How to Build a Robot

Noah Tanatchangsang is a 10 year old boy who lives in my neighborhood, Bridge Meadows. We are set up to help children being adopted out of the foster care system.  He’s one of 4 brothers who regularly come to my all ages art class in the community center.  I’ll never forget the day he came to me with the idea of building a robot.  We were drawing at a table with his rambunctious 4 and 2 year old brothers. 

Noah jumped up and said, “I forgot to bring something!”

His brothers were a little alarmed, but he said he’d be back soon.  To console themselves, the brothers wandered over to the ping pong table and tried to figure out how to play, even though both of them were shorter than the table. 
About 5 minutes later, I heard a muffled knock on the door.  I opened it to find a tall box at the door.  The box shuffled in and bumped into the ping pong table.  The boys laughed and began to beat the box with their ping pong paddles. 

“Stop, stop!” cried Noah from within the box. 

I got the boys under control while Noah wiggled out. 

“We could make a robot out of this box.  My mom was just going to throw it away.”

The younger boys couldn’t leave the box alone, so we decided it was best to keep it in my apartment.  That was in the spring.  For the next few months, when Noah was free from school work, after school activities, camping and traveling with his family, soccer games and home work, we built a robot. 
It was a  project that engaged his mind and fired his imagination.  A few days after he delivered the first box, he was at the door with another smaller box with clear plastic panels, perfect for the robot’s head.  Again, he said, “My mom was just going to throw it away.”



I tried to explain that we sometimes have to throw things away because there isn’t enough room to keep everything, but he’s not entirely convinced.  But it’s truly inspiring to watch a kid build things from things what would otherwise be thrown away.  It lets them see the magic of transformation in a way nothing else can.  You can read a post about how Noah first became aware that things can be fixed and transformed here.  We made a prosthetic leg for his Godzilla toy.

So I hope I’m inspiring an artist and not a hoarder.  I had a bag of odds and ends including pill bottle caps we could use as dials, paper towel tubes for the rockets, and fabric scraps for the cape.



Just as we were getting close to the end of the project, I found the book, Welcome to Your Awesome Robot, by Viviane Schwarz, Flying EyeBooks, a book I wish we’d had when we started.  It’s both a story and a manual, and it’s perfect for creating a project with a kid.  I love that it features a girl.  Noah loved that it came with cut-out decals, and instructions on how to make fuel input additions and functioning dials.  




He didn’t want to cut things out of the book, although we could have.  He wanted to keep it intact for future use.  And it’s a lovely book.  It’s like a large Moleskine sketchbook with a gray paper flexible cover, and embossed print.  The illustrations are energetic and charming.  I’m so glad to have discovered Viviane Shwarz’s whimsical world.  Her website has a video of her reading her book, Is There a Dog in this Book, a fun one with foldouts and surprises.  She also has a place to post any awesome robots you make.  


Great End Papers


You watch a kid and her adult assistant build the ‘bot



We copied and enlarged the Death Ray decal and pasted it by the robot dials to warn off any enemies.

We made a magic wand with an old outdoor light and the light from another toy

We got to  make certificates, too!

While we were working on the robot, Noah became enchanted by my reading light.


He wanted to make an angler fish with it.  I was reluctant to give it up and on a trip to the hardware store to buy robot arms (dryer vent tubes) we found another light that would work even better.  We’d learned a lot about cardboard with the robot, but with the angler fish, we learned how to bend it and shape it. 

Making Teeth

to welcome little fishies in with gently smiling jaws





When Noah made his debut at the community Halloween party last week, we had a story about the robot going to the bottom of the sea to bring back the angler fish. 




Kids of all ages at Bridge Meadows Halloween party


Between our own projects and what we learned from the Awesome Robot book, we’re ready to teach other kids how to build their own robots.  We figure the best time will be in January. As long as the other kids keep the boxes that their Christmas presents come in, we’ll have plenty of material to work with.  Now all we have to do is convince the parents not to throw all those cool boxes away.


Reuse and recycle!


Special thanks to Flying Eye books for Welcome to Your Awesome Robot.  Check out their website, they publish lots of amazing books for kids.  Their committed to sustainable manufacturing and encouraging creativity.  They’re publishing new authors and helping children discover the joys of well made books.  

Thanks for reading my blog!


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