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More for Less: How Cardboard Box Play Will Make Your Child's Holiday Better

December 3, 2020

Have you ever spent money on a new toy for your child, only to discover they just want to play with the box? You’re not the only one! Young children love to play with everyday objects, sometimes even more than their toys—and cardboard boxes are a prime example of that. Boxes make great open-ended toys (meaning they can become anything you imagine) and they are filled with countless opportunities for creating and learning.  

On this page…

A Box is Not Just a Box…  

Two young boys play in cardboard boxes pretending it could be a car, boar, or rocket ship.
A preschooler explores arts and crafts by decorating a cardboard box with a marker
A toddler looks out the window of their cardboard box playhouse

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis 

Check out Not a Box by Antoinette Portis: a children’s book about some of the ways children use their imagination when they play with a box! 

Read along to Not a Box with the video below.

6 Cardboard Box Play Ideas that Benefit Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

Say goodbye to “I’m bored” and hello to cardboard! These ideas will get you started on your cardboard box play adventure. 

1. Toy Drop

Cut holes or slots in a box for a toy drop!

A toddler drops a pink ball through holes in a cardboard box, benefiting fine motor development

The greatest thing about this activity is it can be changed to match your child’s interests. If your child likes colours, create a game that incorporates colours—such as this colour sort:

A toddler sorts balls into four coloured holes of a cardboard box.

Maybe your child is interested in BIG and small—this game can be altered to have different sized slots to see which toys/objects fit and which don’t!

Cardboard box play idea for toddlers and preschoolers that incorporates sorting shapes and toys

Or try this “no hands” toy drop! Maneuver a ball (or a marble when using a small box) by moving the box to drop the ball into the hole.

Four toddlers and preschoolers to develop teamwork with a 'no hands' ball drop activity

2. Bean Bag Toss

Set up some different sized boxes for a bean bag toss! If you don’t have bean bags on hand, you can also use stuffed animals, balls, or socks rolled up into a ball. Try standing at different distances to toss the bean bag into the box! Add different challenges such as tossing the bean bag while standing on one leg or tossing it backwards.

Children can develop physical literacy by practicing throwing toys into cardboard boxes

3. Clip It!

Grab a box and some clips for a fine motor activity! Simply attach and detach different clips to the sides of a box. Larger clips (such as hair clips or chip clips) are great for toddlers, while preschoolers might like the challenge of attaching smaller clips (such as clothes pins and paper clips).

This play idea shows that children can develop fine-motor skills by attaching clips onto the edges of a cardboard box.

4. Lacing

Create this fine motor lacing activity using a box, a hole punch, and a shoelace or piece of string. Punch holes into a box (tissue boxes work well as they are thin and easier to hole punch)! Tie a shoelace or piece of string to one of the punched holes; if you’re using string, tape the other end to make it a little sturdier for lacing. You can also try this activity on a larger scale with a bigger box and more string!

This play idea shows that children can develop fine-motor skills by passing laces through holes in a cardboard box.

5. Marble Painting

A box, paint and marbles make for a fun art activity! Add some dabs of paint to the box along with a few marbles and tilt the box in different directions to move the marbles through the paint. Change this activity up by using sticks to move the marbles around or create a larger version of this activity using golf balls or plastic balls!

This cardboard box play idea uses marbles and paint to explore arts and crafts.

6. Mystery Box

Cut a hand-sized hole on a box and place an object inside. Allow your child to reach inside and guess what the object is based on how it feels!

A marker is hidden inside a cardboard box for a mystery box game

Did you enjoy these out-of-the box play ideas? Find more ways to play with Activities for Every Week!

Boxes are Timeless Toys 

Infants and young children love to explore objects that they see adults using. Check out this video of a baby choosing everyday objects over their toys! 

The picture below was taken 50 years ago—some toys never go out of style!

Vintage photo of two children standing inside a large cardboard box playhouse

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