

Deb Ringler is a former Tinkergarten leader who stopped by Harriett M. Wieder Park in Huntington Beach to lend a hand at the ninth annual lantern walk.

Ringler said Tinkergarten has a simple philosophy, "…which is basically letting families enjoy being outdoors together and learn together."

Spending time outdoors is even more important these days, and it's also a relatively safe activity for our COVID-era. Families are encouraged to be creative in making their own lanterns by decorating mason jars. LED tea lights are given out at the event to light them up as the daylight quickly fades away.

Ringler said the activities are designed to be simple but to have intention.

"Parents can just come in for an hour they can be with their child in a park," Ringler said. "I think a lot of times parents don't know what to do."

Since before the pandemic, Ringler had not seen her friend Denise Guirola, a current Tinkergarten leader. Guirola is glad to be back after more than a year and said she likes how the learning is tied to natural events like seasonal changes and that it is all done through play and exploration.

She said the lantern walks are about, "… just getting together and embracing the change that comes with winter. So, we're welcoming the night with our beautiful light."

Lanterns in hand, Guirola led the participating families on a short nature walk, and they watched as the sky grew darker and their lanterns grew brighter.  

Mother of two and with another on the way, Rowena Monetti has enjoyed bringing her family to Guirola's classes and created some colorful lanterns with her kids at the event. 

"We tried a technique of some jewels on the outside and some sparkly stickers inside that we are hoping will reflect the light," Monetti said.

The Tinkergarten classes are designed for children 1-1/2 to 8 years old, and Monetti said she likes bringing both of hers to the same events.

"Different ages, they experience [things] differently," Monetti explained. "So, they can do the same activity but at their own level."

After the walk, Deb Ringler rounded out the evening with a story by lantern light. Although she is no longer a Tinkergarten leader, she drops in to visit old friends like Guirola and celebrate what she has learned from being a leader and a single mom.

"I learned a couple things," Ringler said. "Keep it simple, have fun, and be intentional about making memories.