The Magic of Play and the Humble Cardboard Box

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This past weekend 2 friends and I got together to run a local arts project for kids and their families at the Ballarat Show (for those of you who are not local Ballarat is a regional town about 1.5hrs north-west of Melbourne and has a population of about 90,000 people). We had been brought in to provide the 4 f’s – fun, free and family-friendly entertainment, a contrast to the expenses of rides and showbags for kids.

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The project was aptly titled ‘The Creative Cubby Project’ and our aim was a back to basics approach to play……namely how much imagination can one put into a cardboard box? Armed with several large white-goods boxes and a multitude of recycled materials (collected from a great organisation we have locally called the ‘Reverse Garbage Truck’ supplying post-industrial remenents to schools, pre-schools and clubs) and the usual craft staples of pens, scissors, crayons, and tape we set forth to the Ballarat Showgrounds to begin our quest to build the BEST cubby house yet!

Over the course of 3 days we learnt alot. We found that horizontal boxes make great tunnels and vertical boxes make great towers and that the BEST thing you can do to encourage lots of great social play is to provide windows, skylights and peepholes! We also learnt that there were a 101 uses for cardboard tubes, pipe-cleaners and string as we used them to build people, flowers, chooks, cars, trees and insects…..not to mention the all important features for our house including a letter box, power box & cords, telephone, computer, TV, solar panels, clock, BBQ, tables and chairs (to name a few).

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The most satisfying thing for me personally however was to see families ‘slow down’ and take the time to sit and build or play with their children. Parents and grandparents seemed to get as much out of making cubbies as the kids did and you know what? During the course of three days we did not have one single disagreement amongst our throng and really the worst grumble was regarding the quality of a paper clock in the cubby house. Children were helpful to one another and older kids helped younger ones and there was alot of respect for everyone’s work.

Not including paste /glue and paint in the materials was a winner too as kids and parents spent valuable time problem-solving and testing the construction of their creations as they grappled with using masking tape, paper-clips, string, rubber bands, butterfly clips and pegs to hold everything together. This was no quick fix of an activity….you had to be committed!!

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Many children and parents left comments on the cardboard feedback wall saying that they had a great time and it was the best activity at the Show. To me this says alot when there were so many fast and flashy activities for kids, many of them a good deal more expensive as well!!!

At the end of the final Sunday we were absolutely thrilled to be able to report that we generated only 3 small bags of landfill waste as well. The cardboard was all sent to be recycled and because we hadn’t used paint or paste /glue we were able to easily take things apart, sort them and pack them away again for future projects.

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So I say here, here to the rise of the ‘Slow Cubby Movement’ and the magic of the humble cardboard box…..I’m surprised that Toys’R’Us haven’t caught on yet, there’s got to be a marketing opportunity in there surely?

The Team:

Pauline O’Shannessy-Dowling (Visual Artist)

Talina Edwards (Architect)

Liz Cummins (Landscape Architect)

Stephanie Patterson (Video)

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The Creative Cubby Project was proudly supported by the City of Ballarat, The Ballarat Agricultural & Pastoral Society and Regional Arts Victoria

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