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Steward's "Kardboard Kingdom" Engages All Ages At Makerfest

Richmond community members built a medieval kingdom from cardboard at regional maker event.
In a society that relies so heavily on advanced technology, it’s comforting to know that something as simple as cardboard can bring together an entire community.

On Saturday, September 24 at the Science Museum of Virginia, The Steward School hosted the building of a “Kardboard Kingdom” at RVA MakerFest, a family-friendly annual event that features interactive demonstrations in science, art, technology, engineering, sustainability, food, music, crafts, and fashion from more than 100 makers in the greater Richmond area.

At Steward’s “Kardboard Kingdom” exhibit, children and adults of all ages participated in constructing a medieval kingdom using sustainable materials such as cardboard, tissue paper, fabric, and paper plates. In addition to creating structures for the kingdom that included towers, castles, gates, and waterwheels, visitors took part in hands-on table activities where they made and decorated their own shields, crowns, helmets, and paper tunics.

“I like to pretend that I’m a queen, and I’m making a bunch of little tissue paper flowers and then I’m going to tape them to this rod and make it into a scepter,” said sixth grader Leland Gates. “It’s cool that this stuff can be reused and we can play with it—with tiny scraps of paper, you can actually do something with them instead of wasting them, and you can turn them into something fun.”

Steward faculty and staff members hosted interactive activities that were popular with visitors, including Minecraft kingdom building, fairy tale readings with a paper princess, and Elizabethan acts. The Steward community contributed to the display of the kingdom in advance by building a selfie booth called “Ye Olde Photo Bomb” and constructing two gates displaying the Steward shield, complete with a cardboard dragon to mark the entrance. They even created cardboard gargoyles—in medieval times, gargoyles were used as an architectural element to keep evil spirits away, so students built a pink gargoyle to “scare” away breast cancer.

Former Secretary of Education of Virginia Anne Holton made a special appearance at the event, touring the kingdom with Director of the Bryan Innovation Lab Cary Jamieson.

“Anne was really impressed with the hands-on dimension of the activity with kids and parents,” Ms. Jamieson said. “She is very interested in how an activity like this could be used in underserved schools where there may not be as many resources and equipment. She is a passionate educator and she cares so deeply for equality of education for all students. I could have not been more thrilled to have the opportunity to walk through the kingdom with her.”

Steward and non-Steward parents alike said they were impressed with the organization and conceptualization of the “Kardboard Kingdom,” specifically its ability to inspire children to create.
“You see cardboard and, in my mind, I think of it as flat,” said Dawn Miller, mother of a kindergartener. “But when you give it to a child, their imagination goes wild. My son is having so much fun, and all of the children are taking off with it. He’s also starting to learn about this kind of thing in school, so it’s great that we can reinforce these concepts at home as well.”

Ms. Jamieson began conceptualizing the idea of a cardboard makerspace after observing her son, Gordon Miller ’28, creating toys out of cardboard with his friends. While discussing ideas for RVA MakerFest, she and Bryan Lab Lead Technologist Shane Diller decided on the idea of a “Kardboard Kingdom.” Ms. Jamieson said the exhibit is meant to be fun, but the concepts behind it are serious.

“I want our kids and adults to know that it’s important to be creative,” she said. “You can prototype or engineer anything you want right now with free materials. You don’t have to wait to learn to program or use a 3D printer. You can go home and make anything you want. Anything is possible in education.”

Ms. Jamieson said the event would not have been possible without the support of RVA MakerFest Co-Founder Mary Aritt and Science Museum of Virginia’s Director of Playful Learning and Inquiry Chuck English. For more ideas you can create at home, click here to view Steward’s Pinterest board with D.I.Y. cardboard craft projects.

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