Oatmeal containers, toilet paper rolls, and shipping boxes all given a new life as a roller coaster.

Toilet paper and paper towels Come with a tube inside
and when the paper’s all used up We throw the tubes aside
But a man I know makes rocket ships and telescopes from tubes
We just call it Garbage when we don’t know what to do!

– “Garbage” by Tom Hunter

I hold two values that mesh well with my life as an early childhood educator.  First: children need open-ended materials with which to experiment.  Such open-ended discovery leads to joy, wonder, lifelong learning, and a whole slew of developmental bonuses.  Qualities of lives lived abundantly, right?  Second: leave a small footprint.  Don’t throw away things that could have a second purpose.  (This conflicts with my value for uncluttered living…but we all make compromises!)  I posted before about a set of blocks we made from peanut butter, and today, I want to share a recent exploration we had with small cardboard tubes and tape.

I had instant buy-in from Addie and Henry, and shortly thereafter, Christian.  Tekoa, Cadence, and Simone were so involved with their roles as zoo keeper and zoo animals that, while they stopped by to check out the work on occasion, they mostly just waited until we were done building.

We ran into some snags getting from oatmeal to paper towel tubes, but after some adjustments, we were off!

Addie found an oatmeal container with its bottom still intact.

She then spent a while dropping a ping pong ball into the closed-bottom container and stacking it on top of a container that was open on the top and bottom.  She would then flip the order — open tube on top — and drop the ball again. To her surprise, the results were different. At one time, the ball ended up in the very bottom, but at another, it only made it halfway down.

The zoo animals came over for a bit of exploration. This led to some opportunities to grow our problem solving brains as we worked out the who, when, where, why, and with what of using this awesome roller coaster simultaneously.

Someone discovered that the ping pong balls fit inside the tape roll.

Problem solver in action:  Christian needed to collect several ping pong balls to drop down the roller coaster.  She wanted to save the bucket at the bottom for collecting the balls as they rolled out, so she discovered her shirt would do nicely!  You can’t see from this picture, but her shirt is carrying quite a load!

Henry spent a great deal of time in the middle of the roller coaster, catching the balls at the halfway point, and inserting them at another location of his choosing.  What innovation!  Why start at the top when you can start in the middle and then choose a new starting point?  (Unless, of course, this conflicts with a friend’s need to see a complete run!)

By the end of the day, the roller coaster (which was clearly not going to win any “sturdiness” awards) was nearing the end of its life.  We disassembled it, recycled the weary components and put the stronger pieces back into circulation to be used again.  Before the day was done, the flat cardboard back had surfaced as a fort roof and a tap dancing stage.

This crew finds amazing purpose where others see trash.