Got Gifts? Save the Boxes! (Part 2)

Pretend play helps your child problem solve mathematical and social situations, practice using language, and construct an understanding of important concepts. (See part 1 of this blog.) Empty cardboard boxes provide countless opportunities for your child to engage in pretend play!



A preschool child may turn a box into:

  • A car, boat, spaceship, dump truck or robot
  • A cave, oven, mailbox, doghouse or lemonade stand
  • A table, chair or bed for a doll, stuffed animal or pet
  • A puppet theater
  • A house, tower or castle
  • A place to read, hide, store toys or art supplies
  • A sensory box that holds sand, shredded paper or other tactile items to play with
  • Something to wrap or deliver to other people

A collection of boxes may become:

  • A bus or train
  • A set of building blocks
  • A pretend store
  • A fun game of building up and knocking down
  • A catalyst for questions about how the world works:
    How are boxes made? What are they made of? Where can we get more boxes? How do people move boxes that are really heavy? How do people use boxes? What happens to boxes at a recycling center? What do the words say on the side of this box? How did the words get there? How many boxes do we have in our home? What else is shaped like this box?

When you flatten it out and add some drawings and/or toys, a box  may become:

  • A zoo, farm, race track, city, water park, airport, garden, pond for fishing, rooms in a house, treasure map – anything your child can imagine!
  • The base for a fun game like hopscotch, a board game or  bean bag toss
  • A stage

When your child is "finished" with the box, you can re-purpose it by:

  • Making a Mystery box. [video] Encourage your child to talk about
    the shape, size and texture of the mystery items he touches in the box.
  • Cutting slits in it so your child can insert “coins” or weave. [Examples]
  • Making a musical instrument
  • Taking it outside and inventing new ways to play!  (e.g., an obstacle course)
  • Cutting it into rectangles or other shapes to use as the base for art projects, sculptures, mobiles, a cover for a homemade book, a tent or a new prop for play (e.g., a tray, a pizza, a laptop, a hat, wings, snowshoes, a bridge)

After observing your child playing, creating, problem solving and learning with boxes, you may find yourself buying fewer commercial toys and seeking out more cardboard boxes!

Best places to get boxes:

Appliance stores
Building supply stores (e.g., Home Depot, Menards)
Furniture stores
Grocery Stores
Shoe stores

Recommended picture book shown above: Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

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