Sunday, September 13, 2015

STEM: Cardboard Box Challenge

So it's about time I talk about STEM, particularly with regards to dramatic play and engineering! This blog post is especially dedicated to Caine Monroy who inspired the Cardboard Box Challenge with Caine's Arcade. Essentially, a filmmaker went to buy a door handle for his car and he met this 9 year old boy named Caine who had spent his summer building this elaborate cardboard arcade inside his dad's used auto part store. Caine invited him to play, and he couldn't pass up his "FunPass deal." The filmmaker then decided to make a short 10 minute film all about Caine's Arcade and let me tell you... this film is VERY moving. It totally brought me to tears! The video is posted below or can be viewed at the following Vimeo link:

Eventually hundreds of thousands of dollars started pouring into Caine's college fund and the Imagination Foundation was born. They then launched a "Global Day of Play" as part of their "Global Cardboard Challenge." The day takes place on the first Saturday of October (the anniversary of the 'surprise flashmob' the filmmaker & community did to make Caine's day in the Caine's Arcade short film). 

With the Cardboard Box Challenge, friends, family, co-workers and community members all over the world can come out to play at local events, celebrating the creativity and imagination of kids everywhere. Child directed play is not only fun, it's extremely powerful for self esteem and learning. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • When children pretend they are motivated and engaged in learning. 
  • Pretending helps to stimulate memory and facilitate understanding of their world.
  • Pretending increases their ability to use symbolic communication 
  • Participating in arts like drama helps to develop analytical skills, an eye for detail, and expanded descriptive vocabulary through listening and responding. 
  • Physical development is promoted as children learn to use different parts of their bodies to express themselves.

“Build anything you can dream,” is the motto behind the Cardboard Challenge.  In addition to instilling creativity within children, the Cardboard Box Challenge inspires children to become engineers for a day.  Playing with cardboard boxes and other building materials develops math and science skills too, helping children learn about gravity, balance, shapes, and problem solving. If this were a library program, you could even provide challenges for children and families to complete if they so choose:

Challenge it:

  • How tall can you make a tower?
  • Build a tunnel you can crawl through
  • Build something as a team
  • Build something in five minutes
  • Build a game you can play
The other thing I love about the Cardboard Challenge is that it reminds parents that they don't have to have a lot of expensive gadgets to have a good time with their kids. Children can easily use everyday materials to make something fun, functional or beautiful! As a child, my favorite time in the world was when my parents would buy a new refrigerator or appliance because the box that it would come in was always a ginormous box that could be transformed into something magnificent. That large box could be a spaceship, a time traveling device, a submarine, or anything my mind could come up with. I am so blessed to have had parents who always allowed me time to play freely with random materials at hand.  It is probably why I am the creative individual I am to this day :) I was never afraid to take risks and be creative. 

I seriously hope to someday implement an imaginative day of play like The Cardboard Box Challenge at a library where I work! Read more about it at

"Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun." --Mary Lou Cook

"Caine's Arcade Global Day of Play & Cardboard Challenge." Caine's Arcade. 2015. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.
"Stem Sprouts: Science Technology Engineering and Math Teaching Guide." Boston Children's Museum. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.
 "Young Children and the Arts: Making Creative Connections: A Report of the Task Force on Children’s Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight." Arts Education Partnership, 1998. Web. 13 Sept. 2015. .


  1. How inspirational! I am going to share with this collegues, I would love to celebrate a day of imagination and play in my school library and will have to work on a way to open this to my entire community! I LOVE the idea of the cardboard challenge!

    1. Thanks for your comment Lisa! I hope you can implement a program like this at your school! It really is a great family friendly program that could be done in many places like schools, libraries, and museums. It is also great for a wide age range. :) If you ever end up implementing this, I'd love to see pictures!