Is it Engineering, a Challenge, or Compassion? To preschoolers it’s all the same.

When I read about a design challenge with a very practical purpose: to safely hold and transport a variety of take-out items for a family taco dinner, using paper products, it brought a related, and inspiring, challenge to mind.

“Which of them will be able to keep the most eggs from breaking?” asked Paper & Packaging @HowLifeUnfolds. For the design challenge, two designers competed to design, create, and present an innovative, imaginative, and practical prototype take-out meal package using only paper products for Moe’s Southwest Grill. They had several hours to complete it.

The first contestant, Christina, explained that she loves art and being creative. Marti said she likes challenges and solving problems. Both have packaging and industrial design experience. As they presented their prototypes to the owner of the company, they explained their perspectives, and what they perceived as essentials of Moe’s Southwest Grill. Marti explained that she was inspired by knowing that “MOE’s” stands for Musicians, Outlaws, and Entertainers; and she loves music, so she designed a package that looks like a guitar case, with spaces for all elements of the meal. Christina designed “a giant taco purse” which is easy to carry, easy to scale, and easy to assemble. Both designers created compartments that they hoped would help the meals arrive safely and avoid spills. In presenting their prototypes, they were not asked to demonstrate that it successfully held and protected the food.


All of this reminded me of a “challenge” that was raised in our multi-age (3- to 5-year-olds) preschool class a few years ago. We had been reading and discussing Mother Goose rhymes. “Humpty Dumpty” was intriguing because he fell off a wall, got cracked of course, and could not be put back together. We thought about walls, and eggs, and how to protect Humpty Dumpty. The preschoolers had ideas.

Our class had engaged in working on challenges and solving problems before. So we talked about some strategies we can use when we’re solving a problem.

We handled some raw eggs and saw that they were pretty strong, unless they got hit sharply. I don’t think anyone suggested hard-boiling the egg … that wouldn’t be very good for Humpty Dumpty, would it?

We posed a question. If we gave everyone one “Humpty Dumpty,” and allowed them to drop it from a great height, how would they protect it from breaking? They wanted to wrap it. Some wanted a box; some said they needed crumpled paper; some asked for cloth, some said tape, and some wanted bubble wrap.

So the next day, we brought in a dozen eggs, newspaper, tissue paper, cardboard packing materials, small boxes, plastic food containers, and of course bubble wrap. We looked at the egg carton to see how it was protecting the eggs, but the preschoolers did not think it would save the eggs from a fall.

Students chose an egg, and we helped them to draw Humpty’s face on it. Then they spent about an hour wrapping, re-wrapping, and double-wrapping their eggs. Some secured the wrapping with a piece of tape, or a lot of tape. Some asked for string.

One put the egg into a plastic container and then wrapped the egg and container in bubble wrap and taped it up securely. Another finished wrapping and cushioning her egg, and then put it snugly into a formed packing container “for extra protection.” Then it was time to put their ideas to the test.


We went out to the patio where we had put a sturdy table, with a plastic tablecloth on the ground below, and a step stool to climb up. Everyone sat on the ground, carefully holding their Humpty Dumpty. It was now preschool pick-up time, so parents joined us on the patio to watch.

One at a time, the children climbed onto the table, raised their egg into the air, said, “Be safe, Humpty Dumpty!” and dropped the egg.


We helped them down off the table to unwrap and examine the results.

“I can’t wait!” exclaimed N. Several friends gathered around H’s egg: “I think he’s safe. … Oh, no. He’s cracked!” H and her friends laughed.

J’s egg dropped with a thud. The bubble wrap was turning yellow. “Let me see all the yolk,” said G.

Then B’s package bounced! “I don’t think it broke… Yeah, it survived!” exclaimed D.

The one secured in its “carseat” landed unharmed. The preschoolers smiled when the eggs broke, and were excited and pleased if they survived.






The next day, sitting in a group, each of the 3- to 5-year olds had a turn to tell about their egg, how they had wrapped it, and what they had learned. I wonder if any of them will become package designers, engineers, or inventors, and if they will remember this experiment.

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