The Box Robot


A few weeks ago, a story about a box began. It was an ordinary box that originally contained juice cups. The children and I found the box lying around our workspace. We were thinking about what the box could become. Often, I cut up these larger boxes into smaller parts, so the children can imagine, experiment and create their ideas. This box was different; it was headed for another journey to become the vision of one child. This is the story of the Box Robot.

The work started, when a group of children decided to paint the box by brushing the surface with multiple colors and then stamping circles on top of the color with recycled plastic caps dipped in black and white tempera. The box then sat on the drying rack waiting for another idea to emerge.

Materials do not have to be fancy or expensive to provide wonderful creative opportunities. Recycled materials are free, easy to acquire, plentiful, and provide children the opportunity to imagine and create their ideas.

Several times I circled around to ask the children, “Do you want to work on the box?” The children were focused on other work and so the box sat and waited.

Materials potential to be other things can be an extended process. Often the creative process takes time to percolate. Children are often lead busy lives and the seeds of inspiration are lost in the shuffle. Once an idea is manifested children have a great ability to focus on the work at hand.

Two weeks later, I was talking to one of the children when they inquired about the box. This child did not participate in the original painting work, but was now interested in the box. An idea was proposed to turn the box into a robot. The child decided the original painted box would be the robots head, and the transformation process was underway.

At our next work session, we discovered that one side of the box was not painted, so the transformation started with the child choosing paint colors to create the robot’s face. Together, we discussed what a robots face might look like. I was told the robot would have round eyes and a smiley face. The painted face of the robot featured black round eyes, a dark upturned line for a mouth, and green facial skin.

After seeing the results of the beginning work, the child decided a change was needed and the robot face would require features that were more rectangular in nature instead of the original round shape. After the new facial features were created, the child wanted to change the green skin of the robot and paint new purple skin. The addition of purple skin ended the days work session on the robot.

The creative process is one of trial and error. Being creative is about experimentation and the willingness to use time and effort to explore new ideas until satisfied with the outcome.

Next, the work focused on turning a purple box into a robot. The child imagined a robot with a cone shape on top of its head and square shapes on the side of the face.  We collected a variety of recycled cardboard shapes and used them to begin the transformation of our box into a robot.

Using a hot glue gun and imagination the child attached different shapes and sizes of cardboard to the front, sides, and top of the box to create the head of the robot. This work lasted a couple of days. There was much experimentation with the cardboard shapes, as the child worked to create the specific image they had in mind of what a robot looks like.

When time and choice of work are available to children, they seize the opportunity to experiment, refine, and create the objects of their imagination.

At the next work session, hot glue, cardboard tubes, and other recycled materials were used to create arms and additional facial features for the box robot. During this work session I asked the child if the robot was going to have legs. While discussing the options an idea was proposed to use paper towel tubes for legs. After some thought, the child decided that the idea would leave the robot top heavy and he would fall over all of the time. Our next mission was seeking out a suitable recycled material to create legs for box robot.

Taking the time brainstorm options when arriving at a creative roadblock is an opportunity for educators and children to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other.

We found large commercial light bulb boxes to use for legs. The child suggested that we paint the legs before attaching them to the robot with hot glue. The child also decided to paint other parts of the robot at the same time.

Other children became interested and asked the original creator if they could help with the painting process. The spine of the robot was painted purple. The crown of the robot was painted red, yellow and blue. The prominent features on the robots head were painted green and blue. During the group painting session the children shared ideas for what recycled materials would make the robot even more realistic.

Often projects that one child begins becomes work that brings children together. The work transforms into the catalyst for social connection, extended learning, and community building.

Two weeks later, after much work was completed on the robot I was told it was done. I asked the child I they would like to share their robot with the group, talk about the process, and share specific details about their creation. The child declined my offer, and decided to display the robot in our space for others to enjoy.

Documenting and displaying work in the program is a wonderful way to share the creative work of children with the learning community. Documentation inspires other children to create, helps educators gain insight, educates parents, and members of the community about children’s thinking.

The box robot now sits on top of the refrigerator overlooking our workspace and is the topic of occasional conversation between children and adults. One day the box robot will go home with it’s creator and become a cherished memory of a time when a simple box became an idea and then something greater. A simple box became an opportunity for one child to dream, experiment, create, collaborate, and embark on a learning journey that will not soon be forgotten.