10 Fun Shoebox Projects to Do With Your Kids
Want to ignite their imaginations and help them create their own fun?
Give them another kind of box—an empty shoebox. It’s (almost) all you’ll need to keep everyone entertained.
In this article I’ll share 10 quick and inexpensive ways to have fun with a shoebox.
With ideas for games and creative play, sensory stimulation and memory challenges, even organization and writing practice, you’re sure to find something your kids will enjoy, right in your recycling bin.
Why Try Shoebox Projects?
Shoeboxes are the perfect size. They’re big enough to inspire imagination, but small enough to be a manageable project and easily stored at the end of the day. You can even use a shoebox to store a project. Play games, construct objects—the sky’s the limit.
A shoebox adventure is multi-dimensional, whether you make a mini-theater, a zoo, a fish tank or something your kids haven’t imagined yet. You and your kids can create characters and a backstory, make a shoebox “home” where they can come to life and then enter into your imaginary world again and again for hours of fun, creative play.
So go find a shoebox!
When you work on a project as a family, it helps you focus not just on what you’re making, but on the conversations you have. Speak with your children, share ideas and delight in each other’s creativity and achievements.
The following adventures differ in complexity and the time it takes to complete them, so you can choose a project to suit your needs.
All 10 of these activities start with a shoebox and end with lots of fun, so don’t throw out old shoeboxes. Save them for creative day!
Here are 10 things you can do with a shoebox.
#1: Make a Puppet Theater
Everyone loves a puppet show! Create a shoebox theater—the perfect setting to “perform” well-loved tales or make up stories of your own.
Draw theater curtains onto the lid. If you need inspiration, do a Google search for images.
Cut out the inside of the lid around the curtain shapes, so the stage is open.
Be sure to keep the lid intact, as this strengthens the box. Younger kids may need some help with the cutting.
Draw contour lines to make the curtains look more realistic. Add embellishments, if you’d like.
Set the lid aside and take out the shoebox. Cut two rectangles into the short sides of the shoebox. These will let the puppets access the stage.
Decorate the background of your theater or leave it blank.
Another option: measure and cut out rectangles to fit inside the shoebox, and create custom backgrounds. Simply tack or tape backdrops into the base of the shoebox. Cut a half-centimeter slit along the longest side of the shoebox, so you can drop in scenery during your plays.
Once your theater is set (pun intended), find images to turn into puppets. Search for pictures with a story in mind or come up with one based on the pictures you find.
Look for images in magazines or online, sort through old greeting cards or have your kids draw their own pictures to create the cast, scenery and props. Cut the characters out and attach them to drinking straws or bamboo skewers with tape so they can move around in your theater.
When the fun is over, simply store the puppets inside the theater for next time.
If you want to use finger puppets instead of cutouts, cut stage access into the bottom of the shoebox rather than the side, so that little hands can reach in from underneath. You can even make your own finger puppets by cutting the fingers out of a pair of rubber gloves.
No puppets? No problem. Make characters from play dough or use whatever you have to create your cast: LEGO figures, dinosaurs or your fingers themselves. A bit of finger-paint gives you 10 little actors instantly!
#2: Play the Senses Game
The senses game challenges players to guess what’s in the box using only their senses of touch and smell.
The prep for this game is simple. Turn a shoebox onto one of its small ends and cut a hole that will fit the largest hand in your household in the other small end (which is now the top).
If you have small children, cut the hole in one of the long, narrow faces of the box so they can reach in from the side rather than the top.
Before your family goes searching, decide how many items to gather. Five is usually a good number to start.
Lay out some ground rules, like “no perishable food” or “whatever you bring must fit in the box and be identifiable by touch and/or smell.” A toy car is good; a can of vegetables is not. A bar of soap is good; a bowl of laundry detergent is not.
Give everyone a bag, pair up younger kids with older ones and send them around the house to gather secret things to put in the box. These should be small items, such as a piece of fruit, a spoon or a sock. Make sure they’re small enough to fit in the box!
Choose a “hider” to secretly place one of the small objects he or she found inside the box. Cover the other side of the box with the lid to hide the object.
Have your family members take turns putting their hands through the hole in the box and guessing the object just by touching it.
Or give everyone one guess at a time. Keep going around in a circle until someone gets it right. The person who guesses correctly gets to be the next hider.
If you want, take turns touching the item and then have everyone write down their answers. That way, everyone has a chance to guess. Or just have the guessers whisper the name of the object to the hider and the hider can keep score.
Variation: For more of a challenge, place more than one thing in the box at a time and ask the person guessing to name the items, as well as a memory the items trigger. For example, seashells and pebbles might conjure up a day at the beach.
Older children can guess a country, season, holiday or even a book title by putting relevant clues in the box. For example, a stocking, a pine cone and a piece of giftwrap equals Christmas. An apple and a branch represent the book The Giving Tree.
#3: Make a Farm or Zoo
Children and animals are a classic combination. Create your own animal house for lots of creative role-play.
Cut two corners of the lid so one of its long sides will flap open and closed. Put the lid back on the box and tape the long, flapping side to the box.
Set the box on its side and open it up, lid side down, to create a barn, cage, cave or forest (inside the box) and an outdoor area or pen (inside the lid) for your farm or zoo.
Color or paint a backdrop in the base of the shoebox. Then fill in the space to accessorize your theme. Use straws for fences/enclosures and cardboard tubes or smaller boxes for animal houses.
Raid your recycling box and craft area for other items and inspiration.
Bring out your play people and animal toys or make some using play dough. Now let your imagination and animals run wild!
Want some other options?
For a mini-dollhouse, decorate a room on the inside. Then use the lid section as a garden. Create the perfect picket fence with lollipop sticks.
#4: Construct a Monster Mask
The best part about this adventure is a monster can be whatever you want it to be. Take the craft items around your home and sculpt them into a wearable shoebox monster mask. Even better, make a family of monsters with your kids.
Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Smaller heads can wear a decorated base or lid of the shoebox with cutouts for eyes and mouth, while others can handle a mask fashioned out of a whole shoebox.
Here are instructions based on the monster mask we made. Adapt as necessary.
Take a shoebox base for the main part of the head. Paint it, cover it with paper or leave it plain. Fold the short ends of the shoebox lid together to form a triangle. Attach it to the top of the head. Cut out ears from construction paper and fasten to the head.
Draw eyes on card stock or paper, cut them out and glue them on. Place cardboard tubes on the head to use for nostrils. Put red, yellow and orange tissue paper inside to act as fire for your fire-breathing dragon. Use part of an egg carton for the mouth.
This dragon is just one example of wearable shoebox mask. Your creations will be based on the craft items you have in your home.
For your own mask, look at the shoebox and imagine what your monster looks like. What color is it? How large is it? What do the eyes look like? The mouth? Does it have fangs? Then take your craft items and bring your monster mask alive to match your vision.
Don’t forget to name your monster!
#5: Make a Desk Organizer
A shoebox desk organizer can be customized for jewelry, art materials and so on. It also makes a great gift!
Cover the shoebox inside and out with paint, colored paper or giftwrap. Then take each of the boxes and tubes you’ve selected to use and cover the separators either in the same colors or contrasting ones. Finally, arrange the various pieces in the base of your shoebox, glue or tape them in place and start organizing.
Here are some other variations:
Use it as a treasure box. Simply color in the box and lid. Then decorate it with gold paint and plastic jewels.
Decorate the lid of the shoebox with photographs in a theme and turn it into a keepsake box. Create the box around an event, person or pet. Make memories while creating a box to store them.
#6: Play a Memory Game
Kim’s Game, derived from Rudyard Kipling’s book, Kim, is a “spy-in-training” exercise. This is an excellent memory and observation challenge for kids and parents!
Put 10 small items into the shoebox. Use things like a piece of dried pasta, a spool of thread or a pen. Now close the lid.
Give each player 30 seconds to look at everything inside the box. Then put the lid back on top. Now, have the player make a list of everything in the box. The winner is the person who remembers the most items. Pair up a younger child with an older one. Or have younger kids draw what they saw instead of listing each item.
For a variation, take away one object at a time and then quiz your family and see if they know which item is missing. Vary the length of viewing time and the number of objects in the box to make the game more challenging for older participants.
#7: Build a Bug Hotel
Decorate your box with drawings or cutouts. Collect twigs, leaves and anything else you can find lying around to camouflage your hotel. Attach them to the box or just place them around your shoebox when it’s at its location.
Cut a few holes on the short sides to create openings to make access easier for your insect friends. Or just poke some holes with a pencil. The size of the holes depends on the size of the bugs you hope to attract.
Place the shoebox outside, open side down, so it makes a nice dark space.
Visit your hotel regularly to see who’s checked in. Quietly lift up the box and peek inside.
#8: Make a Picture Frame
Construct frames from shoebox lids and create your own gallery at home. Each frame will be as unique as your child’s work of art.
There are two types of frames you can make with a shoebox.
Convex Frame: Lay the lid of the shoebox with the edges pointing down. You’ll place the picture to be framed on top.
Shadowbox Frame: Lay the lid of the shoebox so that the edges point up. Your frame will be a few centimeters deep. This works especially well if the art to be framed is dimensional (sticks out from the paper).
Cover the lid with giftwrap or construction paper. If you want to add matting, glue a blank piece of construction paper to the inside of the box.
Cut out the size of the picture to be framed from the shoebox base for extra support. Glue or tack the frame directly onto the artwork. If you use tack, you can easily swap pictures and frames.
#9: Construct a Fish Tank
A shoebox makes the perfect base for an underwater scene.
Paint or cover the shoebox if you want.
Next, cut two large rectangles into the long sides of your shoebox. These will be the windows into your watery world. If you want to use silver foil, attach it next.
Design, decorate and cut out items for your fish tank, such as shells, a treasure box and fish, of course. You may also use magazine cutouts or print out pictures you find online; just make sure they’re decorated on both sides.
Gather small beads to use for pebbles and ribbons as seaweed.
For sturdier sea creatures, glue your cutouts to pieces of cardboard or card stock. If you do this, make sure your sea creatures are still two-sided. Poke a hole at the top of each creature and tie a small piece of string to it.
Cover or paint the lid so it matches your tank.
Use a pencil to poke six or eight small holes in the lid, one for each fish. Thread other end of the string attached to your fish through the top and tie in place. When your fish are suspended from the top, it looks like they’re moving. You can also tape them in place.
A fish tank lends itself to a multitude of creative possibilities. Name your fish, tell and write stories about them, give them personality. And add to the tank whenever you want.
Plus, cardboard fish make great starter pets.
#10: Make a Mailbox
Want to encourage your kids to write and mail letters? Build a mailbox from a shoebox.
Paint your shoebox or cover it with paper or giftwrap. Cover the box and the lid separately.
Place the shoebox on one of its shortest edges, so it stands vertically. Cut a rectangular slot in the center. It should be big enough for the mail you want to send. Write “Mail” on the front and add any extra decoration. Place the lid on the back.
Once you have the mailbox, come up with a letter-writing schedule. Choose someone to write to once a week.
The kids can “mail” their letters in the magic box. And receive responses from you or other family members. Definitely get grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends involved in this adventure.
Also use your mailbox to gather ideas for outings, family meeting topics and other activities.
Some Final Thoughts…
Once you have these shoeboxes constructed, they’re ready for creative play at any time. Make your shoebox adventures more or less complex, based on the age and ability of your kids. And get input from them for other things to do with a shoebox.
Family time is precious, and it’s tough to find activities to suit different ages and abilities. Luckily, the shoebox is “one size fits all.”
When you open up the lines of communication, and the creativity that goes along with it, you’re definitely able to play and think outside of the box.
What do you think? What creations did you make out of your shoeboxes? Did you play games? What other ideas do you have for shoebox adventures? Please leave your thoughts and a picture in the comments.
Valerie helps companies understand and use marketing to grow their business, but mainly she’s a mother of three boys and a mini dachshund called Walnut. Other posts by Valerie Lindsay »