Off the Deb End

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by debbie harbeson

I have discovered an interesting phenomenon of the universe I call "The Cardboard Box Theory." The theory is stated as follows: "Children will have more fun with the cardboard box than with the actual gift packaged inside." Most parents have directly observed this phenomenon and can attest to its existence. For those of you who somehow do not know what I am talking about, here is an example of the basic steps as observed in my family:

Step one: Child rips open beautiful wrapping. Parent rips open box that is full of staples.

Step two: Child grabs box and runs to the corner to play. Parent grabs product and runs to a corner with tools for easy assembly.

Step three: Child mumbles to self and giggles in corner, happily playing. Parent mumbles to self and gets a bigger socket.

Step four: Child discovers cool sound the box makes when he slams it down. Parent discovers nasty sound product makes when he slams it down and breaks it into a million pieces.

Step five: Child rests inside box for a while. Parent rests on couch.

Step six: Child runs giggling to parent, dragging the box, and they both get down on the floor and have tons of fun playing with the cardboard.

I have also observed a slight variation of this theory since becoming a homeschooling parent. As a newbie, I purchased several bargain curriculums, but as we drifted into untraditional forms of learning, I realized that these items were not being used in the manner in which they were intended.

You will notice the theory works slightly different here, because it's not the box I'm talking about, it's the contents. Sure, the boxes can be fun, but they are not very big. What I am referring to are the actual textbooks and workbooks packaged inside.

My kids figured out many ways to use the materials beyond the original intent. Here are just a few: skateboard and bike ramp supports; tunnels for doll-sized cities; bases for pick-up baseball games; nesting material for hamsters and gerbils; free weights for fitness (especially those Combined Collections); makeshift steps to reach the cookie jar; anchoring blankets for kitchen table tents; creating animated cartoons in the outer margins; flattening leaf and flower collections. Oh, and there was that one time we ran out of toilet paper.

I have even found a couple of uses of my own. I cut out pages and hide my favorite candy because no one ever picks up certain editions. I sometimes use textbooks to cure insomnia. I used to use one to knock some sense into myself whenever doubts and fears made me think we needed to get more traditional. Fortunately I don't need to do that anymore.

So, if you have some purchasing mistakes around your home, don't sell them; wait and see what alternative uses your kids can discover. Maybe one day you will hear your own kids saying something like this:

"Hey Mom, this curriculum is awesome! The pages are great for my papier-mache cheetah and the paint looks much better too. And you know what else? You won't need to feed the baby any lunch today because he just ate chapter three of "Transportation Methods in Peru."


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