MARQUETTE- In the summer of 2011 a 9-year-old boy named Caine made an arcade of cardboard at his father’s used parts shop in East Los Angeles. In October that year, a flash mob was planned to get Caine some customers and since then it’s become a movement across the globe.

The first Saturday in October every year is now celebrated as a day of play called the Cardboard Challenge. Sandy Knoll Elementary School third graders have been participating in the challenge the Friday before the official day for the past two years. Third grade teacher Nancy Usitalo heard about Caine’s Arcade on the evening news one night and thought it would be an interesting project for her students to do, she said.

“I thought this was so cool and my third grade colleagues loved the idea too,” Usitalo said. “We really strongly feel in this day and age where kids play with technology and stuff – they got their iPhones, iPads, computers and video games – and you just don’t see kids kind of having that good, old fashion fun of what to do with a box.”

According to Usitalo, the project was left open for the students to create whatever they wanted. They could have created a game or just a thing, she said. Some of the projects the students made included a ping-pong table, skee ball, spaceships, airplanes and even a Perry the Platypus. Some of the student made their project completely and others had help from their parents.

“We also felt that so much of what we do is in the verbal mode in reading and writing and this (project) gives students (a chance) to build something and make something,” Usitalo said. “We need those type of people.”

The students spent time Oct. 4 presenting their projects to their classmates and playing with the creations in the afternoon. Usitalo said all students loved the project and loved getting to see what their classmates created.

“It was easy and it didn’t cost anything. If they wanted to buy something for it they could, but we really stressed the three R’s – recycling, reusing and reducing. We didn’t provide anything,” she said. “They came up with it and did it all themselves. We just gave them the idea of what it was and showed them a video and I think they felt really empowered and proud in a way that they don’t get to feel often enough.”

Usitalo said that with parents helping their children, the project became a family thing to do together. She said parents told her that the project was the best homework ever and loved the idea.

“The parents love it. They were coming in with big smiles on their faces and coming after school to look at the creations,” Usitalo said. “We heard ‘great homework’ and ‘loved the project’ and ‘the whole family got involved.’ That’s what you hope to hear.

“In this busy time of kids being so heavily programed with activities that they do, to just do something like this to get the family to play together was really worth it.”

The best part about the Cardboard Challenge for Usitalo was watching the students present their projects and seeing how proud they are of their creations, she said.

“They didn’t feel there was a right or wrong. There was no assessment or grade,” Usitalo said. “Just seeing that pride in something they made you don’t get to see that very often.”

To learn more about the Cardboard Challenge or how it got started, visit

Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is