11 Ways to Turn Empty Boxes Into Fabulous Fun for Kids
Got any cardboard boxes ready to recycle?
Create some corrugated family fun! The editors of My Kids’ Adventures have searched the Internet to find cool stuff you can make from cardboard boxes.
In this article I’ll show you how to “upcycle” cardboard into several different projects that your kids will love. So hold off on that trip to the recycling center and read on for some unexpected ideas.
Why Make Projects Out of Cardboard?
Remember when your kids were little and they seemed to enjoy the box as much (or more) than the present itself? Preschoolers and toddlers have a knack for turning a plain old box into a car or a boat or some other kind of adventure. Kids are wired to be imaginative and cardboard is the perfect blank canvas.
Feed their imaginations! The fun doesn’t have to end when your kids get a little older. They may just need some bigger ideas. Cardboard can be an awesome medium for anyone to make something fun out of. It’s free, plentiful, strong yet flexible and easy to work with.
This time of year, you might have a lot of extra cardboard boxes around the house. Take a look at those boxes and envision your kids creating something innovative and entertaining. Here are some ideas to help.
We’ve gathered some fantastic cardboard designs from across the web.
For most of them, you’ll need to gather a few basic tools and materials: cardboard, a utility or X-acto knife, a pen or pencil and duct tape or hot glue.
Some of the projects are large, some are small. Some require a bit of work and others are so simple you won’t believe you didn’t think of them yourself. Take a look at the size and quality of your boxes to decide on a cardboard project perfect for your kids.
Then measure, cut, tape and create some fun family memories.
#1: Fairytale Castle / Formidable Fortress
Bring fairy tales to life with a castle made from cardboard. Your young knights and ladies will love the drawbridge, battlements and other classic features found on this simple design from Kathy Gossen at Cornerstone Confessions.
No template is needed for this quick cardboard castle creation that’s large enough for your kids to play inside. We love that you can make this castle your own—just add rooms, paint or decorate according to your child’s imagination.
Don’t have a large appliance or furniture box to make the castle? Read cardboard playhouse secrets below (#9) for ways to make a fort from boxes of any size.
Check the link at Cornerstone Confessions to learn How to Make a Cardboard Castle.
#2: Physics in Action—Ball Drop Maze
Have a child who loves engineering contraptions? This ball maze from a happy wanderer is for you. With a large piece of cardboard, cardboard tubes and hot glue, you can easily create this maze.
Add golf balls for a rolling good time. Your kids will learn through trial and error how to make the balls roll faster and go the direction they need to make this maze work. It’s a great activity for shape identification, predictions (Will it or won’t it roll?), and just some general fun!
Check the link at a happy wanderer to learn How to Make a Cardboard Ball Maze.
#3: Music-Making Cardboard Guitar
This cardboard guitar definitely had the ‘wow’ factor for us! Make a guitar from cardboard that actually works! How cool is that? Steve brings it to us as part of his Mister Make It and Love It series on his wife’s blog, Make It and Love It.
For this project, you’ll need access to a drill, elastic and a pencil, in addition to the obvious items (cardboard cutter and hot glue). Be sure to download the cutting template on their site to get the shape just right.
We love that Steve shows how to make a real, working musical instrument out of cardboard. It’s two creative projects in one for your kids—make it first, then play it!
A fantastic feature of the cardboard guitar is that the strings are different lengths and when plucked they result in slightly different pitches. It’s great way to learn about the science behind the music.
Check the link at Make It and Love It to learn How to Make a Cardboard Guitar.
#4: Stairway Slide
Have a gigantic box that you’re not sure what to do with? Turn it into a slide! J. Dix, the Contemplative Creative, explains how to simply cut boxes open, tape them together and lay them over the stairs to create a cardboard slide your kids will love.
What is it about children and stairs? Ours love to sit and read on the steps, create games or drop things over the banister. This cardboard slide will add so many new ways to play.
Encourage your kids to roll different objects down the slide: balls, cars, dolls and themselves if you’ll let them! Then watch them up the ante as their creative (and competitive) minds take over and they start to race objects down.
Check the link at Contemplative Creative to learn How to Make a Cardboard Slide.
#5: Grocery Storefront
Lorraine, or ‘LiEr,’ the blogger behind ikatbag, is known for her many original cardboard creations. Check out her detailed instructions and make this amazing cardboard grocery store for your kids.
This is the kind of project your kids will play with for years (or as long as the cardboard holds up). Think of all the fun play dates they’ll have with their very own grocery store.
With the same instructions, you can make a storefront of any kind: bakery, smoothie bar, lemonade stand… if your daughter is named Lucy, she might call it “therapy” and charge a nickel to give advice. (Unless you’re Snoopy. In that case, she’d probably shoo you away.)
Check the link at ikatbag to learn How to Make a Cardboard Grocery Store.
#6: Minecraft Head
Instructables contributor Haliburt breaks down this Minecraft box/mask with multiple faces into four simple steps. There are even tips to show you how to keep the box from slipping around on your head.
This is a fairly simple project that will entice your kids away from the computer and into physical play with friends or siblings. We like that you can leave the box plain (as seen) or “pixelate” it to be more true to the computer game’s style.
Check the link at Instructables to learn How to Make a Cardboard Minecraft Mask.
#7: Sailing Ships
These boats featured on ikatbag are inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia. Their small size is perfect for playmobil characters or other action figures.
Blogger LiEr (Lorraine) has made it easy to print out hand-sketched templates to recreate her cardboard boats.
While these cardboard boats aren’t actually seaworthy (or bathtub-worthy), they are perfectly suited for the imaginary adventures of any small characters in your child’s toybox. Make one (or more) with your kids and watch as they set sail on a toy soldier deployment, pirate‘s battle, Polly Pockets’ cruise, Noah’s ark adventure or even a dinosaur rescue mission!
Check the link at ikatbag to learn How to Make a Cardboard Boat.
#8: Horse Stable
Have an animal lover at your house? Merrilee at Mer Mag shows you how to make this fantastic cardboard stable for horses, but it’s perfect for any barnyard animal. Change the taped-on decorations for a perfect Barbie house or racecar garage.
For this cardboard project, you’ll need duct tape for sure. We love that you can use small- to medium-sized boxes for this cardboard barn. You have the flexibility to make this any size, depending on the animal your child wants to board.
Check the link at Mer Mag to learn How to Make a Cardboard Horse Stable.
#9: Cardboard Playhouse Secrets
Architect Carl Croft shared his ingenious (but oh-so-simple) tricks for creating cardboard forts and playhouses with any-size boxes right here at My Kids’ Adventures.
You don’t need to buy a new refrigerator to make a cool fort with your kids, but you will need Carl’s secret stabilizing material: cardboard tubes.
With Carl’s tips, you can make a house, fort, castle, store or any kind of structure using whatever boxes you have on hand.
Check the link at My Kids’ Adventures to learn Secrets to Building a Cardboard Playhouse or Fort.
#10: Beanbag Toss Game
Danielle Reiner at made.in.japan fills her site with simple ideas for fulfilling family life. This easy beanbag toss game is a perfect example.
Cut any sized box in half, cut some holes and toss beanbags, balls or other small toys into the openings for loads of fun.
See how many variations on this classic game your kids can come up with. Try tossing different things, assigning point values for the different holes or challenging your kids to toss from different locations.
Check the link at born.in.japan to learn How to Make a Cardboard Beanbag Toss.
#11: Cardboard Treasure Chest
HthrTz posted this cool treasure chest idea on Instructables. The editors there liked her idea so much they posted it on their front page.
We love it, too, and couldn’t wait to share this one.
Make your treasure chest any size, for treasures large or small. Use it as a toybox, gift box or (our favorite) as the prize your kids find at the end of a treasure hunt!
Check the link at Instructables to learn How to Make a Cardboard Treasure Chest.
Some Final Thoughts…
If you’re lucky enough to have a few good-sized cardboard boxes on hand, don’t toss them—reuse them! They’re a great “blank slate” for your child to play with.
Just assess the cardboard you have and talk to your kids about what they’d like to help you make. Voilà—the toy and the box it came in are two gifts in one. Your children might go back to loving the box more than the gift again—just like when they were tiny!
Don’t toss or recycle your boxes just yet. Hold onto them, get creative and make something your children will like to play with.
What do you think? Have you made anything amazing out of cardboard boxes? We’d love to hear about it! Share your fantastic box project ideas with a comment or photo below.
Kristin Ammerman is a mom, creative writer and the evangelist of fun for My Kids' Adventures. Her three kids love that their mom's job includes trying out new family activities. Other posts by KJ Ammerman »