Warning: Contains Spoilers for Toy Story 4
I recently took my grandchildren to see “Toy Story 4”. At the beginning of the movie, a very distraught Bonnie goes to kindergarten orientation. During the orientation, the teacher asks the children to make pencil holders, and Bonnie, alone and afraid, begins to cry. Always reliable, Woody sneaks out of her backpack (where he has been hiding) and quickly grabs some art supplies from the trash and dumps them in front of Bonnie. Bonnie opens her eyes, then proceeds to make a friend for herself from the discarded supplies that she names “Forky.” With her new toy in hand, she is able to find the courage to make it through the rest of Kindergarten Orientation.
Bonnie’s resiliency reminds me of all the Kindergarten students that I have worked with throughout the years: children who, when given some paper, scissors, and glue, can craft you an imaginary world of their own creation. Children who see beauty and power in their own abilities to create. This creativity allows them to feel a sense of control in a world that often presents them with nothing but chaos. I’ve seen this creativity in my granddaughter, who created this masterpiece out of green paper, discarded hole punches, and tape, then presented it as a Mother’s Day present. And, like Bonnie and Forky, she would be devastated if she ever found that her masterpiece had wandered off into the trash.
With all this in mind, I was surprised to see stores selling prepackaged kits allowing children to “make their own Forky” and teachers planning to spend their Kindergarten orientation times helping children build their own Forky toy. It seems so ironic that a toy a child made out of trash to comfort herself is now being sold to other children in a package that assumes there is only one way to make ones own odds and ends toy; a craft that was originally a creative endeavor has been turned into an assembly line project. The idea of buying a store bought version of a toy that celebrates childhood creativity for upwards of $10 is so ridiculous that one man proved it by building a version of the talking $30 Forky toy for $12.
Creativity, and outlets to foster it, are important for the development of a young child. My students enjoy trips to the art room, quality guided drawing activities, but their favorite art time — above all—is the times my well-stocked art center is available for free expression. Students love to create. Those special opportunities for free expression are not only a gift for a rich, memorable childhood experience, but lay a foundation for the ability to create, take chances, experiment, and think out of the box for lifetime experiences that lie ahead.
So don’t waste your money on a “build your own Forky kit” or start out your kindergarten year by building assembly line toys that mean more to you than the children. If we really want to recreate the kind of experience that Toy Story 4 celebrates in it’s opening moments, we should open up our art cabinets, our scrap piles, and our garbage bins to our students from day one and let them see what they would like to create. I think we’ll be surprised by the amazing “friends” they come up with on their own.