Tools are Cool- Post #4: Cardboard Construction


Anyone with a young child has probably learned a few things about children and play. One of these revelations is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to entertain or engage children. This moment is probably most acutely realized after you hand an infant a new toy and they spend more time playing with the box the toy came in, than the toy itself.

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Boxes hold beautiful potential and offer a world of possibility for children. Similarly, other materials like paper, cardboard and paint can often help support children’s ideas of what the box should be.

This packaging from Ikea provided weeks of play for H in the months of January and February. It was almost like a five-sided box that had natural creases on two of the sides. H instantly declared that this was her boat and began fishing. Some time later, by simply undoing the sides, it became her rocket ship.


Her rocket ship play lead to a discussion about direction and soon she was heading east to Montreal. She transferred this knowledge to our car rides and started asking/suggesting what direction we should drive in.

Sometimes she went on solo trips and sometimes she went with friends. Sometimes only her friends went and she bid them farewell.

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I extended her play by providing paint and stickers so she could decorate her rocket ship the way she wanted. There’s nothing exciting or captivating about this. This is my way of engaging her with everyday things on short notice. That being said, I know it’s empowering for her to make things her own.

The next day, while I napped, she quietly decided to take matters into her own hands…and legs. It was another one of those magical moments where I stood frozen wondering why this always happens to me! After our last few food colouring disasters in the fall, I stored the paints and food colour in the basement (out of reach) but thought leaving them in the kitchen for less than the one hour we were home before we had to go to swimming would be no big deal. Lesson learned!


A trip to Costco gave us another box. This one became her official boat.

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While none of these experiences required special tools, I was really excited to provide H with this cool tool set I came across online. We bought it locally from Lee Valley Tools.

I knew she would still be a little young to really make the most of it, but it was really empowering for her to use the scru-driver and actually watch the
“screws” turn into the cardboard.  She looked at the packaging and said that she wanted to make a dollhouse, so we used yet another Costco box and an old pull-ups box.

As I expected, H wasn’t fully engaged in this process because it was challenging (and she got distracted by playdough). She helped with attaching some of the pieces and provided her input, for example, when I was trying to add in stairs she said, “How about we use a string instead?” So we did. But she does enjoy playing with it. It’s currently on display in our playroom. To further extend this process (and to distract her when I needed a few minutes), I gave her stickers to decorate the house.


Then of course, her imagination soared. I happened upon this scene later and could only to try to guess what had happened here…image_2.jpeg

There are a variety of tools designed for various purposes and to carry out various functions. The tools we explored in this series had to do with building and construction because those are the ones H was interested in when we started, but I look forward to introducing other types of tools related to art, cooking and gardening as the year progresses since she has also grown to be quite interested in those areas. Hopefully it can help broaden her perspective and understanding of tools and provide her for more opportunities for fine motor development.

Tools are Cool – Post #2: Books and Play


A natural step in our approach to learning is to read books related to H’s interests. In the book Tools Rule, we were introduced to various tools and how they worked together to build a tool shed. H really enjoyed identifying the tools she already knew and learning the names of new tools. Naturally, she had questions about their purpose (we explore this in the next post).


Another tool related book we read was Monkey with a Toolbelt. This book sat around our house for a few weeks before H weas ready to read it. She enjoyed the main character (Chico Bon Bon) and was particularly fascinated by his tool belt. In the story, Chico Bon Bon is a handy monkey who helps repair things in his community. One day, he gets captured by an Organ Grinder (essentially a Circus owner) and has to cleverly rely on the tools at his disposal to escape. H enjoyed the plot as it involved capture, escape and clearly definied heros and villains.


Following building the bookshelf, H also helped out with other little tool-related tasks at home. She helped me wash our dining rooms chair frames  before we used a screwdriver to change the seat covers. She was quite helpful and kept an inventory of the screws and washers and passed me things as required. She also helped to loosen/tighten screws and we recited the easy (but helpful) rhyme: “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” as a reminder of which way to turn the screwdriver. Since I am right-handed and she is left-handed, I find it challenging at times to teach her how to do fine motor tasks with her hands.


Play is a central part of our lives, even the boring day-to-day tasks. After we had cleaned the chairs, we moved them to our living room (where the light is better) to change the covers. I commented that they kind of looked a bus and H agreed. She rounded up a bunch of her stuffies and declared that I was the bus driver and we would be driving to the top of “tallest mountain” (a Dora the Explorer reference) and would change the chair covers there.


A few weeks later, she worked with her dad to change the batteries in her dinosaur toy. She rifled through his tool bag to find a screw driver that matched the shape of the screws. Her dad also pointed out the plus and minus sides of the batteries and supervised her removing them and changing them.

(*Every parent knows their child best and can be the best judge of what is safe for their child to do. We keep our batteries out of reach and have talked to H about safety – she knows this is not something that is safe to do by herself). 

H enjoys dressing up (a characteristic we both share!) Over the winter holidays, I saw her using pretend tools and used this observation as evidence of her emerging interest. After the holidays ended, I brought our costume box back down to the basement, but recently brought the hard hat and tools back up. She was so excited to find them and instantly started playing with them.


She went around the house looking for things to fix. Her father handed her a magazine and said, “My computer is broken. Can you fix it?” She brought it to the couch and started using all of her tools to fix it. It was quite interesting because while she knows an axe is used to chop wood, she made it relevant by saying she was using her axe “to chop the computer.” She also doesn’t know the correct verbs yet so invented her own way of describing what she was doing. “I have to wrench it. And screwdriver it.” She also commented on what type of screwdriver it was (based on her dad’s lesson) saying it was a “star screwdriver.” She then moved onto to fixing her dinosaur. I saw her look for the screws and use her play screwdriver to pretend to open it up (like she had with a real screwdriver when they were changing the batteries).

As an educator, it’s fascinating for me to see H deepen her own knowledge about concepts. I’ve been watching how she integrates and assimalate new knowledge into her existing schemas and how she adapts those schemas so that the new knowledge fits. The remaining posts in this series will look at additional ways we deepened our knowledge surrounding tools and how she applied this knowledge to her own creations.

The Three Little Pigs and Other Fairy Tales


Growing up, I heard a lot of fairy tales through school and TV. While I had a vague recollection of what happened in these stories, I couldn’t remember the complete plot of any of them, except for The Three Little Pigs. That being said, I started telling my daughter the story of The Three Little Pigs fairly early on. I distinctly remember telling her the story while flying solo with her to Toronto when she was 16 months old  because the man next to us commented on it.

My daughter (like many children) has shown interest in The Three Little Pigs on and off for the past few years. Over the summer she participated in one of my classes when I was making flannel board characters with my group and made her own “Big Bad Wolf.”

Her interest was reignited when she saw an episode of Dora the Explorer that featured The Three Little Pigs. It’s also a running joke in our home. When a door is closed and one of us wants to enter the room, we often use our big bad wolf voice and say “Little pig, little pig, let me in!”

Over the winter holidays this year, she had a couple of friends visit (they were 4 and 6) and I had left some costumes out for the kids to play dress up if they were interested. Finding the piggy hats instantly sparked a dramatization of The Three Little Pigs. Our story took a different turn because even though there were four of us, the two youngest children both wanted to be the big bad wolf, so we acted out an alternate version called The Two Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolves. The 6 year old was the narrator and provided the storyline and my daughter became entranced by the idea of acting out a story with a predetermined plot. I watched her fondly as her eyes became big and I saw her play cooperatively with other children. Over the next few weeks she continued to act out the story at home asking my husband and I to play along as well as when she visited her grandparents, asking her dadi to play the part of one of the piggies.


Since a big part of emergent curriculum is observing the child and providing play and learning experiences in response to their interests, we borrowed our first official book about The Three Little Pigs from the library and started reading it at home. H was intrigued not only by the story, but the idea of building and construction. This is an interest I’ve seen emerging this year and something we have been exploring further (blog posts to follow).


In the coming week, I gave her the flannel board characters I had created before H was even born for a group of children I was working with. I left her with the flannel board and she proceeded to tell the story independently.


Our work since then has been dealing largely with tools and the idea of construction. In the coming weeks, we might attempt to explore building with the types of materials and tools used by the piggies in the book and perhaps writing and illustrating our own adaptation of The Three Little Pigs since H could benefit from an opportunity for more art exploration.

H also showed great interest in Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Gingerbread Man. We borrowed all of these books from the library and as H became familiar with the plot, she started acting them out with her stuffed animals, family members and with open ended props (loose parts) around the house. We returned the books recently. I am curious to see if her interest in these stories re-emerges.


Fairy tales offer so much for children. Of course, some of the plot lines are questionable (even scary) but there’s a reason these stories have become classics. H who is generally very nice LOVES to be the big bad wolf. I know on some level it lets her process difficult emotions in a safe way and experiment with different roles and temperaments. No one wants to be the good guy all the time! I also think it’s fascinating how she rewrites aspects of classic stories and rhymes to fit her own narrative. For example, in her version the pigs are sisters (not brothers). Similarly, when she started singing Baa Baa Black Sheep a few years ago, she insisted on having a bag of wool for “the little girl who lives down the lane.” The elements of repetition, the memorable characters and the themes make fairy tales easy to remember and an excellent point of departure for the love of literature.