Resources for play – the cardboard box

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Resources for play – the cardboard box

With the reduction in school budgets, early years practitioners need to be much more resourceful and look for FREE resources.  Fortunately, one of the easiest to access is the cardboard box.  Is it any wonder when this simple resource is so open-ended?  You can pick them up for free and in as many shapes and sizes as you like!  They are ideal for small world and role play as well as construction and when in use, tend to attract groups of children who then learn to collaborate and share ideas.

Many years ago, I introduced a deconstructed role play area to the classroom, after reading of the benefits on the ABC DOES blog.  It was a great success!  For those unfamiliar with this concept, it is a roleplay furnished with loose materials instead of a more familiar home corner or themed role play area.

Fortunately,  there is no shortage of packing materials, when working in a school, and so we had an everchanging stock of boxes and cylinders of all shapes and sizes. I added a box of material, rope and some pegs to this along with some mark-making materials.

Almost immediately the play changed and whilst children were still given to acting out home life experiences, the open-ended materials on offer provided them with much greater scope for imagination and creativity.

Long narrow boxes became sleeping bags, which was evident from the children ‘sleeping’ inside them but they had placed them in front of an enormous box propped up on a cupboard.  I was puzzled as to what was happening, until I saw a child operating the ‘remote’ (a small hand-sized box) for the TV!    We observed the play and, as it developed, it was enhanced with other resources such as equipment for the hairdressers.

For Chinese New Year, I created a large dragon or lion, with the children, using cardboard boxes and lengths of material. We painted it, added eyes, teeth and scales and then moved around the outdoor area in time to the music.  As many children wanted to be the head of the dragon, I suggested that perhaps they could make their own. This really engaged the boys, who were often first at the resource table outside.  They were quite independent in selecting resources and attaching them to the cardboard. Once finished they were able to move around the playground either on their own or in small groups.  We had watched Chinese New Year dance clips so they were able to follow the movements.

Sometimes we would put out cardboard boxes and left them to the children to play with but, at other times, we would make suggestions.  Creating a sleigh for Santa always proved popular!  It was interesting to see how many boys were attracted to this activity and how many were happy to mark make on the boxes independently.

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One year, I had a group, of boys,  in the class who were very active and found it hard to sit and focus for any length of time, either on the carpet or at a table.  Using their interest in cars, we decided to use cardboard boxes to create cars which they could drive around the outdoor area.

I took them outside, with pens and clipboards to the carpark, to record what they would need when making their cars.  So much purposeful learning took place and levels of involvement rose sharply as they were so engaged in the task.  Observational skills and learning about shape was reinforced as we looked at shapes of the numberplates, side mirrors and lights. Children talked continuously as they discussed and compared the cars driven by their parents and gave reasons for their chosen design and, there was also a purposeful reason for writing letters and numbers.

Once the children had finished their cars, I attached wide ribbons to them so they could hang them on their shoulders and ‘drive’ around the playground.  This then led to the making of roads and ‘stop’ and ‘go’ signs.

Most pizza restaurants, or takeaways, are happy to provide a selection of large and small pizza boxes, if asked.  We used them to great effect, when setting up a pizza role play.  This was primarily to give the children riding the trikes some purpose but it also supported the development of number and writing, when ordering.  Playdough and a selection of loose materials made for great pizzas too!

I have always found books to be great starting points for imaginative ideas for role play.  Texts like The Magic Bed, Oi Get Off Our Train and Come Away From the Water, Shirley!, (all by John Burningham)  are particular favourites of mine when introducing loose materials.

The most inventive use of cardboard however goes to Tom Bedard who uses them to create provocations for learning at the sand tray.  Using a variety of cardboard boxes, tubes and tape he constructs them in such a way as to open up play on different levels not only for height but at all sorts of angles too.

Cardboard boxes offer children the opportunity to be really creative as they adapt them to suit their needs.  If you haven’t already, why don’t you give them a try?



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