Are you familiar with the phrase Creative Invitation? It’s when you set out some interesting materials on a table which are so enticing, they beckon or invite children to come over and make a creation. Typically, this is a simple set-up with no set instructions and is child-led and open-ended, where there is no right or wrong way to make something. Creative invitations stretch children’s imaginations and allow them to explore materials without the pressure of creating a “craft”, or something pre-determined.
These adventure boxes are a bit more of an elaborate creative invitation in that there is some prep involved in making the boxes prior to the kids arriving. Usually, a creative invitation can be set up very quickly without much prep, which is what makes them so valuable in a home or classroom. But I really wanted to use these maps that I had ordered from AAA, and I also had an abundance of shoebox lids (having used the shoeboxes for a different creative invitation), so I did the work of covering the lids beforehand. After that is was just about setting out a whole bunch of materials that would spark their imaginations!
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Supplies needed for Adventure Boxes:
~ Shoebox lids
~ Maps (you can order them for free from AAA)
~ Adhesives: white glue, scotch tape, masking tape, washi tapes, glue sticks, hot glue gun
~ Drawing and painting: markers, watercolors, colored pencils, sharpies
~ Handles are optional (mine are from the kitchen cabinets that we replaced when we moved into our new house. I kept them for two years and was so excited to use them for this project!)
How to set up this Creative Invitation:
1. Cover the lids with the maps. This was not easy, or fun. Just want to be honest! I actually love wrapping gifts and thought I would be really good at this, but in order for the paper to lie flat on the sides of the lid, I needed to make some cuts (like a mitered corner) and since I was in a mad rush – like the kids are coming in half an hour! – I didn’t have the patience. So I suggest doing this the night before! And maybe not being so worried about it lying flat. I’m sure you can do it!
2. Set out all of the supplies either in the middle of the table (if you have a big table) or on another table nearby.
3. When children arrive, let them walk around and take it all in. I try and not give any instructions at first and see what happens. All children are different, some just get started while others need to be told what is happening and what their parameters are. For those kids, I told them that we were making adventure boxes and that they could make anything they wanted. I then described each material on the table. If children were still stuck, I would talk to them for a little while about trips they went on with their family hoping this would spark an idea.
Each child has a different idea. Some ideas are planned ahead and very stylized, while other ideas evolve as they get going. Some kids work very messily, while others are more careful. I love that there are so many different ways of working and so many different visions. It’s one of the beautiful things about creative invitations, there are no limits to your imagination and sometimes your neighbor’s way of doing something can inspire you to try something new.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, younger children have a much easier time getting started and thinking of ideas. By younger, I mean four and five-year-olds. In my experience, I find that once children hit public schools, they begin to discover that there is a right and wrong way to do something. They are learning to read and do math, both of which are not open to creativity or interpretation. This definitely seeps into their confidence in the art room. They start to restrict their imaginations a bit, and slowly they become self-conscious and wonder if what they are doing is right. This is why I usually do my big creative invitations on the last day of art camp, when they have made new friends and spent four days understanding the new rules (or no rules) of our space. They know they can pretty much use any material to make anything that they desire, and so when the last day comes and I present them with something so completely open-ended, they’ve had a little practice getting back into the mindset of their younger, unrestricted selves. And they feel that they are in a save space among friends.
Plus, the older ones really do learn from the younger ones, maybe even more than the other way around. When your much younger neighbor is feverishly creating things out of paper and wood and buttons, you start to loosen up and realize that your ideas don’t have to be perfect. It’s another reason why I love multi-age classrooms.
In the end, many kids made their adventure boxes into play kits that they could use to tell stories. I thought this was such a brilliant interpretation of the invitation.
I think my favorite part is the handles, which turns them into imagination suitcases!
Share your photos with me on Instagram if you try this!
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