Patty Fisher, San Jose Mercury News columnist, wrote a great column about the simple pleasure children derive from playing with large cardboard boxes. Her story featured a temporary exhibit at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose that happened completely by accident. The museum had a 1,200 square foot space that was between exhibits, so rather than let the space sit empty for a month, they put out all the big boxes that the museum’s new recycling bins had been shipped in to see what kids would do. Voila, Box City was born!
Box City was such a hit with young visitors that the staff collected more boxes, flattened some, tacked some to the walls and set out bins of crayons, colored masking tape, and scissors.
Reading Fisher’s column brought back memories of a summer I spent visiting my three cousins in Portland, Oregon. My uncle, who owned Ace Television and Appliance Store, brought home a large refrigerator carton for my cousins and me to play with. I can still remember the fun we had turning that empty box into a car and sliding down the grassy slope in their backyard. Then the next day making it into a fort and hiding out from the enemies. We played in that box everyday until the sun went down and the box gradually disintegrated.
Fisher visited the Box City and wrote that “it was reassuring to see that kids’ imaginations are surviving despite the best efforts of toy designers and busy parents to make creativity obsolete.” She added that “Box City is an apt metaphor for tough times in the valley. Who needs to rent a bounce house for the birthday party? Just put out some cardboard.”
I can’t help but wonder if today’s parents would have the courage to do something that bold, given the constant pressure to outdo or at least keep up with the latest trends in kids’ birthday parties.