Play Ideas

More for Less: How a Cardboard Box is the Best Toy for Kids

December 16, 2022
Preschool kids play with building bricks in while sitting on floor in daycare

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. A box is a large loose part and an open-ended toy which means it can become anything you imagine and is filled with opportunities for fun and learning.

A Box is Not Just a Box…

A box is a car, building blocks, a rocket ship, a cozy house, a tall skyscraper, a treasure chest, a canvas to paint on, a pair of shoes, and much much more.

6 Cardboard Box Play Ideas for Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

These cardboard box play ideas are simple, low mess and can be adapted for all ages! Lots of learning is happening during these activities too – click the links in the descriptions below for information about that area of learning and development. You will also see an icon on the photo indicating some of the learning that happens when children try these activities.

1. Toy Drop

Cut holes or slots in a box and collect some toys for a toy drop. This activity practices small muscle skills as your child moves the toy into the slot.

This activity can be easily changed to match your child’s interests. If they like colours, try creating a game that incorporates colours—such as this colour sort! Can you find toys around your home that match the colours on the box? Matching and sorting are two of many math concepts children are learning through play.

If your child is interested in math concepts like BIG and small, this game can be adapted to have slots of different sizes. They can test which toys/objects fit and which ones don’t.

For a more active version of this activity, try a “no hands” toy drop! Maneuver a ball (or a marble when using a small box) by tilting the box to drop the ball into the hole. This activity gives children the opportunity to practice their large muscle skills as they use their arm and core muscles to move and balance the box.

2. Ball Toss

Set up some different sized boxes for a ball toss. You can also toss stuffed animals or socks rolled up into a ball. Try standing at different distances to toss the ball into the box! Try adding different challenges such as tossing the ball while standing on one leg or tossing it backwards.

3. Clip It!

Grab a box and some clips for a this small muscle 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).

4. Lacing

Create this small muscle skills lacing activity using a box, a hole punch, and a shoelace/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!

5. Marble Painting

A box, paint and marbles make 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 a big box and golf balls or plastic balls instead of marbles.

Children will practice small muscle skills like hand-eye coordination as they tilt the box so the marble moves through the paint. This will also require focus and can be very soothing. This is great for social-emotional development as it can help children decompress and learn ways regulate their emotions.

6. Mystery Box

Cut a hand-sized hole on a box and place an object inside. Allow your child to reach inside and use memory and critical thinking to guess what the object is based on how it feels! Incorporate literacy by asking them to describe the object or by giving them hints with descriptive words (this object is smooth and bright).

Cardboard 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!

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 on YouTube here

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