Tag Archives: cardboard boxes

“What shall we make with this?”

The unschooling diaries: week sixteen

I think those six little words might be the ones that have made me the proudest yet in this motherhood journey.

It started just over a week ago, when we came downstairs one morning to a couple of empty cardboard boxes waiting to be flattened down for recycling. Arthur looked at me, gasped with delight, and said:

“What shall we make with this, mummy?”

We have had an awful lot of fun making things out of cardboard boxes over the past couple of years, but generally it’s been me or Leigh who’s initiated it. Arthur has happily chipped in as the creation develops, offering direction and issuing demands. But this latest development, where it is him looking at a piece of trash and using it to kickstart his imagination, is just awesome.

On that morning, I bounced the question back at him and he decided we were going to try to build a spaceship. It was a little ambitious, but we worked together and came up with something he was pretty happy with – it had controls and a light and everything.

A couple of days later, Arthur’s new blackout blinds arrived, in THE BEST cardboard tube ever. Again Arthur took one look at it and asked the question:

“What shall we make with this?”

We spent a while exploring ideas – he used it as a channel for balls, experimenting with different sizes, and then as a tunnel for his cars, raising one end up on our mini trampoline.

But then he decided it would make an even better train tunnel, and together we incorporated it into a super duper train set, with the track running up and over another box then all the way down the tube. It took a few goes to get it right – some trains ran better than others – but we got there.


His other idea was on a smaller scale, but no less fun. He’d been picking up smaller boxes for a couple of days and insisting that we could turn them into a camera. He always managed to catch me at inopportune moment, and I couldn’t quite see how we were going to pull it off, but in the end we succeeded, and he took great pleasure in running around the house taking photos.


It’s not just cardboard boxes either: as we explore this whole act of making together he is beginning to see potential in all sorts of other things around the house. He picked up a ribbon yesterday and asked his same question:

“What shall we make with this, mummy?”

I was initially stumped, but he jumped in with “A twirly thing! Let’s make a twirly thing!” whilst spinning the ribbon in circles around his head. I had actually been planning for a while to make him a twirly thing out of ribbons (not sure what the technical term for it would be) so dashed upstairs to find an old bangle and my ribbon stash, and together we picked out a selection of ribbons to add to the one we’d started with and tied them on.


I love the extra injection of creativity it’s given to our everyday routine, and the sense of limitless possibility that Arthur exudes at the moment. He takes inspiration from everywhere – he declared on another morning that he would like to make a scarecrow, and it turned out that he had been fascinated by one in Curious George.

It sounded like a bit of a mission, but I didn’t want to let him down – and actually making a scarecrow wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be – and we now have him ready for when we finally get round to planting up our veg patch!

It’s not just pride at Arthur’s enthusiasm that I’m loving about this particular phase. It is also, as so many things about parenting are, incredibly liberating: to look at trash and see potential, to have an idea and to keep going until you achieve it.

Lessons for life from a three year old.