Children all over Johnson County have been learning to “think outside the box,” thanks to a special series of events organized by The Iowa Children’s Museum in Coralville.

For their “Not a Box” parties, Museum staffers drive a truck filled with empty boxes, new and gently used books, and art supplies to outdoor sites where children and their parents can explore, collaborate, and create. The parties take place at area parks, Iowa City Community School District schools, the Iowa City Downtown District, local mobile home communities, and even at some corporate partner offices. This year the parties were partially funded by a Community Foundation of Johnson County grant and were supported by a number of other community partners.

“These events are just a great way to encourage open ended exploration and constructive play,” Jeff Capps, Executive Director of the museum, said. “It’s amazing to see what people come up with using the simplest materials.”

“We had a kid on Sunday [at a recent party] who said, ‘I want to build my own race car,’ and he did. One little guy wanted to build a submarine, and that took all kinds of engineering and problem solving to figure out.”

Boxes of all sizes are available, along with empty cereal boxes for making “micro-creations” and prototypes. Because the magic is in the art of creating, rather than the finished product, everything is broken down at the end of the party and recycled.

Participants in the group events also take home copies of the book “Not a Box,” as well as being able to select gently used books provided by The Children’s Museum partner organizations.

“We wanted to enfold a literacy initiative into the program,” Capps explained, getting more books into the community.

Capps said he thinks some adults are surprised by how captivated children can be by old fashioned crafty play.

“We’ve been conditioned to the idea that kids need electronics to be entertained, but at these events they are out in a park with some boxes, some markers, and some other kids, and they are happy as can be,” Capps said.  “The act of creating is critical to our success as humans and these parties are just a fun, simple way to encourage that.”

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