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BCB Mom IRL: Meghan Fitzgerald, Founder of Tinkergarten

By Abbe Herman

If you have a small child, you’ve likely heard of  Tinkergarten, a company on a mission to elevate childhood. Tinkergarten is a technology-enabled network of leaders that bring families together in a natural place in their community for classes where kids learn through play. Each class becomes a tight-knit group of children and adults who learn together through well-designed, outdoor play-based activities.  These classes help kids develop a host of important capabilities, including empathy, collaboration, creativity, persistence and problem solving.

You may be wondering who is behind this incredible concept?  We recently caught up with Meghan Fitzgerald,  founder of Tinkergarten, who sat down with BCB to share her wisdom on all things business, mom life and more!

Name: Meghan Fitzgerald

Kids Ages: My children are 5, 7 and 9 years old

What was the tipping point that made you leave your job and jump all in with Tinkergarten?

I had taken a break from being an elementary school principal when my first was born. Tinkergarten became our passion project. Brian and I would work together at night and I’d press on during Maeve’s nap times. This went on for nearly two years, and in that time, not only were we seeing more people in our community join in with us, we were gathering a very organic online following of people who wanted to do Tinkergarten in their community—people from all over the country and even the world. I think it was the validation of that interest happening, without us even trying to create, that pushed us to think about building the program, technology and organization that could answer that call.

What scared you about starting a business?

As married co-founders, it was a giant leap to have both of us put our career eggs in the same basket. We also found out that our third was on the way. We held hands and decided to give Tinkergarten a real go. So, there was a lot to be nervous about, and hours and hours of deliberation. Ultimately, the fear of the regret we’d feel if we did not see this marvelous idea through felt like the bigger risk in the end, and we are so glad we leapt!

Why outdoors?

Research shows that children today will spend less than half the time outside then his/her parents did. A study performed at the University of Exeter has shown that just 2 hours outside per week is an adequate amount of time for kids to reap the benefits of time spent playing outdoors. That time outdoors offers a critical development opportunity during a critical time in life. 

Talk to us about the lessons YOU have learned since starting Tinkergarten?

Wow—so many things, really. I have always loved to work with children, but seeing children learn and play in so many different settings in every corner of the country has deepened my admiration for children’s minds, the natural process through which they develop, and how much they have to teach us.

I have come to understand and care for myself as a parent and have enjoyed this parenting journey so much more for the incredible company of my teammates and the families who participate and share in our community. I can’t imagine having been a mom without my Tinkergarten family.

And, I have learned that it is hard to build new things and bring them into the world—but if there is a need and an idea there, you just have to stick with it, and surround yourself with passionate, good and talented people, and you can make an incredible impact.

Working with your husband— pros, cons, advice?

Brian and I have become even closer and developed a deep mutual respect for and trust in each other through our work. We’ve also had to become pretty stellar communicators. Though our most creative ideas come when we collaborate with one another, and we truly enjoy riffing on each others’ ideas, we’ve also learned to defer to one another and draw bright lines around parts of organization and business where one of us is really the expert.

As any founder knows, you never really stop thinking about the work. That can become tricky if you multiply it by 2 and add three kids, a household and life to that mix. So becoming ultra-communicative about your headspace is essential. Though inspiration may come to one of us at 11pm while the other needs sleep, or on a Saturday morning on a family hike, we are clear with the other that it’s family time, and we’ve learned to wait until later to talk about that.

Summer is here, what outdoor activities should parents start with? An easy way to get playing outdoors while encouraging learning?

As we head into summer and parents are still working from home with no summer camps available, I highly recommend all parents to check out Tinkergarten At Home. Launched earlier this year, Tinkergarten At Home offers children a new way of bringing the power of Tinkergarten’s proven method of learning direct to parents. Tinkergarten provides parents with a week’s worth of DIY activities that are simple, wildly fun for kids and designed for learning for any age.

When you dreamt up Tinkergarten did it look like it does today?

Yes and no. My imagination is pretty strong, but I could not have dreamt up the quality of people who are on the extended Tinkergarten team. They are amazing, each of them. Creative, passionate, dedicated and joyful—really joyful. It’s incredible. And, I still get goosebumps when I watch the weekly slideshows of kids all over the country taking Tinkergarten lessons and making them their own—it never gets old, and I do think it is part of what is helping me and so many families make it through this time.

For you, what’s the hardest part about running a company and being a mom?

I love everything on my plate, and my kids come first. But, when you start a company, that company can feel a lot like another child, especially when there are people who need you there, too. Already as a mom, it’s hard to feel like you are ever doing enough—or all that you could for the kiddos you love, so adding one other rather big kiddo can just feel like a lot. Luckily, Tinkergarten has allowed me to include my kids, and we’ve built the organization to be supportive of parents and striking a work-life-family balance, so I’ve been able to work hard and be part of my children’s day to day, which is such a gift!

Where did you learn about BCB? What has been your experience with BCB throughout the last ten years.

Bump Club and Beyond has served as a phenomenal resource for our Tinkergarten leaders and families. The BCB voice feels accessible and yet trusted and knowledgeable—the right mix for moms! Good friends of mine have relied on the clubs and events to make their very best mama friends, too. We love how BCB is able to unite parents and parents-to-be with the best resources and information.

What’s the best parenting advice you have ever received.

It’s the climate, not the weather that really matters. I wrote a whole blog post about it (see here). I also collect quotes that help remind me and all moms that we are all that our child truly needs (see here). 

Best business advice you have ever received.

 Find the believers. If you want to start something new and innovative, you will hear lots of “no’s” along the way. Lean in and listen to each of them—there is much to be learned from the reasons other people think your idea will not succeed, and those ideas will help you make your idea stronger. Keep going, if you believe in what you are doing. Find the believers, and their support will help you bring your idea to life.

What’s your favorite part about your kids’ ages now?  What are the lessons you have learned from them?

I LOVE every age!

  • My 9 year old is just starting to think abstractly, question the way the world works and want to make real efforts to make the world a better place. It’s thrilling to see this happening before my eyes. And, she is super company!
  • My 7 year old wants to be a scientist and just inhales information and experiences that help him build his database of knowledge. I love to see interests become so deep with kids his age, and I feel so lucky to have been a science teacher and to be able to feed his passion.
  • My 5 year old is really coming into her own. Maybe it’s because she has been watching her older siblings, but she has always sought to stretch herself, exert independence and “do it myself.” I love her moxy and admire her determination.

Want more from Tinkergarten?  Check out these helpful articles! 

    1. In Quarantine, I Had a Familiar Stressful Feeling: I Felt Like a New Mom Again
    2. Need a Second to Breathe? Here Are Some Hacks to Foster Your Kids’ Independent Play
    3. So Many of Our Kids are Regressing Right Now. What Can We Do About It?

Make sure to follow Tinkergarten on social media to stay up to date on free outdoor activities for your kids! Instagram: @tinkergarten  Facebook: @tinkergarten Twitter: @tinkergarten

 

Each week BCB introduces you to a mom we think is amazing through our Mom IRL feature.  Check out Bump Club & Beyond for more moms we love!  Are you doing something amazing that we should know about?  Or do you know someone who we should meet?  Be sure to email us with your recommendation at info@bumpclubandbeyond.com for a chance to be featured.

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