100 Ways Cardboard Boxes Can Be Used For Play 1
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100 Ways Cardboard Boxes Can Be Used For Play

Using Cardboard Boxes in Pretend Play

Cardboard boxes are one of the easiest play resources to acquire for free. As the Founder and Lead Researcher of the Inclusiveteach Project, one of my core focus areas is studying how we can empower creativity and development in children. Pretend play has long been recognised by experts as vital for children’s cognitive, social and emotional growth. Yet in today’s screen-filled world, many kids lack regular opportunities for unstructured, open-ended make-believe. Through my analysis of early education research, I’ve seen compelling evidence that cheap simple, accessible props like cardboard boxes can massively enhance pretend scenarios. By sparking imagination and collaborative storytelling, boxes actively support key skills like problem-solving, language expression, early childhood development, and motor skills. In this post, I want to share 100+ box-based play ideas my family and I have collected, with the goal of inspiring more caregivers to facilitate this impactful type of old-fashioned fun.

Cardboard box pretend play activities a homemade plane
A Cardboard Box Plane

Stages of Pretend Play

We have discussed play-types before and I thought this post was a good opportunity to discuss the stages of play linked to child development. This article on Assessing and Scaffolding Make Believe Play by Deborah J. Leong and Elena Bodrova discusses the 5 stages of play. I have included their table that explains these. These stages may help you when designing the play opportunities with your cardboxes.

Stages of play and Child Development
5 Stages of Pretend/Make Believe Play in a Child’s Development (Leong & Bodrova 2012)

Making a Cardboard Box Den

Here is a how to guide to making a cardboard box den:

  • Step 1: Find a large cardboard box that is big enough for your child to fit inside. You can use a box from a delivery, a store, or a recycling bin. Make sure the box is clean and sturdy
  • Step 2: Cut off the flaps from the top and bottom of the box, using scissors or a knife. You can save the flaps for later use. You should have a rectangular box with four sides and two open ends
  • Step 3: Line the inside of the box with black paper or paint it black, using glue, tape, or paint. This will create a dark and cosy cardboard den space for your child to enjoy
  • Step 4: Punch holes in the top of the box, using a pen, a pencil, or a skewer. You can make the holes in any pattern or shape you like, such as stars, hearts, or letters
  • Step 5: Press some battery-operated fibre optic or LED fairy lights against the holes, using tape or glue. Make sure the lights are evenly distributed and secure. You can use any colour or type of lights you prefer, such as white, multicoloured, or flashing
  • Step 6: Create some panels that can slide into the sides and the back of the box, using cardboard, paper, fabric, or other materials. You can decorate the panels with different textures, colours, or patterns, such as fur, feathers, sequins, or stickers. You can also add some pockets, windows, or doors to the panels, using scissors or a knife
  • Step 7: Insert the panels into the box, using tape or glue. You can arrange the panels in any way you like, such as horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. You can also change the panels as often as you want, to create different themes or moods for your den
  • Step 8: Place some cushions, blankets, pillows, or toys inside the box, to make it more comfortable and inviting. You can also add some snacks, drinks, books, or games, to make it more fun and entertaining
  • Step 9: Enjoy your cardboard box den with your child! You can play, read, nap, or chat inside the den. You can also invite some friends or family members to join you or make more cardboard dens for them.
A Super Simple Cardboard Box Den
A Super Simple Cardboard Box Den

100 Ideas For Cardboard Box Pretend Play

The best thing about imaginary play using cardboard boxes is that children will often just climb in them and start playing independently! If not the following play prompts will get them started. Remember that when creating these pirate ships and racing cars less is more! just draw on some wheels or hoist a bedsheet sail on a stick and your creation is good to go.

Cardboard box pretend play activities - Road map
A Cardboard Imaginary Play Road Map

Here are 100 ways children can use cardboard boxes in pretend play:

  1. House – Cut out windows and doors to make rooms
  2. Shop – Decorate the outside and sell imaginary items
  3. Garage – Store toy vehicles and use as a mechanic shop
  4. Barn – Turn into stables for animal figures and toys
  5. Castle – Add a drawbridge, towers and battlements
  6. Pirate ship – Decorate with strips of colored paper for sails
  7. Race car – Draw numbers and sponsor logos for trips around town
  8. School bus – Add benches and take passengers on field trips
  9. Boat – Cruise the “high seas” in search of treasure or fun
  10. Airplane – Use tubes, wheels or dolls as passengers flying adventures
  11. Caravan holiday home – Decorate to roleplay going on holiday
  12. Dog house – Provide plush or stuffed pets a shelter
  13. Fort – Stack and connect for indoor or outdoor adventures
  14. Rocket ship – Blast off paper moons for missions in space
  15. Treehouse – Climb up to look for leaves, birds or other treasures
  16. Stage – Perform shows, music or puppet plays using your toys
  17. Fire truck – Add ladders and hoses to your cardboard box engine
  18. Train yard – Flatten the box. Connect toy trains to travel the tracks together
  19. Food truck – Serve up cardboard or play food from the “window”
  20. Vet office – Examine and care for stuffed animals
  21. Post office – Sort and deliver cardboard “mail”
  22. Bakery – “Bake” and decorate treats out of play dough or paper
  23. Art studio – Provide craft supplies for messy masterpieces
  24. Pool – Add colorful paper, toys or cushions for water fun
  25. Camp kitchen – Cook cardboard “meals” over a campfire
  26. Police car – Patrol for pretend “criminals” with a light and siren
  27. Construction site – Build structures with boxes, pipes and wood
  28. Dollhouse – Furnish rooms and roleplay tiny tales
  29. Drive-in movie – Experience favorites shows on box “screens”
  30. Supermarket – Shop cardboard aisles pushing plastic basket “carts”
  31. Library – Fill your box with books and host storytimes
  32. Aquarium – Gaze at sea creatures in box exhibits
  33. Submarine – Explore the ocean deep in a yellow box vessel
  34. Zoo – Visit stuffed friends behind cardboard fences
  35. Carnival – Play box game booths to win prizes
  36. Garden shop – Sell flowers, food and tools from a cart
  37. Restaurant – Cook, serve and eat from a cardboard kitchen
  38. Airport – Board planes with luggage to fly away
  39. Hotel – Check into rooms with amenities like a candy “minibar”
  40. Spa – Give relaxing box treatments with towels and potions
  41. Office – Work at desk or file important documents
  42. Orchestra – Conduct cardboard instruments in tune
  43. Sports arena – Cheer teams on from the stands, watch a game on an ipad
  44. Campground – Pitch tents and roast marshmallows by the fire
  45. Sensory Den – Fill with lights and blankets for chill out time
  46. Barnyard – Tend cardboard animal friends and crops
  47. Hospital – Examine and care for stuffed toy patients
  48. Beauty shop – Give makeovers with paper accessories
  49. Science lab – Conduct experiments with tools and beakers, make holes in the sides so you can put your arms through
  50. Mini Cardboard art Gallery – Display colourful artwork on box edges
  51. Detective Agency – Solve mysteries with magnifying glasses and notepads
  52. Gas Station – Fuel up vehicles and check under the hood
  53. Fire Station – Respond to alarms and search for “embers”
  54. School – Learn lessons and recess activities in cardboard classrooms
  55. Toy Store – Sell toys to customers from aisle displays
  56. Pet Store – Care for animals and sell food and treats
  57. Circus – Perform stunts and entertain crowds
  58. Parachute Game – Play with a sheet or fabric over the box
  59. Hair Salon – Give cardboard customers different stylish “cuts” and colors
  60. Bank – Handle cardboard cash and count coins in the vault
  61. Lemonade Stand – Sell drinks with play food to neighborhood bears
  62. Laundromat – Cut a circle in and feed in dolls clothes for washing
  63. Census Office – Record citizen information door-to-door
  64. Pizza Shop – Toss dough and top cardboard pizzas for delivery
  65. Tree Trimming Shop – Sell cardboard wreaths, for the holidays add some Christmas lights
  66. Bakery – Bake cakes, pies and bread in the cardboard ovens
  67. Camp Site – Pitch tents, hike trails and roast treats by the cardboard fire (use and LED candle)
  68. Garden Center – Care for plants, rake soil and prune flowering boxes
  69. Grocery – Stock shelves and help shoppers find items on their list
  70. Postal Sorting Facility – Route letters, flats and packages for deliveries
  71. Jewelry Store – Make necklaces from loom bands or sell pretend gems
  72. Popcorn Stand – Flavor and serve batches with toy kernels and cups
  73. Tool Shed – Fix toy vehicles, furniture or structures together
  74. Flower Shop – Arrange bouquets using nature props or paper blooms
  75. The Knights Tower – Pile two or three boxes and watch out for Dragons, add a cardbaord sword and shield
  76. Lighthouse – Keep watch from the tower for boats or imaginative waves
  77. Farm – Flatten the box Tend cardboard crops, collect eggs and feed toy animals
  78. mechanic – Inspect toy vehicles and administer imaginary repairs
  79. Airport Control Tower – Guide cardboard and paper planes to their destinations
  80. Dentist – Check cardboard teeth and care for toy gums and smiles
  81. Music Studio – Perform concerts or teach lessons with instrument props or a bluetooth speaker
  82. Park Ranger Station – Answer questions on trails and wildlife
  83. Ice Cream Shop – Scoop slime or shaving foam flavours into waffle or sugar cones. Just bin the messy box after
  84. Ballet Studio – Dance and practice leaps at the cardboard barre
  85. Puppet Theater – Perform original stories using hand or finger puppets
  86. Museum – Display treasured keepsakes or artwork attractively
  87. Observatory – Explore the night sky with cardboard satellites and stars
  88. yacht Club – Sail toy boats together or sunbathe along the cardboard dock
  89. Hot Air Balloon Ride – Float above cardboard landscapes and clouds
  90. Drive-In Movie – Watch family favorites projected on box “screens”
  91. Bowling Alley – Roll balls down aisles to knock down cardboard pins
  92. Finish the story – Work collaboratively to write tales spanning days
  93. Carnival on the Beach – Visit water-themed booths and win prizes
  94. Jungle Expedition – Trek through trails spotting toy animals and plants
  95. UFO Sighting – Encounter visitors from space and learn about new worlds
  96. Origami Creations – Turn cardboard into intricate shapes with folds
  97. Geode Mine – Crack rocks to discover colorful gemstones hidden inside
  98. Treasure Map Clue Hunt – Flatten the box. Follow clues to locate booty buried in the sand
  99. Igloo Village Adventure -Bundle up to visit Inuit friends or penguin pals
  100. Zipline Park – Clip on toys and ride the cardboard mountain ridges whooshing down string
Cardboard box pretend play activities - Sensory Play Den
A Cardboard Sensory Play Den

We hope you have enjoyed thinking bout all the creative ways you can use a cardboard box in pretend play.

Cardboard box pretend play activities - Children Playing In Boxes In The Garden
Children Playing In Boxes In The Garden
See also  Using Visual Supports In The Classroom

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