Cardboard boxes are magical objects. There are more possibilities hidden in a cardboard box than there are stars in the sky, and you really don’t have to be an expert craftsperson to make something cool for Baby to play with. Here are seven ideas for things to make the next time you have a cardboard box lying around, just waiting to be recycled.
Phone and laptop
Baby is a little young to join the family phone plan, but if they get jealous when you’re using your technology, why not give them a toddler-friendly toy option? The pros: cardboard phones and laptops are cheap, travel-friendly, and never loses their battery charge. The cons: they take a little longer to connect to the internet (wink, wink).
- To make the laptop: Cut out a large rectangle from the side of the box. It might help to cut around a bend; this is where the laptop can close and shut. Draw a screen on one side and a keyboard on the opposite side. Using markers, stickers, or even a cut-out image of a computer homepage, decorate the screen, and draw a label on the front of the cardboard laptop.
- To make the phone: Cut a rectangular shape out of the cardboard box (or you could go old-school and cut out a rectangle to fold into a flip phone!). Draw or decorate the front with a screen and keys. Make sure to give Baby to their tutorial on how their new devices work.
Making food with Baby is fun, but a much less messy option is to make pretend food with Baby.
- To make the pretend pizza: Cut up the cardboard box into pizza-slice shapes, and also into shapes of various pizza toppings like pepperoni, cheese flakes, olive circles, and mushroom slices. Glue colored construction paper to the different cardboard-sized toppings, so that Baby can tell which food is which. Put each separate topping in different bowls, and let Baby design pizzas. You could also make the ‘ingredients’ for Baby to assemble cardboard tacos, cardboard ice cream sundaes, cardboard cheeseburgers, and really anything else that requires fun toppings.
A theater for puppet shows
If you and Baby enjoy storytelling or playing pretend, a medium or large cardboard box is the perfect material to construct a stage for puppets.
- To make the theater: Cut out the back wall of the box. This will be where your hands and the puppets or toys will go. Cut a smaller square on the front of the box on the opposite wall. This will be the stage where the magic happens. This is entirely optional, but if you want to get fancy, you can cut the smaller square in the front the shape of draping stage curtains and have Baby help you color the front so that it looks like a stage.
This is similar to the puppet theater, except that instead of cutting out the back of the box, you’ll probably want to cut out the side. This way, Baby can get in and out of the box. To make knobs, you’ll probably want to cut some circles out of the extra cardboard and glue them to the front of the TV. Bonus points: decorate the front of the TV, make a cardboard antenna, and request an immediate breaking news update from Baby.
Washer and dryer
If Baby enjoys helping you do the laundry, you can use a cardboard box or two to make a toddler-friendly washer and dryer. They won’t really make the clothes cleaner, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
- To make a simple washer and dryer: Tape the flaps on the boxes down with duct tape. If you can, paint the boxes white or tape white construction paper over them so that the tape doesn’t show. For a simple washer and dryer, cut out a circle-shaped door in the front of the boxes. Draw dials and knobs, or you could even make dials and knobs out of cardboard (or find non-choking hazard sized objects for knobs) and glue them to the front.
- To make a fancier washer: Cut out a circle in the top and put a small basket into the cardboard box. Then duct tape the cardboard circle over the basket to make a lid.
If you get a lot of junk mail, this is a good way to put all that excess paper to good use. Tip: check regularly to make sure Baby hasn’t intercepted the mailman and put any important mail in the box!
- To make the mailbox: Unfold the flaps on the top of the box and cut a semicircle on two opposing flaps. Make sure the semicircles are as wide as the box flap. Cut out a door on the front of the box; this is how Baby will take the mail out of the box. Find a bendy piece of cardboard for the roof of the mailbox. Cut a thin slot in the front, for mail to go into. Measure it alongside the semicircle flaps and then cut it out and duct tape it to the curved flaps. Make sure everything is sturdy and strong. Decorate the box with blue paint and a mail-carrier sticker (or even just write the word MAIL on the front) so it looks like your typical, run-of-the-mill mailbox.
The magic of elevators is totally lost on adults. What we consider to be one of the more troublesome parts of our day is actually a dream come true for toddlers. If you don’t believe it, try making Baby a cardboard elevator. Not only is it tons of fun, but it uses no electricity and is much easier on your wallet than installing a real elevator in your home.
- To make the elevator: Make sure to find a box that only has one side that opens, tall enough for Baby to stand upright in. Cut off the short, smaller flaps. Keep the two tall flaps; they’ll be the elevator doors. On the front of one of the doors, draw or paint a pretend console with arrows on buttons going up and down. On the inside of the elevator, draw or paint numbers for floors that the elevator can visit. If you feel like doing a little extra preparation, you can probably find stickers with arrows and numbers at a craft or hardware store. Decorate the inside of the elevator using wrapping paper or construction paper. If necessary, cut out a small hole in one of the doors so that it’s easier for Baby to go in and out.
It’s hard to go wrong with a cardboard box. Even if you just plop Baby in one and give them nontoxic markers to color on the walls, they will have a blast. You could also just cut a door into a cardboard box, and see how much fun your toddler has with it. No matter what creative thing you do with a cardboard box, you’ll find yourself and Baby with a toy that pays for itself at least ten times over.