Loose Parts Play & Cardboard Totem Boxes

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When I released the Totem Box pattern a few weeks ago,  I alluded to the fact that this was a design that I used to manage the “little” toys in our house, but the thought behind the design goes a little deeper.

Quite a few months ago, I made an online friend named Allie who writes the blog, Bakers and Astronauts (as well as Play Lab). Allie’s blog is hands down my favorite website about early childhood and inspired play, and it was Allie who first introduced me to the Theory of Loose Parts, which got me exploring with my own children.

“The Theory of Loose Parts Play” was proposed by Simon Nicholson back in the 1970’s. His theory is this: “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”

When I started thinking about adapting Loose Parts Play inside my home, there were  a few things to rethink. First of all when Nicholson speaks about number and kind of variables, I think he ultimately takes his inspiration from one place, and one place only; the truly wild outdoors. Outside loose parts can fall from the sky, be dug from the ground, plucked from a branch, or drop from a bird’s wing. The sounds, textures, and  smells are all ever-changing and we could never, ever recreate such an amazing sensory experience  inside a house, even with dump trucks of glitter.

I had to watch my daughters play a lot to better understand how I could compete with mother nature and increase the number of “variables” (not necessarily the amount of stuff) within our home play environment. Over time, I noticed three categories of objects emerge that they “needed” to make their play more cohesive:

Loose Parts: hand-held objects that assume imagined identities through play.

Containers: objects used by my daughters for collecting, sorting and transporting loose parts as well as defining small spaces.

Expandable Parts: objects used by my daughters to construct and define large spaces

Now, whenever my daughters engage in loose-parts-style play, I try to make sure that all of these elements are available to them. When they are absent, tragic things have happened. Entire shelves of puzzles have been mined for loose parts, fabric and sewing notions have gone missing and Loose Parts Play has ravaged my home like a wildfire, consuming hours of my time in little loose parts cleanup. Although these ideas are only my own expansion on someone else’s theory, so far they have proven true for our sample size of two. I’m curious to hear about your observations. What drives the loose parts engine in your home or classroom?

Enjoy our family recipe for Loose Parts Play (indoors):

(Substitute as necessary)

Loose Parts
wooden blocks
plastic construction blocks
plastic bottle caps
acorns
shells
stones
cardboard tubes
clothespins
handkerchiefs
fabric scraps
stones
coins

Containers                                                                                                                    Sorting
Totem Boxes
egg cartons
cardboard fruit trays
graduated boxes

Transporting
small paper bags
child sized buckets
baskets
boxes

Collecting
nesting eggs (wooden or plastic)
Matryoshka dolls
jewelry boxes
matchboxes
small recycled plastic jars
small tins with lids

    Expandable Parts                                                                                                          Textiles
large scarves
large fabric pieces
tissue paper
newspaper
softened Kraft paper
child-sized carpets or rugs
blankets

“Fences”
cushions
interlocking cardboard pieces
over-sized, lightweight blocks,
Hula Hoops
jump ropes
long, lightweight cardboard tubes
fold-up cardboard screens

A Month of Making

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The Cardboard Collective

I’m feeling a little out of practice posting to the blog, but also so excited to get back in the groove. April has been a wonderfully busy month! I sent my daughter to Japanese preschool for the first time, and have been commuting for about 45 minutes a day, 5 days a week by bicycle to do the pick ups and drop offs. The weather has been beautiful and I’ve loved it, but I do find myself wondering about those cold wet rainy days to come? Hot, hot August in Tokyo?

Taking the opportunity to be with my family and just be a “maker” for the month was deeply exhilarating. At times I filled every unused corner of our living room with towers of boxes, and bags of cut cardboard scraps. My family never flinched; a true testament of their unfailing love and support.

So many new ideas were born out of my sabbatical, that I’m planning to observe two cardboard sabbaticals every year. I can’t recommend them enough, and if you’ve ever felt that you needed a break from blogging, take one! and don’t apologize. Let’s keep blogging humane. We all need a break sometimes, particularly when we are working to bring something thoughtful and creative into the world on a regular basis.

One thing I thought about this month while I was hacking away at boxes, is what do all of you want to see more of? I’ve put together a quick survey so I can actually find out what you think instead of just imagine….and I would be really appreciative if you could take the time to fill it out!

It’s a painless 3 question survey: Click here to take survey

And yes, I didn’t forget about that big project I promised to tell you about! It’s a pattern and video tutorial I’ll be releasing very very soon for sale in my Etsy shop. It’s the first pattern in a series of  cardboard furniture pieces that I’ve been designing over the past 6 months. I’m sure I’m being way too secretive about it all, but I’ve got lots of great posts coming up in the mean time and hopefully a few sneak peaks of the pattern too.

It’s good to be back.

MakeDo Cardboard Igloos

On Saturday we were excited to host another Cardboard Play Day at the American School in Japan with an enthusiastic group of young builders.

Kids living in dense urban areas like Tokyo usually don’t have a backyard or nearby place where they can muck around.

Providing the space and materials for cardboard tinkering is akin to tree house building for city kids (as well as a beefy upgrade from blanket and sofa cushion forts.)

We had the most gorgeous day of pre-winter weather that you could hope for and a great turn out of kids and parents.

 

I really enjoyed working side by side with the kids this time, holding pieces of cardboard together for them and taking their direction as they figured out how to attach shelving, install “TVs” and keep intruders out of their igloos.

 

The kids faced the perils of dome collapse and near exhaustion from sawing cardboard doors and windows all day, but we still we had to kick them out by 2:00 so we could cleanup and go home…

Looking forward to putting on another cardboard play day again really soon!

Cardboard Tinkering Toy Series: Cardboard and Cork Flip Car

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This car is SO much fun!

It really makes my girls giggle because it seems like it has its own personality. We’ve had a great time tinkering with ramps, and there was also a failed zig-zag chute, but the girls also love attaching a string and chasing after each.

This project is pretty intuitive once you gather all the tools and materials together. A few pointers:

* Use large paperclips that have fewer kinks to straighten out.

* Try to cut your corks as evenly as possible.

* You can make the car without the hinge in the middle, but if you do make the hinge, be sure to leave a gap between the hinging parts.

I hope you try this one out, it truly is a toy for all ages!

Cardboard Tinkering Toy Series: Egg Carton Gondola


As Christmas marketing campaigns and expensive toy lists begin appearing on the internet, I wanted to start this series to remind parents and gift givers everywhere about  simple, low cost, recycled toys that kids will wrench out of your hands and say, “Let me try!”

In case you haven’t heard about the creativity crisis that’s being heralded by lots of important people, I just want to leave you with this simple thought. As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. They are constantly watching you to find out what you think, what you like to do, and how you handle a challenge. While we don’t need to teach our children how to play, we do need to positively model for them the joy of learning, experimenting, creating and doing.

How do you do that? You can let your child see you make things, solve problems, fix what’s broken….. be resourceful. There are a million ways to do it, but if you want a place to start, here’s one:

To make an egg carton gondola:

1. Use the nail clippers to cut notches on both sides of the spindles in the middle of the egg carton. Measure down about 1 cm to 1 inch to make the cuts.

2. Cut a slit down the entire length of the tube. You will need a tube thicker than a standard paper towel tube. A tube that has three or four layers makes a gondola that’s quite strong and will hold up to lots of play.

3. Slide the tube unto the egg carton where you’ve made the notches so that the tube grips the egg carton when you put gentle pressure on it.

4. Puncture a hole in one end of the tube and tie a long string or piece of yarn to the gondola for moving it back and forth.

5. Thread an even longer second string through the tube for the gondola to travel on. Anchor this string in two places with a slight decline so that gravity will help the gondola to travel on its own.

And one more thing. I’m challenging everyone who reads this blog to make a handmade toy for a child they love for Christmas. It’s not an official challenge as I don’t have the energy for another one after the Cardboard Costume Challenge, but I just want to give you permission to make something quick and homey, and even ugly, that you can play with together on Christmas day. I promise your child will never forget it.

Cardboard Tinkering Toys and Mobiles

Intergalactic Cardboard Space Station? Cubist Crossroads? Alice in Cardboard Wonderland? Just a few possibilities for Cardboard Tinkering Toys.

After experimenting with some tightly rolled up magazine pages, our universe kept expanding. The fun part of tinkering with the cardboard and magazine pieces is that you keep adding pieces to your building set as you go. As you fiddle, you get new ideas for ways that you can connect the magazine paper rods to one another. Add to your building set every time you play. We were able to recycle some of our old cardboard beads and cardboard alphabeads, and I’ve been saving words and images cut from cardboard boxes as well.

I also loved the possibility for mobiles…….

Here’s a closer peak at some of our components. To be able to attach cardboard rods in two different directions, I glued two cardboard circles together with the channels running perpendicular to one another. If you glue four circles together and poke a whole through the center of each one, you can get your magazine rods to attach in four different directions plus you can thread the component piece on another magazine page rod. Other great possibilities include splicing two pieces together to get x-shaped pieces that act as stands and stabilizers.

I love the “found” poetry aspect of using cardboard words in conjunction with the bold cardboard geometric shapes…. Now go play!