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WndrCo, led by Dreamworks founder and former Walt Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, has made sizeable investments in digital entertainment, restaurant-recommendation services and direct-to-consumer retailers. Tinkergarten marks their first commitment in the ed-tech space.
Meghan Fitzgerald, Tinkergarten’s co-founder and chief learning officer, said in an email that the money would be used for “building out the core team to support the expansion of our network of teachers; developing the curriculum, training, support, and technology, and providing access to even more that we do not currently serve.”
Seven years ago, Fitzgerald, an early childhood educator, led a group of children in outdoor play and learning games in a Brooklyn park. From there, she and her husband, Brian, went on to found Tinkergarten. The program now has more than 170,000 young participants and 2,000 instructors in all 50 states spending time outdoors developing new skills to prepare for kindergarten and the early grades.
WndrCo partners Ann Daly, Anthony Saleh, and Andrew Chang will join Tinkergarten’s board as part of the financing deal. A spokesperson for WndrCo said “WndrCo believes the ed-tech market represents a huge growth area. With the WndrCo partners’ experience in the child and family category, it was a natural fit for the team.”
WndrCo believes Tinkergarten has the potential to be a leading global brand in the child and family category, Fitzgerald says, and shares Tinkergarten’s vision of positively affecting the way children learn and grow across the world. She also said WndrCo was impressed with Tinkergarten’s ability to leverage a technology platform to enable families to connect with certified local teachers offering unique play-based lessons in an outdoor setting.
Early investors who remain committed to Tinkergarten include Omidyar Network, Owl Ventures, and Reach Capital. In an essay published on the online platform Medium, Omidyar partner Isabelle Hau said they were impressed by Tinkergarten’s quality curriculum, workforce, and scalability.
She said Tinkergarten’s teacher-leaders come from a variety of backgrounds, education, and experiences.“ Tinkergarten turns leaders into entrepreneurs for open-ended play and learning.”
Hau also wrote that they were impressed with Tinkergarten’s scalable technology model. She described it as “very low tech on the front end, yet makes use of best-in-class technology for hiring, selecting, training, marketing, scheduling, and tracking learning outcomes. This combination makes it possible to bring the Tinkergarten model to new communities rapidly.” Tinkergarten offers an outdoor-based curriculum that can be used by teachers in rural, urban or suburban outdoor environments and training takes about four weeks. In the metro Atlanta area, classes average about $160 for eight sessions.
“We see significant growth opportunities beyond the reach of our current programs serving: babies-8 years old,” Fitzgerald says, “Tinkergarten is playing an important role in helping to preserve this critical developmental time in life for kids to experiment, take risks, play and learn together in social settings—in short; we’re taking back childhood.”
Frances Katz is a freelance writer focusing on media, culture and technology. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Week, The Washington Post, USA Today and other publications. She lives in Atlanta.