My Love of Cardboard

Note:  This was originally written in July 2014 while preparing for The Patch Art Exhibit…..

Art Exhibit 2014 077

I am preparing for an art exhibit to celebrate and honor the artists at The Patch.  It is an undertaking that has me on a creative high and emotional roller coaster at the same time.  Will the adults “get” how truly amazing these little tykes are? Will they appreciate that just a short time ago these little tykes were more like contained jelly fish who couldn’t do anything but cry and drool and poop? Their development over the past year has me astounded.  I remember all those days…..ALL THOSE DAYS…..when we were confined to a quilt and chew toys because all they could do was roll and chew and poop.  Those were some long boring and smelly days…..

We’ve spent the last six months exploring various animals and plants and art forms.  Our art was getting more and more technical and I just didn’t want to send it home with a smile and lose the opportunity to celebrate the beauty and accomplishment each piece represented. Sooooo…….

The idea to have an all out art exhibit was born…….and……I’m thrilled to pieces and a bit overwhelmed as I begin the actual process of building an art exhibit out of appliance boxes and adhesive hooks and lots of rope and tree stumps to secure the structures from wind gusts…..

Yesterday I cut open the first appliance box and unfolded it to its full length. That puppy is one big piece of cardboard! As I was securing it to the driveway wall, an overwhelming memory flooded over me and I had a dejavoo moment…..I was once again eight years old, on the screened-in porch just off of my bedroom…..

I’m a Daddy’s girl.  I make no bones about it and I celebrate it every chance I get.  He deserves it….he truly truly truly deserves it….

Every once in a while, my Dad would bring me a cardboard box home from the office.  They weren’t big like an appliance box, but they were tall enough to an eight year old to become pure magic.  He would cut them open for me so they would stretch out and stand on their own.  And then, the magic would begin.

I would make them into hide outs.  They were puppet theaters.  Sometimes they were space ships for me and my stuffed animals.  But more times than not, they were a chalkboard.  My Dad would bring me the chalk pieces that were too short for his big hands and I’d find an old sock to use as an eraser.

I asked my teacher, Mrs. Cathcart, for extra worksheets to take home to “practice with” and she would gladly supply them to me.  I’m almost positive I never told her that they were to teach my dolls and animals with, but, I’m pretty sure, she knew that anyway I used them, was indeed, practice even if I was just relaying information to my class of dolls and animals.

That screened in porch was such a magical place for me…..and the fun I had with cardboard boxes didn’t just stay in my childhood.  That joy and magic has made its way back into my adult life and into my preschool classroom in the past year…..polar bear dens, hideouts, tents, rolling around the play yard contraptions….loads of joy and magic…..

I wanted to be a teacher from a very early age.  I moved a lot as an Army Brat and my love for art and creativity was unfortunately quickly squelched by a variety of well-meaning art teachers who were working in too many schools to really focus on their quieter introverted students.

I knew what I wanted to create.  I had the end piece all in my head,  I just didn’t have the physical skills developed or the experience with tools to master the basic elements.

I was devastated every time my piece was chosen as the example of “what not to do” by various teachers.  I hated art……

I became a writer.

Letters can’t be judged or held up in a classroom as a negative example. I wrote in a journal beginning as an eight year old and still journal…..It’s the creative part of me yelling to be set free….So, for many years, I created with letters on paper…..

My sophomore English teacher gave lots of creative writing assignments.  I was thrilled. I still have two of the assignments…”What I Want to Be” and a poetry compilation that I illustrated.

I became a fluent writer in college all because of being placed in the class of a feared professor.  His reputation was fearless and fearful…. He only gave three A’s and he informed us of this on the very first day of class.

My first attempt landed me a D.  I was devastated.  He told me I was too cautious. He told me I took the easy way out so that all the spelling and grammar and punctuation would be correct….well, most of the time anyway…. He told me I needed to improve.  And then he looked at me.

I was once again that little girl having her work displayed as the “how not to” piece….

Something happened to both of us during our conference.  He took my paper and added a plus sign to the D.  He told me to write a new piece about anything that was important to me without any regard to spelling or grammar or punctuation.  It was due at the next class meeting.  He told me to write my thoughts and not worry about the “how to” rules.  For the first time in my life, I was inspired to try again with this professor that the student body feared….

I wrote.  I wrote and wrote and wrote.  I wrote some more.  It was freeing.  I turned it in and two days later it was returned to me, with a big fat juicy A on it.  In red pencil.  The only red pencil mark on it was the A. I was confused and inspired.

He gave me the next assignment: Now correct the spelling, grammar and punctuation and turn it back in to him.  I did. The editing process went back and forth between us until the paper was finally complete.  It represented my real thoughts and it was written with all corrections made.  I learned more about grammar and spelling and punctuation in two weeks than I had in twelve years.  I was rewarded with an A+ not just on that paper, but I was one of the three that earned one of his precious coveted A’s in the class.   I done good….. 🙂

These two experiences were life changing for me.  These two people gave me a precious gift: Time to explore and time to develop…..

And this brings us full circle to why I love cardboard boxes and why this art exhibit is so important to me.

I want these teeny tiny precious tykes to know that they are valued because they are unique.  Not because they are masters at a skill.  I want them to feel celebrated and to hopefully show their families the importance of continuing the celebration of their uniqueness when they have outgrown The Patch.

Threading ribbon through chicken wire isn’t the celebration.  The celebration is in the experience. The celebration is in the “A-Haa” moment when they finally understood they could place the ribbon anywhere and it could twist and curl if they wanted it to.

The celebration was in their being fully present and being fully joyful at just seeing what happened if they tried this or that…..It was about enjoying the process and not caring if others didn’t understand or appreciate or “get” the final outcome.

Process and  experience are what creates our life.  They are what add depth and width and richness to our life….the actual piece gets lost or ruined and then forgotten…..But what we learn about ourselves along the way is ours to keep for life….

This is what those art teachers forgot…..This is what I refuse to forget….. Everyone earns a big fat juicy delicious A+ at The Patch…..

Until next time,



Back to the Drawing Board…

I have had a picture tucked away in my “to do” binder for quite some time.  It is of a little boy doing free style needle work on a loosely knit cloth that has been stretched over a seat-less piano bench.  I loved the natural curiosity and the level of creativity that this activity freely gifted to this child.  I have been in search of a cheap piano bench for several years without any luck….

However, one of my preschool parents asked what I needed and I shared this idea and a few days later a three-foot by five-foot weaving loom table was sitting in my garage……Happy Dance! Happy Dance! Happy Dance!  🙂

I went on a quest for the perfect loosely knit material so my tykes could just jump right in that same night.  I found a vintage drapery at Good Will that just fit the bill.  I dashed into Michael’s and scooped up six spools of ribbon and headed home to do a dry run…..

I am a kid at heart and although I hide behind the veil of “teacher tester”,  I am actually dancing and squealing “Me First! Me First”, as I get the first crack at a new activity…..I am allowing a rare peek into my maturity level…..feel very honored……because I am such a pro at appearing all mature behind my “teacher tester” veil…..


The drapery is perfect for this project.  However, it has sat on my kitchen counter for a few weeks because it just didn’t feel right after I took it for a trial spin.  I realized that those precious little fingers could not weave with this drapery because it was beyond their ability…

They needed an easier canvas to learn what “up”, “down”, “through”, “over” and “under” literally mean. They needed a canvas that they could grasp and turn and learn to manipulate freely within their ability.  They needed a smaller scale tool with larger holes and this beautifully perfect drapery was a larger scale tool with teeny tiny holes…..

So, I’ve been mulling over how to teach little hands how to weave from the most basic point of view.  I can not take credit for this idea. I saw it on last year.

Tonight while I was at Dollar Tree, I saw the room deodorizer jars and realized that these would be perfect for teaching my little tykes how to weave and sew.  They even had wider ribbon in stock…..

High Score! I love Dollar Tree…. 🙂


I want to spare you from what I wished I had been spared….Those little beads are SMELLY…..STINKY…..and STRONG! I opened the first jar and made a b-line for the zip lock bags in the kitchen.  I couldn’t get them dumped and the bag sealed fast enough. After all six were dumped, I washed them with hot water and dish soap. This helped some, but I am also going to let them air out over the weekend.  So, if you plan to work with these little jars, do it outside on a windy day…..and stand down wind….


I tied the ribbon to the plastic needle so it wouldn’t come un-threaded a zillion times while the tykes worked with it. I made a huge knot at the end of the ribbon so it wouldn’t easily slip through the hole as they were sewing.  I measured enough length to work through every hole.  I didn’t want them to be overwhelmed with a lot of ribbon, but also wanted them to have enough ribbon to really freely explore.  I will update this post after the tykes have had some time to explore with the sewing kits and let you know how it went and what I needed to alter…..

The goal is to help them learn how to move the needle and ribbon in and out and up and down and through all the holes well enough that they can begin weaving for the sake of weaving and creating a pattern and not be concentrating on the physical mechanics of manipulating the ribbon and the needle and the round frame all at the same time.

Preschoolers learn skills and concepts in stages….and it is my job to ensure that they have plenty of time to explore and master each stage.  They simply cannot move forward until they have mastered the very basics.

Before a tyke can color, they have to understand what a crayon is by how it feels and smells and tastes and looks.  Once they have a basic understanding of what a crayon “is”, they can move on to what a crayon can do.  It can break, it can have its wrapper removed, it can make wonderful noises while being banged, and finally, it can make marks on a piece of paper. After a zillion marks have been made on paper, a child can begin to orchestrate the direction of the marks and the color of the marks and the reason for the marks as they create “a picture”…..

It is a huge process….it is a time-consuming process… can be a frustrating process for both the tyke and the teacher if enough time and experience is not freely given for the child to process and progress through each stage of development.

I can not express enough my heart ache when parents see their child’s intentional crayon or marker marks and only see scribbles.  I can not express enough my heart ache when parents are gifted with great pride paper that has been cut into teeny tiny bits with a prized pair of scissors and only see future trash.  All those zillion pieces of paper glued onto paper were glued on with great effort and intention and the child deserves to have their work and effort acknowledged…..

It’s fine to toss the projects when the child is no longer attached to the piece, but PLEASE honor and encourage and celebrate your child’s current accomplishments…..When they are honored and encouraged and celebrated, they will strive to achieve a higher level of skill mastery….

This is the goal:

To Work Deeper and Wider and to Apply Past Knowledge to Future Concepts so Learning is Achieved and Assessed Through the Creation of More Mature and Individualized Creations…….

Which brings me back full circle to realizing that the vintage drapery was developmentally inappropriate for my tykes and that I needed to find a way to start teaching them how to sew from step one before we can bring out that awesome weaving loom table and create some mighty awesome works of art……

All life skills have steps that must be learned…..Start with oversized tools until the basic knowledge is mastered….Add more complex details, one at a time…..

And most importantly, don’t forget to add some joy and fun and love and color into the mix!

Until next time,