Shape Shifter


In afterschool programs, program activities come from different sources. These range from pre-planned curriculum to children initiated activities. Many programs use pre planned curriculums, which can be created in house by the educators who work in the program. In larger programs with multiple locations, a monthly themed curriculum is often created off site and shared with educators who utilize the choices while implementing a daily schedule. While used less often, child lead or initiated activities embrace children’s ideas and wonderings that are then used by educators to create provocations and projects alongside the children that inspire discovery, some answers, and more questions.

The other day, I had the opportunity to offer the children a preplanned project. I rarely do this type of work with the children. I prefer to come alongside the children, see what interests them and enter into the learning journey together. However, the possibilities this project offered the children to work on technique and have some fun was inviting, so I decided to give it a go.

The project started with gathering supplies we needed for the work. Our list of items included recycled cardboard, a knife, and pencils; push pins, ruler, sharpies and paper. The beginning of the work invited children to choose a small piece of cardboard. The children were then invited to use a pencil and ruler to draw a geometric shape of their choosing. Some of the children made simple shapes and others created shapes with sharp angles and curves.


The next part of the process involved cutting out the newly created cardboard shape. Since scissors are not ideal tools for cutting cardboard, I quickly cut out the shape using a utility knife and cutting board. How come the children did not cut out the shape they created?


While I generally have the children use the tools they need to complete their work, I made the decision to support the children’s work and if I cut out the shape for this particular project then the children could focus on the creative work and not the frustration of having the correct tools to do their work. One of the discoveries I made during this project is that we need some type of tool the children can use to cut cardboard effectively and safely.

After the cardboard shape was ready, the children collected a larger piece of cardboard, a sheet of paper, and a pushpin. The paper was laid on top of the cardboard and the shape was attached to the paper with the pushpin. The pushpin allows the cardboard shape to spin on top of the paper.


Next the children used a colorful sharpie to trace around the shape on top of the paper. After tracing once, the children spin their shape into another position. Then the children choose a different colorful sharpie and retrace the shape again. The result is an original design that is like a fingerprint, unique each time.


The process of spinning and tracing continued until the children were satisfied with their design. Some children traced their shape countless times and other children a few times before moving along with their work.The children then removed the pushpin and moved the shape to another portion of the paper and begin the tracing process anew. After repeating this process and experimenting with the results the children created an entire paper filled with colorful unique designs from one original shape.


The children who chose this work enjoyed the process. They liked the creativity of creating the original shape. All of the children were disappointed I would not let them use the knife, but were captivated by the process of twisting the shapes into creative designs. As always, the children expanded the process by adding their own unique touches to the work by drawing additional shapes and images with their designs.

Even though the project was preplanned I think it added value to our work because the children learned a new creative technique. Learning new techniques in the creative process invites children to experiment on their own work and expand on the possibilities of materials like cardboard, shape and movement within a defined space.