Playing with cardboard boxes: why it’s good for children

A big empty box is a great starting point for creative and imaginative play. Your child can decide how to change the box into something she can use for pretend play, like a castle, shop, cave and so on. Then she can use her imagination and problem-solving skills to turn her ideas into reality.

Cardboard boxes can also encourage physical play. Often the first thing your child wants to do with a cardboard box is to climb into it – and perhaps jump out to surprise you!

What you need for playing with cardboard boxes

Boxes of any size are fun to play with and will get your child’s imagination working. If you can find a really big cardboard box, your child can fit inside it and create something amazing. You might be able to get cardboard boxes from local supermarkets and other shops.

If you want your child to be able to change or decorate the box, some of these might be useful:

  • scissors or a craft knife (adult use only)
  • tape and glue
  • paints, marker pens or thick crayons.

Depending on how your child wants to use the box, he could also use things like:

  • colourful paper, foil, cellophane or fabric to decorate the box
  • paper plates to use as the wheels of a car, bus, truck or train
  • puppets and a bit of fabric for a curtain to make a puppet theatre.

How to play with cardboard boxes

There’s no ‘right’ way to play with a cardboard box, so let your child decide what she wants to do and follow her lead. You could start by just talking about the box together. For example, ask, ‘How big is it? Can you fit inside?’ or ‘What does it remind you of? A house? A car?’

If your child needs suggestions to get started, you could try these ideas:

  • Make a house. Cut open a window and a door and let your child add cushions and other ‘furniture’. He could bring in some toys for a tea party.
  • Make a plane or a car. Use paper plates for wheels and steering wheels. Cut off the box flaps and stick them back on as the wings and tail of a plane. Let your child draw or paste markings and racing stripes.
  • Make a robot costume. Cut out a head hole and armholes for your child and let her decorate the box with foil and coloured markers.
  • Make a puppet theatre. Cut a doorway and a window on opposite sides of the box. Hang a curtain over the window and let your child put on a show for the family from inside the box.
  • Decorate the box. Cut holes for your child to stick colourful cellophane over. Let him draw or paint on it, and stick paper or scraps of fabric of different textures inside and outside for a sensory experience.
  • Use the box to encourage active play. For example, turn it sideways to make a tunnel. Or your child could be a Jack-in-the-Box – crouching low inside the box and then jumping up like she’s on a spring.

Adapting cardboard box play for children of different ages

Let your younger child take the lead with cardboard boxes. Let him climb in and out, or make scribbles on the box with markers.

Encourage your older child to get involved in construction. But help her to solve problems rather than giving her all the solutions. For example, let your child work out whether glue or sticky tape works best, or which way up the box should be for a puppet show.