Any teacher knows the closer it gets to winter break, the more difficult it can be to keep kids focused.

Stewartstown Elementary School Principal Bobbie Lamond recognized this and, with a lot of help from the school's intervention teacher Sue Ester, came up with the idea to hold a winter cardboard challenge.

The idea came from a YouTube video Ester had stumbled across called Caine's Arcade. According to the video, Caine is a 9-year-old boy who decided to build an arcade completely out of cardboard boxes in his dad's used auto parts store, and it became a hit.

If a kid like Caine could have that much fun and show that much creativity with just cardboard boxes, why not the students at Stewartstown Elementary?

Lamond and Ester had every class participate in the event, which included 417 students from kindergarten to fourth-grade. The finished results were beyond what either of them had even dreamed of.

Entire grade levels could work together on one project, such as the kindergartners who all worked together to build a structure that was based on the popular Disney movie "Frozen." Other classes teamed up to make a project, or individual classes worked by themselves. The only requirements were that each student had to participate somehow, and each project had to have a holiday theme.

"It's amazing to see what they did with cardboard," said first-grade teacher Joanne Rill, whose students built an elf playground complete with a "Buddy Bench," a play on the buddy bench the school has to encourage friendships and on the movie "Elf," which has a main character named Buddy.

The supplies that went into making the different structures were donated by parents and Home Depot, Lamond said. Felicia Batten donated a lot of cardboard for her son's first-grade class and her daughter's kindergarten class. She specifically took off a day from her job with WellSpan Health to come see the structures.

"It's funny, I would walk into work and have just a pile of cardboard waiting for me on my desk," she said. She had work friends texting her all day requesting photos of the finished products, which she was shocked to see were as detailed as they were.

"My kids have been talking about this all week," Batten said. "They've been fighting over the cardboard."

While the winter cardboard challenge was a fun way to keep kids active in school in the days before break, it was also a way for students to continue to work on their creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication, Lamond said.

Rill said she saw students in her classroom come together to solve problems with the structure they hadn't anticipated. She enjoyed seeing them think creatively and work collaboratively to build the elf playground, which was a big hit.

The project also encouraged kids to make mistakes and fix them, rather than giving up. Mina Mitcheltree, a 9-year-old fourth-grader who worked on the Island of Misfit Toys structure, was excited to show her mother, Susan Mitcheltree, the project she had been talking about all week.

"I got to be creative, it didn't have to be perfect," Mina said.

The hope is that students will be inspired to create in their own homes, and Lamond and Ester said some students are already doing so. After doing the work in class, Batten said her kids are already asking for cardboard to use around the house for their own projects.

"These kids are just so plugged in all the time, and there’s a place for that," Ester said. "But there’s nothing wrong with good old imagination and a cardboard box."

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