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eBay founder backs outdoor, play-based pre-school start up, set to expand nationwide
Making potions, building with bundles of sticks, making paints from berries, kids in this new-fangled start-up expand their creativity in old-fashioned way. - photo by Eric Schulzke
A new preschool program that puts kids outdoors in all weather is gaining national attention.

That's not surprising. Preschool has become a hot button issue in education circles, with a sustained push for universal pre-K emanating from the White House, among other places. And there has also been a pushback against testing and classroom rigor in favor of creativity, which Deseret News has covered from multiple angles.

What is surprising is to see this new preschool program covered by the Wall Street Journal and in the Term Sheet section of Fortune magazine, which reports on major investment deals.

The start up is called Tinkergarten, and it just raised $1.6 million in seed funding, spearheaded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his philanthropic investment firm, Omidyar Network.

Granted, Omidyar is making a philanthropic investment, but philanthropic funds still expect to grow their business and make a profit. And this is a preschool network.

Tinkergarten launched four years ago in Brooklyn, founded by Meghan and Brian Fitzgerald, who wanted to offer their own children the kind of exploratory play they enjoyed as children.

"A typical class starts with an exploration activity and group circle time," noted when the program opened in New Jersey last spring. "It then moves into the main play/learning activity. Class ends with snack and a closing circle. Classes incorporate elements found in the outdoor setting such as dirt for mud making or sticks for creating bundles and flags. Children's classic books such as 'Where the Wild Things Are' and 'Stone Soup' are also used during circle time as a way to lead into connected activities."

"Tinkergarten vets and trains instructors online, provides them with the curriculum and materials, helps with marketing, provides the communication and photo-sharing platform between instructor and students, and pays insurance," The Wall Street Journal Reports.

The value proposition is more than just sending kids outdoors, Fitzgerald emphasizes. Theres a difference between play and guided play, she told WSJ. Guided play is play thats designed where children are likely to build important skills and experiences.

And the business model?

According to WSJ, families pay between $16 and $45 per session and sign up for about 10 classes at a time. Parents pay Tinkergarten online, which then pays instructors. Instructors can earn between $400 and $1,700 per 10 sessions.