At home I have two cats, Yoda a white and ginger tom who seems forever on the prowl for little birds and mice that inhabit the back garden, and Orla an anxious thing who doesn’t really like humans particularly but prefers her own company thank you very much. They are pretty much polar opposites but do share one thing in common: a predilection for hiding in or sitting on cardboard boxes. They are naturally drawn to discarded packaging and seek out ways to inveigle themselves within boxes of any shape and size.
And so I’ve noticed do most children. There’s something about both the open-endedness and the cosiness that a box offers. A box can be anything. Literally anything. It’s a blank canvas unlike the former contents of it. A toy can have as many beeps and lights on it, can have cost the world and can give a child a degree of fascination but all these pale in to insignificance when there’s an empty box to climb in, scribble on or convert.
A box typifies what quality Early Years practice should be. It should offer an index of possibility. Continuous provision should enable the scope to dream and wonder. It shouldn’t necessarily be composed on their behalf. Rather it should give space for children to bring their interpretations to it. Similarly by being open-ended, it should give practitioners the ability to enter play and choose whether to use it to rehearse or model skills. The provision isn’t closed down to an objective: it offers potential for any learning to take place. This is the power of the 3Ms approach - it harnesses children’s play rather than removing them from it. And so it was when boxes emerged as a ‘project’ recently.
By pure coincidence my setting came into a variety of large scale boxes, big enough to accommodate several children. Noticing that children initially got involved in decorating and converting them into houses, I used the opportunity to introduce a project about dens and animals. In a fifteen minute input we explored the names of various animal houses, pretended to be foxes, badgers and rabbits, discussed the rules the children might want to apply to their cardboard dens and then wrote to our fictitious storyteller character to invite him to the dens once the children had left for the day.
Some children wanted to use boxes as space rockets - great! A quick captain’s log of planets and a shopping list of space food and the majority of the children were off, applying mathematical problem solving, collaborating in creativity and recording food choices. There’s very little adult planning involved here. Instead adults are looking at individual children’s next steps to see how and if skills can be applied within the context of their high engagement. The input of the project is skills-centric: modelling writing, applying maths and/or extending and introducing new vocabulary.
The boxes project lasted exactly one day. By the end, the children had travelled to Legoland planet, sealed one another in their dens with copious rolls of masking tape, put dens in size order, calculated the population of the little village that spring up which of course needed a supermarket with money, shopping lists, order forms, postmen and women to deliver mail, a post box, a steering wheel factory, a map making department, a spy centre to see if there were any wild animals who might want their dens back, the list goes on. Nothing planned, nothing predetermined. Children of varying levels of ‘ability’ working alongside one another, negotiating, debating and inquiring. The 3Ms worked a dream with adults supporting and modelling, giving writing purpose, leaving secret messages, extending children’s thinking and suggesting ways to apply mathematical thinking.
And as quickly as it had arisen, the box project came to end. The next day most children wanted to explore map making and some even broke the boxes apart and reused them in their own creations. A small band of boys remained inspired by box play - they wanted to develop a scrap metal yard. A whole new project was born for these children - truly a sign that a box is nothing ordinary, it’s actually a box of delights :)
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....