The Totally Free Item that Keeps My Kids Busy for Hours

published Oct 25, 2021
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cardboard box with clothes on coffee table

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Over the summer I enlisted a (very unpopular) “toy fast” in our house. I was so tired of hearing my daughter ask for something every single time we went into a store that I finally said “that’s it, no new toys in the house until school starts.” The begging for toys didn’t actually end, but it did give a clear reason as to why she wasn’t allowed to have whatever she was asking for, and that seemed to satisfy her. The best thing that it did was encourage creativity. The toys she already had became fun again because she created little houses out of the cardboard boxes that showed up every week on our doorstep. She rescued every single box that came through our doors this summer and it kept her busy for hours at a time!

I know this isn’t a new concept — kids have loved boxes of all kinds forever, but there’s something really fun about breaking down boxes and bringing out heavy duty tape and scissors, and cutting out brand new shapes. We made villages and playgrounds, houses for stuffed animals, and last week there was even a bathroom design inspired by a soap dish in our house that she thought looked like a tub!

We moved over the summer, so between unpacking and receiving house necessities from Amazon, boxes were a plentiful resource. At one point we received a toilet paper shipment and lo and behold, the inside of the box was one giant coloring book! I had to step over the massive broken down box on the living room floor for a solid week, but was completely okay with it because I knew it would someday soon be heading to the recycling bin. Almost all the boxes got broken down and cut into shapes. Some were colored on with markers, then taped into the shape of a house. We let her do anything she wanted with them. Once she lost interest in her creations (weeks later), we removed any tape or glue we’d added and tossed the cardboard in the recycling bin. 

Now we have a slight problem whenever she sees a box in the recycling: he runs out and drags it inside, protesting that it’s “art supplies.” In our house you can get away with a lot as long as you claim something is for creative use!

A few helpful tips for your box village creations: 

  • Box cutters are the best/safest for cutting out shapes — and it’s definitely an adult job!
  • Most recycling centers cannot recycle boxes that have been painted, or cardboard that has been colored on with crayons. Washable markers are your safest bet when decorating cardboard.
  • A hot glue pen and/or packing tape are necessities for building!
  • Let your kids take photos of their creations. It’s fun for them, and helps soften the blow when they realize a project has been taken to the recycling bin! Consider making a photo book if they make a lot of really cool projects!

Building with cardboard is an endlessly fun activity to do together with your kids. Show them the basics, supply them with everything they need, then sit back and watch their imaginations run wild. Happy building!