When I made robot outfits for my kids a couple years ago, I used a bunch of cardboard boxes I found at the recycling center and a whole lot of packing tape. There were parts that particularly used a lot of tape: securing the headbands to the insides of the robot heads so that they didn’t flop around on the kids’ heads. Building things out of boxes is a lot of fun, but it helps to have ways to attach things — and usually my X-acto knife skills aren’t up to the task of making tight-fitting tabs and slots.
As I mentioned in my review of Cardboard Box, You can get Mr. McGroovy’s cardboard rivets which will do a pretty nice job. These are small reusable connectors that let you connect cardboard together, and Mr. McGroovy also sells various plans for anything from castles to spaceships to a lemonade stand.
I received another cardboard-building solution this week, from Australia-based Makedo. Makedo sells small kits, for “making things from the stuff around you.” While this does include cardboard boxes, they also include cardboard tubes, plastic lids, paper cups … it’s all about building stuff with whatever you have. (Kind of like the Uberstix, although those appear to be more directed toward a particular project.) Makedo does sell some kits, like the Find&Make Robot which includes stickers for use on your robot or the Dollhouse kit, but the essentials are included in their Freeplay kit.
Here’s what you get in a Freeplay Kit for One (US $25):
- 1 safe-saw
- 6 lock-hinges
- 29 re-clips (29 pins and 29 clips)
It all comes packaged in a small, sturdy cardboard tube (another toy!) with a fold-out poster showing what the tools are for and various ideas for what you can make. Of course, you supply your own building materials — cardboard, paper, fabric, etc.
The safe-saw is a clever tool. It’s stiff, sturdy plastic with larger teeth on one side and finer teeth on the other. (You may not be able to tell from the photo above, but there are teeth on both sides of the blade.) There are two large round holes in the handle, which make it easy to hold it in a variety of positions, and at the other end of the handle is a puncher tool that can be used to poke holes for the pins.
I should mention, though, that the saw didn’t work really well for the cereal box that I had handy, which is much easier to cut with a regular pair of scissors. However, it does work quite well on corrugated cardboard, which is not so easy to cut with scissors, and you can feel much better about handing your kids a safe-saw than a utility knife. The punch tool is sharp enough to poke through cardboard but isn’t likely to damage your kids.
The key ingredient to Makedo is the re-clips: each one is a plastic disk with a flat “pin” extending from it, paired with a round clip. It works a little bit like a zip-tie. The pin has ridges, and the clip just ratchets on when you slide it. When you pinch the curved sides of the clip, it lets go and slides off. (Usually, anyway — I did have one clip get stuck and it took quite some bending before it came off, but most of them slide off fairly easily.)
The one other thing that’s included is the lock-hinge. These have two holes, one on each side of the hinge, that fit the re-clips. The hinges can swing from 0° (closed flat) to 270°. Plus, by sliding the hinge along its pin, it can lock in place at a particular angle, which is a nice touch.
To try out the kit, I decided to make a small cardboard robot since we had an empty cereal box handy. My daughter had a little trouble cutting the cardboard so I did that and punched the holes, and then directed her where to put the pins and attach the clips. All told, from start to finish it took about 15 minutes, and we were both pretty pleased with the results. Because the pieces can pivot on the pins, my kids have been playing with it like an action figure. And when they’re done with it, we can pull off the pins and hinges, and make something else!
It’s a pretty clever idea, and today I’ve found myself eyeing things before throwing them in the trash or recycling bin — what could I make with this? It’ll be fun, too, to see what else my kids can come up with on their own. The main caveat I’ll give is that, although the pins aren’t sharp, they’re thin plastic and a bit poky — you’ll notice my robot’s shoulders have little spikes protruding from them, which isn’t awesome, but the other way wouldn’t let the hinge close flat. So in some cases, something like the Mr. McGroovy’s rivets (which are flat) may be a better solution. Still, I like the flexibility of the hinges, the design of the safe-saw, and the easy on-off application of the re-clips.
While I’m most comfortable with the medium of cardboard, I think it’ll be fun to try making things with plastic cups, yogurt tubs, lids, and other materials as well. If you’re looking for something that promotes creativity, and puts to good use all those cardboard boxes you’ll have after opening up presents this year, check out Makedo’s line of kits.