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Not a Sheet

Age: 0 to 8+ Time: <30 min
Materials: flat bed sheet
Skills: Communication, Creativity, Imagination, Teamwork
Inspired by Antoinette Portis's series of picture books, Not a Box and, our favorite, Not a Stick, our team of Tinkergarten leaders decided to give kids plenty of chances to transform an ordinary bed sheet into an extraordinary list of things. Just as Portis's protagonist turns a stick into a fishing pole, paint brush or mighty sword, you and a child or group of children can use your bodies, imaginations and the natural world around you to turn a sheet into a race car, the roof of a castle, a hot lava pit and more. We've shared some of our favorite incarnations here, but welcome you to grab an old sheet and hit the great outdoors. We found the following steps helpful in getting us started, but really enjoyed letting the kids run with it.

The Guide

  1. Read Not a Stick: Head outside with an old sheet and a copy of Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis. Read the book and wonder together about how the little rabbit transforms a stick into all kinds of things. If this leads directly to stick play, go with it.
  2. Unveil the sheet: Show kids the sheet you brought. Ask, "Do you know what this is?" Expect the obvious and accept all answers. Ask again, "Do you know what this is?" Then, share, "This is NOT a sheet." Repeat a few times. Then ask, "What could we turn this NOT a sheet into?"
  3. Guide the play: No matter what age of kids you have, stay involved in the brainstorming and testing out of the first few reincarnations for your NOT a sheet. All the while, try to prompt the kids to decide what to do with the sheet and make sure that they hold and manipulate the sheet along with you. With older kids, look for a chance to step back and observe as the group takes over. If it is really working well with you as an active member of the crew, stick with it, asking questions and supporting their engagement as a fellow inventor.
  4. How to adjust for wee ones: We recommend the following approach when kids are all under 2 to 2.5 years. Spend less time on discussing and exploring how the sheet could become various things. Rather, hand out the sheet and just start touching, moving and exploring the sheet. Allow kids to do just this for a while. Model ways to tinker with the sheet, ever welcoming small hands to hold onto the sheet as you play and giving space and time for them to continue to play in any way that clearly engages them.
  5. Some of our favorite alter-egos for a bed sheet:
    • A magic carpet to ride on (pull one child at a time)
    • A parachute to toss leaves, acorns, etc. (cut a hole in the middle for extra lift)
    • The roof of a shelter, from cabin to castle
    • A costume, from fancy dress to mummy gear
    • Swing with two adults holding the corners
    • Boat with kids in the middle and the rest rocking the sailors around
    • London Bridge (run under it or get wrapped up in it when the bridge falls down)
    • Target Practice...hang it up and throw mud baseballs at it
  6. Share your ideas! If you discover a particularly wonderful use for your NOT a sheet, email photos and description to us at, subj: NOT a sheet. Let us know if we can share the photo here, and we'll keep adding to this idea list.

Why is this activity great for kids?

The combination of a simple object and the welcome to re-imagine that object offers kids the perfect practice with imagining possibilities—the foundation they need to think creatively and flexibly as learners and older children or adults. Not a Sheet is also a seriously social experience, as participants collaborate to create new realities. As kids share ideas and add narrative or even simple squeals to their make believe play with the sheet, they develop communication skills. Finally, even though wee ones may not participate as fully in the imaginative or communicative aspects of this activity, simply experiencing the many ways such a simple object can be used and being part of such communal exploration opens up their imagination to the possibilities. We also love this activity because it was inspired by one of our super talented Tinkergarten leaders, Roxanne Breton in Westchester, NY.

Do This Activity In A Class

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Do It Yourself

We think all families should be learning outside. Try this activity with your child and begin to see the power in outdoor, play-based learning. Have fun!

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