Gadgets are a big part of our kids’ days. While some say technology addiction is an epidemic, others say it has opened doors for learning and play. Chrissy Byers believes that kids need to rediscover the old-school fun of getting outside, getting dirty and getting creative. And her solution is certainly out of the box.
Over a decade of interacting with kids has taught former teacher and mum of two Chrissy Byers a lot about how they learn. Playing creatively and getting outdoors is very important and isn’t really happening anymore, she says. And the research shows that overusing technology reduces children’s ability to imagine.
“I think it becomes difficult for children to write creatively because they can’t conjure things up in their mind as well as they should be able to,” says Chrissy. “I think there’s a real danger of losing creativity, particularly vocabulary – it’s not as great as it used to be.”
But Chrissy found that when children were encouraged to visualise and verbalise their imaginative adventures, they became more confident in other areas like writing and socialising. This realisation inspired her debut, self-published children’s book, The Magic in Boxes. The book sets out to help kids find the fun in creative play using materials as simple as cardboard boxes.
“A part of play is copying and re-enacting experiences that you’ve had and you can see – that’s the aim of The Magic in Boxes. I’ve noticed that after I’ve read the book to groups of children, that’s what they want to go and do.”
Trading the Xbox for a cardboard one is something that Chrissy felt would appeal to children and adults alike, but she admits it was a long time coming.
“I loved drawing and illustrating as a child and in high school it was something I really wanted to do but I was discouraged because it’s such a competitive industry,” Chrissy says. But becoming a mum shifted her focus and made her realise she just had to go for it.
“It’s taken me until this stage in life to dare to dream,” she admits.
Chrissy began the book project four years ago when her sons were aged 2 and 3. While the concept for the book came from years of interacting with children, the two who inspired her most were her sons.
“It was their story, it was what they played with – just with boxes. My son, who was six when the book came out, told the librarian ‘You’ll have to put this with the non-fiction because it actually happened’,” she laughs.
Chrissy originally met with publishers who were concerned the story wouldn’t sell, and eventually decided to self-publish.
“I think I’m a little bit before my time. But if I did go down that road, I wouldn’t have been able to make choices of integrity.”
One of those choices was to manufacture the book completely using recycled materials and, despite it being a lengthy and costly process, she says it was more about the message than the money. The book encourages creativity and sustainability, but Chrissy’s personal story also has important messaging.
“I’m hoping my story might inspire other mums. Those who have always wanted to do something but have never had the time or the means,” she says. “Also, if we want well-adjusted adults, we need to skill them with all the good stuff. Those things can’t be achieved by sitting on an iPad. Technology is only going to become more and more important in our lives, so children have to be exposed to it. But it is the parent’s responsibility to decide how much and what their kids are doing.
“There’s a bond when a child sits on your lap and your arms engulf the child, and the book is in between your child and your arms. It’s magical, it’s so very important.”
Chrissy has a blog on her website where she shares more experiences and tips like her family’s “iPad contract”. She hopes to follow the success of The Magic in Boxes with her second book, The Magic in Dress-Ups.
Grace’s mum tells us that Grace, 7, is obsessed with cardboard, sticky tape and box construction, with thanks to the amazing kindy teachers she had some years ago. “There’s no doubt Grace will turn her obsession into a career one day – she’ll become an engineer or architect or come up with some amazing new way to build affordable, sustainable, eco-friendly homes out of recycled breakfast cereal boxes,” her mum laughs. Which is why this book was the perfect one for Grace to ‘rug rat review’ for haven readers…
“I like this book so much because it involves box construction and I have made lots of things that involve boxes like the time when I made a camera, a frog and when I made a city out of some of mum’s big lounge boxes. I like the pictures in this book because they’re hand drawn and they have also included pictures of real life objects too. Like the bit when they built a house out of boxes and the author has used a picture of a real roof. I like in every picture how they’ve put in two teddies – it is like you are playing ‘I spy’ and you have to find the two cuddly teddies each time.”
Words // Anny White