The Cardboard Sculpture

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Cardboard is a plentiful recycled material. We always have some around the program. We collect it from our school shipments, parents, and some teachers bring in extra from home. The children often use the cardboard in combination with other recycled parts to create whatever they wish. We have a wonderful space filled with recycled parts along with tape, tacky glue, and hot glue. Each child depending on their comfort level employs one of these sticky materials along with recycled materials and creates their ideas.

Cardboard is the greatest material in my opinion because of the versatility, availability, and flexibility it offers children to express their ideas. 

On occasion, we have a surplus of cardboard scraps left over from the children’s construction process. I like to reuse the leftover scraps and instead of throwing them away I create a process art invitation. The invitation fills a need for the children who are looking for something to work on in between making their own choices. This is the story of one invitation, a collaborative cardboard sculpture.

We encourage and support the children in creating their own work, but with a large program often some of the children are searching for their next challenge. A process art invitation gives the children an opportunity to work together and connect socially. Offering an invitation where children can create and connect with each other fuels future collaborations within the learning community.

To begin creating the sculpture, I cut the cardboard scraps into geometric shapes. I completed this part of the process for the children because a very sharp knife was necessary to cut the cardboard cleanly. At the bottom of each shape I cut a groove so the cardboard shapes would slip together enabling the children to construct the sculpture.

We always want the children to do all of the work involved in the creation process. On occasion certain tools have a longer learning curve to be used safely. When this occurs we ask an educator to complete this part of the work so the project can move forward. At a later time, if the children want to learn how to use a certain tool, we make time available, check with parents, then observe and coach the children in the use of that tool. 

The children were invited to use the collection of shapes, some brushes, and tacky glue to build the sculpture. The children started creating the sculpture by placing the cardboard pieces together in a random design without gluing. As the work continued, the first challenge was for the children to figure out how to balance the cardboard shapes together so the sculpture would not tip over. The children were placing the shapes on only one side and the sculpture kept tipping over.

What started out in my mind as a process art invitation turned into a scientific challenge of balance and proportion. The children talked about possible solutions to the balance issue and disassembled and re-assembled the sculpture many times.

After some discussion plus trial and error the children figured out that they needed to balance the larger pieces and the smaller pieces in each section of the sculpture so it would not tip over. Many children contributed to the initial work, but three children created a majority of the sculpture by gluing it together.

With many teacher initiated invitations there is usually a burst of energy to try the project, then a small group of children who feel a real connection to the work take the lead as the other children move on to new choices. 

In anticipation and based on participation the previous day I cut more cardboard shapes so the children could continue to build the sculpture. At the beginning of the work session, none of the children wanted to help with the construction. Most of the children were playing a fun and active group game. 

When we start group projects the children often move back and forth from working to not working based on other opportunities that day. We always prefer the children choose their own work and come back to the adult initiated invitations when they are ready.

The group game ended an hour later, and a few children inquired why I was sitting with the cardboard sculpture. I shared that I was preparing the space in case anyone wanted to work on the sculpture. Four children decided to add more layers to the sculpture. The majority of their work concentrated on the center of the structure because the day before the children built long strands of cardboard shapes and left the entire middle section empty.

In my notes about this work I wrote, “I think there is still more work to be done I will ask the children tomorrow what stage they believe the creation it at before the next work session.”

The following day, I asked the children what they wanted to do with the sculpture, no ideas were shared. I suggested we could paint it. No interest. The children decided the second day was the last day of the cardboard sculpture invitation. A few months later, one of the children asked me what that thing sitting on top of the refrigerator was, so I shared the story about the cardboard sculpture. After the story was over, we decided to sit together and add some paint to the sculpture. Then the cardboard sculpture was returned to the top of the refrigerator to be shared with all who passed though our classroom.