Expressive Arts & Design

Why keep all those cardboard boxes? Construction and imaginative play

If you are looking for inexpensive play activities for a toddler then this one should definitely be on your list.  You must remember a time when you gave a toddler a gift and once it was unwrapped they were more interested in the container than the contents.  So take the lead from the child and turn that fascination into an activity.

Cardboard boxes and containers provide a perfect introduction to construction play and an opportunity to explore construction processes with something that isn’t a ‘toy’.

During a recent visit I put out a stack of boxes, all different dimensions and shapes for Daisy to play with.  In a world that’s filled with toys, it’s a delight to watch a young child be stimulated into play with a stack of cardboard containers.

Daisy spread the boxes and investigated each one – lids on/off, open/close flaps, peering down the tubes, rolling the tubes and positioning the boxes on the floor.

All this investigation is also giving Daisy an early introduction to different shapes and also to some scientific principles.

After finding out about the boxes, then Daisy was ready to try stacking some of the boxes.

Along with the stack of boxes I’d added a very large box that I’d flattened and propped against her little table to make a ‘tunnel’.  Daisy discovered that she could roll the tubes down the slope and that her little cars fitted through the tube.

Daisy was then ready to construct her tunnel and started to give me instructions to help her to make a tunnel big enough for us both to sit under!  For a while we played under the cardboard tunnel before, in an instant, this play sparked Daisy’s imagination and become imaginative play as the tunnel changed to become a wall.  I had to help make a ‘house’ for us as Daisy moved the boxes to be ‘in a house’.  One box became a table and Daisy pretending to roll out ‘biscuits’ and then to eat a snack in her house.

This was the first time that Daisy had played with cardboard boxes.  It exceeded my expectations and Daisy enjoyed it so much that on the following day when I asked her if she wanted to play with water or boxes, Daisy asked for the boxes again.

Daisy hasn’t forgot about fun with cardboard boxes and when Mummy and Daddy had a large delivery at home, she was ready to test her little cars down the slopes of a very, very large box.

A young child and her father enjoy rolling a toy car down a large piece of cardboard

In the past, with our nieces and nephews, I’ve used empty boxes to made a shop and a double decker bus and it is a great introduction to role play.  We’ve worked on the creations together and created something that they’ve loved and repeatedly used in their play.  The joy of play with cardboard boxes is that young children can test out their ideas and see what happens as they try to fit things together.  The play can be extended and developed in so many different directions.

Next time that I have a big empty cardboard container I’ll show it to Daisy and see what she wants to make it into.  Of course Daisy might still opt her favourite use for large cardboard boxes at the moment – just to ‘hide, hide’ inside.  I’ll need to make sure it’s a extra large cardboard box as she usually asks Grandpa or me to join her in her hiding place!

Granny Smith says

This activity with the cardboard boxes was mainly child led play.  There are many other possibilities for activities with cardboard boxes, both structured ones and child led.  I’m sure I’ll be returning to play activities with boxes and Daisy.  The great thing about this play is that you don’t have to store lots of toys and these activities all depend on what boxes are available for your grand child’s next visit.

For safety’s sake watch out for loose staples and sharp edges before letting your grandchild play with used cardboard boxes.

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