Living in a Box

17 December 2011 · 0 comments

in Book Reviews, General Commentary, Play Resources

Sue Fenoughty, an environmental education consultant, gave me a very memorable analogy many years ago:

“Many youngsters lead what could be described as an artificial ‘box-like’ existence: going from a box (the home) in a box (the car) to a box (the school), where they are attached to a box (the computer), then back in the box (the car) to the box (the home) where they spend another 2 or 3 hours attached to another box (the computer, Playstation, television).”

I have a dubious theory about all the box metaphors used in eduworld and beyond. If you accept Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory then, it’s not unreasonable to assume all children are gifted. That’s why adults have to place them in boxes (like gifts). Then we can spend hours in schools examining the boxes into which we’ve categorized them and peeling off the wrapping paper. Some children are even wrapped in cotton wool before being put in boxes by their parents. Children are reduced to being ornaments.

We also seem to like and encourage thinking outside the box. I wonder where this leaves children who are stuck inside the various different boxes. I find myself imagining scenarios of having to teach kids ESP and how to have out-of-body experiences to escape and gain first-hand experience of the world beyond their boxes. I hope they are allowed and encouraged to think inside the box in which they live and have been categorised.

Now at this point, I have to flag up one of the significant UK education books of the past decade. It’s called Inside the Black Box by Black and Wiliam. These professors recognised the issue of boxing in education 10 years ago and offer suggestions based on research about how to raise standards through classroom assessment. It is important reading for every teacher.

In a previous post I mentioned using a wrap-n-mat to solve my plastic box problems. I am now proposing a wrap-n-mat solution to edubox thinking. Take the advice of Black and Wiliams and apply it to teaching outside. We need to stop being boxed in and to physically get children and teachers out of the boxes.

This may be a challenge to those who love living in their box. Try not to panic – I’ve come up with a few box therapy solutions to assist with the process:

  • Give children cardboard boxes to play with outside, in unstructured and free play situations
  • Create outdoor world scenes or “dioramas” using natural materials such as leaves, sticks and stones inside shoe boxes. By cutting a hole in the lid and covering the gap with green cellophane, adds to the scene created below.
  • Put up some nest boxes outside. Check with a local ranger as to suitable type and location and remember to ensure they are cleaned out annually.
  • Go on a shape hunt and look for cubes, cuboids, rectangles and squares in the local neighbourhood.
  • Start a compost heap in a wooden box or buy a square-shaped container for growing plants.
  • Try not to get too wrapped up in being square. I’m not a therapist but if you’re feeling boxed in, I will offer a sympathetic ear!
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