Friday, May 06, 2011

Being Messy With Boxes

Rachelle over at Tinker Lab has invited a bunch of us to join her in her Cardboard Box Challenge. So here's my entry. At the bottom you'll find links to a couple dozen more terrific ideas for using the humble box to educate and delight. Don't box me in, baby!

I've written before that I do much of my curriculum planning while on the commute into school, a time-frame that has been greatly condensed with my family's recent cut-the-fat-out move into downtown Seattle where my morning drive has been reduced from 35 to about 10 minutes (yes, I know, I should be cycling, and that will happen soon). I arrived yesterday with a good idea about what we were going to do for most of our time together, but was dissatisfied with my plans for our art station, not so much on artistic grounds, but rather based upon the idea that plagues me every now and then that the kids have another 15+ years ahead of them of sitting in chairs at school and I, as a counter-weight to that, need to keep them on their feet as much as possible.

So it was with the general idea of verticality that I began scouring the nooks and crannies of Woodland Park, coming up first one big box, then more.

At first it was just going to be those 3 large boxes, until, while struggling with the lid flaps, I had the idea of using the glue gun to connect them, making ceilings without walls, and walls without ceilings.

On a roll, I started adding smaller boxes and other sheets of cardboard, cutting doors and windows, until I'd created a sort of box house or city, with a variety of inside and outside spaces.

It was an unusual enough set up that the first few kids who arrived in class watched it from the corners of their eyes, but without stopping by to figure it out, so I asked a couple of our parent-teachers to just get going on the high parts, which is one of the best ways I know to encourage kids to want to try something. Adults at work, be it painting boxes or cleaning toilets, has an attractive magic in it.

It wasn't long before a core group of inside-outside painters were hard at work, some setting up shop in a single place, going deep, applying coat after coat of tempera . . .

. . . while others explored a variety of spaces, carrying a brush in one hand and a paint cup in the other, adding a dot of color here, and a dot there.

It's true that one of the weaknesses of my planning system is that I don't always have the time to think things all the way through, and about a half hour into this project I began to ask the parent-teachers managing this project what we ought to do with the clumsy contrivance I'd created, soon to be soggy with paint, when we were ready to clean-up. 

We finally settled on the old stand-by technique of just sort of shoving it off to the side and figuring out what to do with it later. I'll probably let the 3-5 class have a go at it on Monday since it's already in the middle of the classroom, then let it hang out all next week for non-paint play purposes. See? I'm planning days in advance now.

I had thought enough in advance to know that we would get paint in our hair.

After all, that's one of the hazards of working in a space with freshly painted ceilings. What I hadn't anticipated was how fun it would be to paint one another's hair on purpose, a trend that didn't meet with the overt disapproval of the presiding parents, many of whom broke out their cameras to record the moment.

If there is one comment (which I take as a compliment, even though it's not always offered as such) I hear from parents more than any other it's some variant on, "This is why we come to preschool, to do things we will never do at home." 

Often it's phrased as, "Teacher Tom do you have any towels we can borrow for my car seats?" or "Ugh, you're going straight home to the bath tub," or as Calder's grandfather Dick expressed it yesterday, "I'm glad I wasn't working today." But I know what they really mean despite the edge of irritation in their voices.

If you're going to be a commute time curriculum planner, which I highly recommend (and indeed it's hard to justify any other kind), you might also want to also work on developing a bit of purposeful obliviousness buoyed by a faith that once bath time is over and the photos are being reviewed, mom, dad, and grandpa will be able to laugh about it.

(Oh my.)

Now have some fun clicking on the thumbnails below to discover more creative uses for boxes!

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amy @ kids in the studio said...

Of course, if they did this stuff at home, they wouldn't need towels for the carseats, right? ;) I laughed at the painted hair; then again, not my kids! Looks like loads of fun, and yup, my toddler would love to clean the toilet!

OurWanderingAdventures said...

WOW! What a fantastic idea!! My kids would have loved to get in on that!!

When you start to cycle, you will have more time to think, then the 10 minutes you are left with at the moment haha.

I 100% know what you mean about kids being more interested if an adult is involved in doing it! Even scrubbing the kitchen floors brings me volunteers and an audience hahaha!

Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree said...

This is Wonderful! Inspiring to go get a bunch more boxes! The best toys are boxes!!! The excitement in my daughter when she sees a box and climbs right in is all the inspiration I need to go get more boxes to create a play structure! Your students are so blessed to have you as a teacher!

Unknown said...

Fabulous! And totally with you on the "oh now what are we going to do with it?!" question that occurs part way through. Happened to me many a time. Fun times!

Regina @ Chalk In My Pocket said...

Fantastic! LOVE the painted hair, getting messy is half the fun.

I'll bet my daughter would enjoy painting on the boxes "ceiling" while hanging out on her back. We'd have our own little "Sistene Chapel" to enjoy!

Brigette said...

As an occupational therapist, I have to say that painting on the vertical surface of the boxes is also such a great way for them to develop the muscles in their hands and arms (much better than painting at a table). Which is great for preparing them for writing in K. Most classrooms only have one or two easels, but this activity creates "easels" for everyone to paint at!

Anonymous said...

Planning on the commute would be knida difficult for me...I work from home! LOL.

rachelle | tinkerlab said...

Tom, I just knew you'd have something fabulous up your sleeve. Your self-deprecating humor and writing are such a joy to read. Despite my best intentions, I often find that I plan as I go, which is why I frequently use the word "experiment" in my conversations with my daughter! Half the time I have no idea where we're heading! Thanks for participating in this challenge. Your perspective and ideas are an ongoing inspiration to me.

Sarah Riley said...

I'm glad you included the parents' comments about the mess! I have always planned messy projects very much like you described your planning process, and have gone through such a guilt trip every time a parent walks through the door and sees their child only somewhat cleaned up. I think a lot of that guilt comes from working with other teachers who dislike messiness or feel that it is our job to keep the kids clean rather than let them get their hands dirty (or they just don't want to clean it up!). Thanks for a great post!

Play-based Classroom said...

Ha! I'm glad I'm not the only one who does curriculum planning on the way to work! There are many times that I walk in the door with no plan in mind for the day...until I look into the supply closet and see the marbles we haven't used in a while, or some tongs that are collecting dust. They get pulled out, along with my camera, and we enjoy the day!

I recently blogged about our fun with cardboard boxes. You can check it out here:

I never though to break out the glue gun! What a great addition to the fun. I love reading your blog. Thanks for taking the time to write about the wonderful classroom you run! --Gina

Ashleigh said...

Oh my goodness, that looks like so much fun! I'm sure your students LOVE your class.

pamlovesbooks said...

thank you for the inspiration. i have used this post several times for inspiration in my classroom. here is a pic of the children enjoying their "spaceship"!

Carolyn said...

Great post. Kids love getting messy, and I think that us adults stop them too often. Good to see kids having so much fun. Love it.