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September 12, 2016

Join in Global Cardboard Day: Art With Repurposed Materials

By Elaine Winter
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    On Wednesday, October 5, our preschool introduces Global Cardboard Day. It’s not just a day, actually, it’s a week-long focus on creative cardboard construction. Responding to their teachers’ requests, 2- through 4-year-olds bring in egg cartons, cereal boxes, toothpaste boxes, and paper towel rolls. Teachers scour their buildings’ recycling areas for shoe-to-refrigerator sized boxes, and I scoot out to IKEA for their amazing free-form packing materials. We’re all excited about this project. It brings us together around a single endeavor: repurposing paper that would otherwise be tossed. It costs nothing at all, and everyone can enjoy it as they wish!

    The original idea came from a short film called Caine’s Arcade (you may know it), that my colleague Cathy saw and passed along. It follows a California boy who passes the time in his father’s auto parts shop by creating an elaborate arcade out of cardboard. We watched it as a faculty and thought, “Our kids would love this!” Art specialist EiLeen Doster discovered The Imagination Foundation, an organization that formalizes this celebration, extending it to schools and communities throughout the globe. We were hooked.

    Repurposing and recycling go hand-in-hand. At our preschool, we tend to do a better job with the former, but are starting this year with new resolve to recycle with greater care. Hold me to this, please! In any case, cardboard creations are right up our alley. Depending on children’s levels of interest, skill sets and stages of development, projects can be simple or multi-layered; they can be collective or individual, representative or abstract, adorned with fabric, popsicle sticks, paint, buttons, juice lids, and dried flowers, or left just as they are. 

    Most of these projects require gluing, but cardboard can also serve as a manipulative that allows children to play and experiment, then disassemble their creations and sort and replace the pieces in their appropriate bins: two activities in one; art meets math. Last year, with the help of Linda White from the Children’s Museum of the Arts, children explored all sizes and shapes of cardboard and had a blast!

    Whatever the medium, open-ended art exploration is a very powerful experience for young children. It stirs their imaginations, makes demands on their fine motor control, and allows them to toy with elements such as symmetry, balance, and color. As teachers we might set the stage for cardboard collage by presenting an array of materials in different textures, colors, and sizes. They take it from there. They playfully, experimentally juxtapose different materials. What would happen if I put this round lid up here in the corner? Maybe it could be a button that turns on this machine . . . In other words, materials take the lead, suggesting new designs and “inventions.”

    Embedded here is the question of process versus product. As early childhood educators, we often juggle these two goals for our children. In presenting an activity, are we aiming for art that is “refrigerator worthy” or are we providing an opportunity to explore and experiment, possibly without any end product? Sometimes they coincide, but more often than not, they lead in opposite directions.

    As you may have guessed, I’m a huge fan of process-based learning. Here’s why:

    1. Exploration sparks children’s imaginations.

    2. It is foundational. In her book, The Importance of Being Little, What Grown-Ups Can Do for Children, Erika Christakis talks about the beauty of open-ended experiences with clay: The purpose is to teach children a predictable cognitive sequence they can apply when they encounter anything new: Observe, question, explore, reflect. Repeat.

    3. Children can learn through all their senses, their emotions and their intellect. The experience is as broad as they make it.

    4. Open-ended experimentation allows children to learn what materials can and can’t do, to understand what makes wood, wood and paper, paper (or their innate properties).

    What I believe is that the early childhood years are prime time for process-based learning. The freer children are, the more solid their base for future concept building.

    Of course, I recognize that guided projects also play an important role in children’s learning. They help preschoolers to stretch their skills and abilities, discover new talents, enjoy a sense of achievement, and for some, tackle a task they might not otherwise opt to do. Janey loves to block build. Sitting with glue and collage materials is not something she would likely choose on her own. Once at the table, however, she is into it. Andy’s home-away-from-home is the dramatic play area; it draws him in like a magnet. Sifting through bits of cardboard and working out ways to combine them requires a lot of self-control as well as strategic teacher guidance; it’s a different, focused and important kind of learning.

    Depending on how we present an activity, recycled cardboard can lend itself to either form of creative experience.

    • Process-based: Look at all these different shapes and sizes. What do you think we can we do with them?

    • Product-oriented: Let’s see if you can use these materials to make a face (a design, a house, etc.)

    Either way, working with repurposed cardboard is a refreshing departure for children from the precise, pre-measured preschool art and construction materials. Doster says, “I love the sturdy nature of cardboard as a base for open ended compositions as well as permanent constructions. The neutral warm brown tone is a great spring board for painting with various color palettes.” Please let me know if your class participates in the Global Cardboard Challenge, either officially or as a community. Let’s see what our preschoolers come up with!

    On Wednesday, October 5, our preschool introduces Global Cardboard Day. It’s not just a day, actually, it’s a week-long focus on creative cardboard construction. Responding to their teachers’ requests, 2- through 4-year-olds bring in egg cartons, cereal boxes, toothpaste boxes, and paper towel rolls. Teachers scour their buildings’ recycling areas for shoe-to-refrigerator sized boxes, and I scoot out to IKEA for their amazing free-form packing materials. We’re all excited about this project. It brings us together around a single endeavor: repurposing paper that would otherwise be tossed. It costs nothing at all, and everyone can enjoy it as they wish!

    The original idea came from a short film called Caine’s Arcade (you may know it), that my colleague Cathy saw and passed along. It follows a California boy who passes the time in his father’s auto parts shop by creating an elaborate arcade out of cardboard. We watched it as a faculty and thought, “Our kids would love this!” Art specialist EiLeen Doster discovered The Imagination Foundation, an organization that formalizes this celebration, extending it to schools and communities throughout the globe. We were hooked.

    Repurposing and recycling go hand-in-hand. At our preschool, we tend to do a better job with the former, but are starting this year with new resolve to recycle with greater care. Hold me to this, please! In any case, cardboard creations are right up our alley. Depending on children’s levels of interest, skill sets and stages of development, projects can be simple or multi-layered; they can be collective or individual, representative or abstract, adorned with fabric, popsicle sticks, paint, buttons, juice lids, and dried flowers, or left just as they are. 

    Most of these projects require gluing, but cardboard can also serve as a manipulative that allows children to play and experiment, then disassemble their creations and sort and replace the pieces in their appropriate bins: two activities in one; art meets math. Last year, with the help of Linda White from the Children’s Museum of the Arts, children explored all sizes and shapes of cardboard and had a blast!

    Whatever the medium, open-ended art exploration is a very powerful experience for young children. It stirs their imaginations, makes demands on their fine motor control, and allows them to toy with elements such as symmetry, balance, and color. As teachers we might set the stage for cardboard collage by presenting an array of materials in different textures, colors, and sizes. They take it from there. They playfully, experimentally juxtapose different materials. What would happen if I put this round lid up here in the corner? Maybe it could be a button that turns on this machine . . . In other words, materials take the lead, suggesting new designs and “inventions.”

    Embedded here is the question of process versus product. As early childhood educators, we often juggle these two goals for our children. In presenting an activity, are we aiming for art that is “refrigerator worthy” or are we providing an opportunity to explore and experiment, possibly without any end product? Sometimes they coincide, but more often than not, they lead in opposite directions.

    As you may have guessed, I’m a huge fan of process-based learning. Here’s why:

    1. Exploration sparks children’s imaginations.

    2. It is foundational. In her book, The Importance of Being Little, What Grown-Ups Can Do for Children, Erika Christakis talks about the beauty of open-ended experiences with clay: The purpose is to teach children a predictable cognitive sequence they can apply when they encounter anything new: Observe, question, explore, reflect. Repeat.

    3. Children can learn through all their senses, their emotions and their intellect. The experience is as broad as they make it.

    4. Open-ended experimentation allows children to learn what materials can and can’t do, to understand what makes wood, wood and paper, paper (or their innate properties).

    What I believe is that the early childhood years are prime time for process-based learning. The freer children are, the more solid their base for future concept building.

    Of course, I recognize that guided projects also play an important role in children’s learning. They help preschoolers to stretch their skills and abilities, discover new talents, enjoy a sense of achievement, and for some, tackle a task they might not otherwise opt to do. Janey loves to block build. Sitting with glue and collage materials is not something she would likely choose on her own. Once at the table, however, she is into it. Andy’s home-away-from-home is the dramatic play area; it draws him in like a magnet. Sifting through bits of cardboard and working out ways to combine them requires a lot of self-control as well as strategic teacher guidance; it’s a different, focused and important kind of learning.

    Depending on how we present an activity, recycled cardboard can lend itself to either form of creative experience.

    • Process-based: Look at all these different shapes and sizes. What do you think we can we do with them?

    • Product-oriented: Let’s see if you can use these materials to make a face (a design, a house, etc.)

    Either way, working with repurposed cardboard is a refreshing departure for children from the precise, pre-measured preschool art and construction materials. Doster says, “I love the sturdy nature of cardboard as a base for open ended compositions as well as permanent constructions. The neutral warm brown tone is a great spring board for painting with various color palettes.” Please let me know if your class participates in the Global Cardboard Challenge, either officially or as a community. Let’s see what our preschoolers come up with!

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