When you step into the Roman household in Athens, Georgia, you are walking into a whirlwind of color, excitement, and creativity. Twelve-year-old Jojo Roman meticulously assembles his latest cardboard creation as his three siblings play with his cardboard bubble-gum machine and fend off make-believe bad guys with cardboard swords and shields.
Meanwhile, their mom, Jessi, puts the finishing touches on a hand-crafted necklace from her jewelry line influenced by superheroes and retro video games; their dad sketches designs for costumes he will be soon be making; and seven-year-old Naomi is making a video starring her favorite dolls.
When the Romans are creating, they are discovering new worlds as individuals and as a tight-knit unit.
We were first introduced to the Roman family in a video posted to the Caine’s Arcade Facebook page. Jojo, who loves to create with cardboard, Legos, paper, “and pretty much anything he can get his hands on,” says his mom submitted a video pitching Caine his Super Mario-themed cardboard bubble-gum machine. Watch here:
Jojo made the video after watching Caine’s Arcade, calling the arcade, “the best idea” he’s ever seen.
He recently told us that he loved “everything” about the film, especially the look on Caine’s face when he drove by the workshop and saw everyone waiting for him to arrive. [Watch the film here to see this moment.]
“I love how he [Caine] inspired so many people,” Jojo says.
Jojo’s enthusiasm and creative response to the film was not only noticed by Caine but also by journalists at NBC. In a segment highlighting Caine’s Arcade, the network included a portion of Jojo’s bubble-gum machine video.
“Jojo was actually so overwhelmed by it all that he was moved to tears, telling me that I’d have to buy some more tissue,” his mom wrote on her blog, adding that “all the while, [he was] grinning from ear to ear.”
That was in 2012, and since then, Jojo has dreamt up and built many more inspired creations out of cardboard and recycled materials. He’s made a cardboard Ironman costume, a pair of glow-in-the-dark Back to the Future boots, props from the film Tron and the video game The Legend of Zelda, and just about anything you could think of out of Legos.
Just as Caine influenced him, Jojo is inspiring his younger siblings to create with discarded things they find around the house. His five-year-old brother, Micah, now loves to make games and artwork with empty soda bottles and paper plates. It’s important, Jojo says, for other kids to know that when it comes to creating, they should just “go for it.”
He says: “Don’t let anything or anyone stop you. Make what you want and don’t be scared to show your ideas to friends or family.”
Homeschooling + Creativity
The Roman kids get to be creative during their school day as well. Jessi and her husband chose to homeschool their kids so they could put some focus on the arts—an area that’s unfortunately getting short shrift in too many public schools. Around the country, arts education is often the first thing to go when budgets are cut. In fact, nearly four million elementary kids attend schools without art classes.
The Romans’ decision to homeschool was based on other factors as well, Jessi says. Notably, they wanted to be active in educating their kids and making sure their children’s individual needs were being met.
“All kids learn differently, and we really wanted to be able to offer them the best possibilities. Also, I personally felt like being home with them and being able to tend to their individual needs and learning styles,” Jessi says.
Quinn Cummings, a homeschool mom and the author of The Year of Living Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling, echoed this sentiment in an op-ed for TakePart. “A growing population of families who simply don’t fit into a one-size-fits-all academic world” are choosing to homeschool, she said.
“Parents in the 21st century,” Quinn said, “are creating an entirely new approach to primary and secondary education. It’s a model that uses a broad menu of learning options from both traditional and online sources. Some of these providers are quite familiar: local schools, neighborhood sports and education centers, faith-based programs, commercial learning centers and so forth. Others come directly as a result of the Internet and its explosion of high-quality education resources.”
“It’s a combination that allows every parent to custom build a curriculum for each student using a mix-and-match approach to satisfy each student’s individual requirements. I’ve started to refer to this as ‘made to order’ education.”
Quinn and Jessi are among the growing population of parents who have chosen to take their child’s education into their own hands. Currently, approximately 2 million children in the United States are homeschooled. And since 1999, the number of kids who are homeschooled has increased by 75 percent, according to a 2013 Education Next report.
The Romans’ Global Cardboard Challenge
Engaging with other families and kids is an important part of the school day for the Roman family. “We try to, as often as we can, do things collaboratively with other families,” Jessi says.
One of the projects they love to do with local homeschool families is the Global Cardboard Challenge.
During last year’s event, the kids and their parents came together and built all kinds of games, including a miniature bowling alley, a ball toss, a ring toss, a labyrinth, and a painted photo booth equipped with props made out of cardboard.
The parents let the kids run the event and loved seeing the older kids take on leadership roles and help the younger children. The Romans were also able to enjoy their time creating together as a family. “It was a fantastic event,” Jessi says.
As mom, author, and crafter Amanda Blake Soule says in her book The Creative Family, “When you learn to awaken your family’s creativity, wonderful things will happen.”
This fall, we invite kids all over the world to build something amazing out of cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. Inspired by the short film, Caine’s Arcade, the Global Cardboard Challenge (GCC) is an annual event presented by the Imagination Foundation that celebrates child creativity and the role communities can play in fostering it. This September, kids of all ages are invited to build anything they can dream up using cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. Then on Saturday, October 11, 2014, communities will come together to play!
Register your participation in the 2014 Global Cardboard Challenge at www.cardboardchallenge.com.
This story was written by Jenny Inglee, the Imagination Foundation’s Imagination Curator and The Storybook Editor. The first collection of stories in The Storybook focus on the work of inspiring individuals, schools, and organizations that participated in the 2013 Global Cardboard Challenge.
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Main Image: Chevre via Wikimedia Commons