Thursday, March 10, 2011

The MacGyver Method of Preschool

For those of you who slept through the 80's (I tried, believe me, I tried), the show "MacGyver" told the story of a super-duper secret agent famous for getting himself out of dangerous situations using common household items. I didn't have any catchy theme music or dramatic lighting, but I felt no less awesome as I constructed an entire preschool out of nothing but duct tape and cardboard (almost!).

Two months after getting the idea for a preschool playgroup, I was mere days away from its debut. Had I spent those two months in solid, studied preparation? Had I worked diligently at gathering materials? Surely you jest. I did a little thrift store shopping starting one week before, but didn't start planning the program until Saturday night. My first playgroup was Wednesday.

I am pretty good about getting rid of clutter and sloughing off things I no longer need. Through the years, all my little kid stuff had been given away or sold at yard sales. The last bastions of their childhood had fallen in the final weeks of packing before the big move last year. Now all I had left was some construction paper, a few random craft supplies, some markers, but gone were the felts, the games, the books, the puzzles, everything else. I also had a couple bags of supplies from my thrift store excursions, but that was it.

My playgroup gets to use the community center for free, which I'm very grateful for, but the room is all wood-paneled and has poor lighting. I needed to do something fast to dress it up and make it more fun and less cave-like because it was already Sunday. Only 2 working days to go because Monday I was going to be gone all day. I took stock of my resources. Cardboard! And duct tape!

My mom's detergent box was the first victim. Of course, it still had detergent in it, but my mom didn't mind making a few sacrifices! No, siree-bob. It would be perfect for a doll house (after a few modifications, of course), and I even found a few accessories at a thrift store the next day.

Next I needed something for the floor. I couldn't find a rug in the thrift stores, so did the next best thing and made a quilt for circle time. I bought a Bug's Life sheet for the top, a blue sheet for the back, and a mattress pad to go in the middle. I stitched it up Sunday afternoon, and voila, a floor quilt for pennies.

I had discovered a vintage toy stove top at one of the thrift stores the week before. It was to be the cornerstone of my dramatic play area, but needed a little more added to it. I made an oven out of a box, then turned another box into a fridge.

Nice, but when the girls and I took the supplies down Tuesday evening, it still wasn't enough. I'd wanted a refrigerator box playhouse, but got to the appliance store right as the dump truck was crushing the boxes. Fortunately, my brother-in-law is a DirectTV installer and had a lot of boxes lying around. It wasn't what I'd dreamed of, but 42" TV boxes just scream playhouse if you're desperate enough.

I stayed up late trying to get the stupid paint to dry, something that takes a lot longer in the cold than summer in California! I went to bed at midnight having gotten the last coat painted. Now for a little sleep before the big day. I tried to stay calm, I think I even looked calm on the outside, but inside I was a nervous wreck.

See, the majority of my short college career was spent taking Early Childhood Education classes so theoretically I should know all this stuff. But it has been a LOT of years since I've taken any of the classes or had any Early Children of my own. I knew I could do it, but I would know it a whole lot more comfortably after I'd succeeded!

Zero hour and my students arrived. I had two perfectly behaved, shy little girls, the ideal starter group for a nervous teacher. We learned about spring, read stories, practiced writing, played hopscotch, painted a pot so they can plant seeds next week, and of course had fun with all the toys. The girls had a wonderful time and so did I. I can't wait until next week!


  1. That detergent box is much more attractive as a playhouse than it ever was holding detergent!

  2. Well, aren't you crafty? You're a gal after my heart. My daughter isn't the least bit crafty, so there went my dreams of us having creative fun together! Love what you've done so far!

  3. This is my third attempt at commenting, and all I want to say is that you did a great job and it's really cute! Crossing fingers this posts! :D


  4. Now that's what I call resourceful. Great job!

  5. Wow! Never in a million years would I have even thought of that, let alone created it! My kids grew up thinking boxes were fun to play with without any craftiness on my part. They didn't know better for years!

    Your students are very fortunate!

  6. Thank you to everyone. It was so much fun to do stuff for little kids again, since my own kids have been so rude as to grow up. I love preschool. It's always been my preferred age group.