A playhouse kids build themselves
As a builder and newly minted preschool teacher, I found children loved activities I was able to create from the world of tools, building and fixing. We took apart VCR’s, patched bike tires, put faucets, flashlights and locks together and made things from wood. One day during this “shop” class I was watching kids play with Lincoln Logs and thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if kids could build their own playhouse,” like big Lincoln Logs?
I was so taken with the idea I went home to my workshop and began experimenting. Logs were too heavy. Cardboard tubes and plastic plumbing pipe were too awkward and ugly. What about notched plywood boards? I worked out the details of board length and notch spacing and made some test pieces. Encouraged, I went ahead. Ninety-nine boards later, viola! A playhouse!
I took the playhouse to class and made a mistake a more experienced teacher wouldn’t have asking, “who wants to help build a playhouse?” Naturally everyone did. Chaos ensued. Kids bumped into each other, walked on boards and no one could see which board to put on next. I discovered eight preschoolers were way too many for one playhouse. But once we got down to three or so, they were able to work together and plan a creation as they built it.
Eventually, the kids got the walls up and were ready for the roof. In my excitement to test the playhouse I hadn’t built the roof yet, so I got out a blanket. Big disappointment. The kids looked at me as if to say, “After we went to all this work to make this wonderful house, you get out a blanket? We want a real roof.” I had to promise to bring the “real” roof next week.
I was pleased with my creation, but during the next two years, the children taught me Builder Boards could be more than a playhouse. Using their imaginations, children hardly ever built a regular playhouse, instead building a house with two doors, and windows everywhere and a house with no doors or windows at all. Once they built a house with a tunnel entrance and a flat roof. After that came caves, castles, forts, towers, a reptile museum and a hot dog stand. The idea of building a playhouse gave way to the idea of building from a child’s imagination.
Since then (1994) Builder Boards have undergone rigorous use in public school classrooms, Montessori schools, at a summer camp for disabled children. They always attract a crowd of eager young builders. Teachers and parents like them as much as the kids.
You can see Builder Boards at the Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia, Kids Quest in Bellevue or in other children’s museums around the country. In children’s museums Builder Boards seem to attract the kid in parents who enjoy working with their children to erect something together. My current fantasy is to build a truck load of pieces, enough so a group of kids could build a little village at the same time.