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Meet Kathleen Caine of TinkerSpace

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kathleen Caine.

Kathleen, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My background is in mathematics.  When I left graduate school, it was with the goal of starting a program to help kids get excited about mathematics.  My idea was not to set out to make them more proficient at arithmetic but to explore and find a love of mathematical thought.  This idea was not yet fully formed and when I was offered a job teaching at a math and science charter school, I took it. I had never considered teaching in the traditional sense, but I loved working with the kids and, with the charter school format, was able to incorporate many activities both in and out of class that I believe have had a positive impact on kids lives.  Through connections at the university, I became a mathematics teacher educator helping teachers better see the mathematics they were teaching as an interconnected whole rather than a series of procedures to be mastered. By this time, I was following my husband around the world in a series of temporary academic appointments. Knowing we would not be staying long in any community, I did not seek permanent teaching positions and we chose this time to bring our children into the world. Even after my husband received a permanent appointment at Cal Poly Pomona and we settled in Southern California, I taught just one class a quarter (also at Cal Poly Pomona) and spent the remainder of my time exploring our world with my children. Over the years, I have been greatly inspired by the children’s museums we’ve visited, the math circles aimed at elementary age children that I have been a part of, and the play-based preschool my children attended.  I was particularly impressed that without a single worksheet ever being done, my children left their preschool knowing how to read, doing simple arithmetic, and having a passion for learning. As we moved forward in the years, I noticed that my early school-aged daughter was having difficulties. Her fear of making a mistake was crippling her in her school work and carrying over into her play. During this period my 3-year-old’s greatest desire was to play with trains on wooden train tracks that I would put together for him. I realized how uncomfortable it made me to free-form design the track. We had purchased many individual pieces over the years and I did not have directions to follow in assembling the track. So, while I was fantastic at putting together puzzles, enjoy recreating craft projects that I see on the internet, and I can follow Lego instructions with ease, the thought of putting one track into the next not knowing if I was going to be able to connect the ends terrified me. It made me so uncomfortable that I realized I was telling him no or always making the same track that I had once made. My epiphany came with the realization that we all need a safe space to fail.  As a society, we are good at giving young children opportunities to try their ideas with no repercussions but those opportunities diminish as they enter their formative years through childhood and early adolescence. I was teaching college freshmen and so many of them were incapable of starting something if they didn’t know every step they were going to have to take to reach completion.  I wanted a place to exist that allowed free exploration like a children’s museum but was geared to elementary and middle-school aged children to help them build their non-cognitive skills like self-efficacy, perseverance, and problem-solving. Thus, the idea for TinkerSpace was born.

Has it been a smooth road?
So, now I had an idea, but no real idea how to begin.  My circle was mainly moms of young children and university professors.  I talked to people about my ideas everywhere I went. People were supportive and also wanted TinkerSpace to exist, but really had no concrete advice as to how to get started.  My husband was offered a sabbatical year at the University of Notre Dame and so we spent an academic year in Northern Indiana. I decided this was my sabbatical year as well and I was determined to come up with a plan for starting TinkerSpace.  I talked to the right person and found out about the SPARK program at Saint Mary’s College for women entrepreneurs. Over 11 weeks, we worked through our business plan for our idea and I discovered so many questions that I had not even thought to ask.  I also found out about resources such as the Small Business Development Center and SCORE that have helped widen my circle of people to talk to about starting a business. We signed a lease in December and started construction in January. Basically, every day something comes up that is a brand new experience for me.  It is exhausting and exhilarating as I am exercising those same non-cognitive skills that I wish to encourage in the children that come into TinkerSpace.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with TinkerSpace – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
TinkerSpace embodies the Jean Piaget quote, “Play is the work of childhood.”

TinkerSpace allows kids to explore, create and innovate using real tools and known materials. All of the exhibits in TinkerSpace are open-ended and iterative. We’ve created these experiences to better prepare children for a world that is constantly changing, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. It is more important than ever to teach children how to think rather than simply teach solutions to specific problems.

Our goal for our tinkerers is to have them deeply engaged in the experience and displaying personal motivation and investment in the activities. Tinkerers set their own goals and persist to achieve them.

TinkerSpace helps to establish a pattern of questioning: How does this work? How can I change this? What happens if …?

We are developing our future generation of Engineers, Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Innovators in all aspects of life.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love the people in Southern California. So many of us have come from somewhere else (in this country or elsewhere) that we are all exposed to new things on a daily basis. I think it benefits everyone to constantly have new ideas come to the table in any discussion. Having lived in areas of the country where the majority of people come from families that have lived in that location for generations, I really see the difference when I come back home to California.

In some sense, people are people; you find great ones that you want to know your entire life no matter where you are. There are so many people here in this region that it is easy to collect a circle of great people with which to surround yourself. The fact that there are so many of us and we all drive cars, that leads me to the thing I like least about the Los Angeles region … the traffic. In particular, how the stress of it tends to make us angry at strangers.

At TinkerSpace no one stays a stranger for long.  We are forming a beautiful community of makers. The kids that come in are fantastic and their parents are amazing in their understanding that kids need a space such as ours.


  • $15 for ages 4 – 16
  • $5 for siblings age 2-3

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Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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