The cardboard box is one of the most perfect art materials for kids. It’s sturdy, free with all those online purchases, great to paint on, and is an ideal material for building amazing things.
You can use it as a canvas, create collages with it, weave on it, build cardboard houses out of it, and use it in a wide variety of other projects.
And, perhaps one of the best things about cardboard, is that when you are finished playing with it, you can recycle it!
Over time, my kids have developed a creative muscle with cardboard box crafts. They think outside the box (forgive the pun) and come up with incredible ideas of things to build. Even the toddler! They challenge my ideas about what is fun or even possible to create with cardboard boxes.
Sometimes we need to have conversations about working together and how to share an artistic vision.
Sometimes it gets messy.
Occasionally it’s a disaster.
But mostly it’s magical.
Ultimately, it’s about exploring, sharing ideas, learning, trying, failing, problem solving, and playing.
One of the things that doesn’t come through well on the internet is the fact that you don’t have to create fancy or even colorful or pretty things with cardboard for kids to find endless enjoyment from them.
A lot of times, my kids don’t want to color or paint their cardboard projects. It doesn’t have to be a polished or perfect project to be amazing in a child’s eyes.
If you give your kids some creative license, you’ll be amazed at what they can create.
Here are 12 fun ideas to spark your cardboard imagination…
Cardboard Box Craft House
This one is pretty obvious, but don’t underestimate the brilliance of a simple cardboard house!
- Take a box, big or small
- Cut a door with scissors
- Add paint (optional)
Honestly, it’s that easy! If your kids want to get more sophisticated with their designs, you can cut windows, draw or paint details, and add other features like a chimney or exterior landscaping. Art Bar has some awesome ideas for creating a shoebox/cardboard mansion.
But a basic cardboard house is the perfect introductory cardboard box activity for toddlers up to bigger kids!
My kids like using their cardboard box houses to play with small figures and stuffed animals.
And when we happen to get a bigger box, we make a kid-sized cardboard box house.
Cardboard Box Game
Unleash your kid’s creativity by tapping into their interests and make something fun to play together.
You may already know about our love of smoothies! We made a Blend It Up Smoothie Shop game using the game pieces and colorful cards from Candy Land. It was a big hit!
My kids are obsessed with the movie Cars. So we made this Lightning McQueen and Sally game where you collect cool neon popsicle sticks.
This is another Lightning McQueen game where you have to work together to get all the things you need (tires, gas, oil, car wash, towel, nuts and bolts, and lightning) to make it to the finish line.
For our first Smoothie Shop board game, neither kid wanted to help draw the game. But they had lots of ideas and art direction tips. When we made our second game, they were really into drawing the game board and coloring too. I think by modeling creativity and not forcing things it helped them gain confidence.
Recommendations and Ideas
- Start with a simple game board, dice, or spinner
- Encourage your kid draw the game board
- Follow the pattern of a familiar game the first time to make it a little easier
- Let your kids have fun making up the rules and possibilities for their game (even if they don’t make sense)
Cardboard Train Track
This is another awesome cardboard box project that even uses recycled cereal boxes and cardboard tubes. Our cardboard train track was inspired by the railway in the Seeds of Wonder garden at the San Diego Botanic Garden. Here’s a full tutorial on how to put together your own magical cardboard train track.
It would be really fun to make this a holiday-themed train track too. I can envision it as a spooky Halloween train, a birthday train, or a fun winter solstice/Christmas train.
Favorite Characters and Toys
My kids love characters and we have a lot of fun creating our own cardboard figures to play with. You can hand draw or even print, color, and glue pictures onto cardboard. There are so many options!
Although, fair warning, once your kid realizes you can make toys, you might be asked to help them crank out figures for every single one of their favorite books and shows.
The kids art directed as I drew these Pete the Cat and Tumble Leaf figures. But they also draw their own cardboard and paper figures to play with.
If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you put it on hold (along with all of Christian’s other fantastic books) at the library ASAP. You can read more about my library hold strategy here.
But after checking Another out twice from the library and repeated requests to check it out again, we bought a copy for our home collection (along with Rain and You Matter). It’s whimsical, fun, thoughtful, funny, and so sweet. My kids say “again, again, again!” every time we read this book.
Cardboard Weaving Loom
This simple cardboard loom weaving is the perfect activity to help calm the mind and work on fine motor skills. See the full cardboard loom tutorial here!
This is such an easy, fun, and beautiful activity. Just collect flowers, sticks, leaves, (or anything found in nature) and then glue them on a piece of cardboard or in a shoebox lid. You can paint the cardboard ahead of time if you want.
We’ve also done button collages, magazine clipping collages, mixed media collages, and more using cardboard. It’s the perfect canvas for all types of collage fun!
When my oldest was a toddler, I wanted a shape sorter but didn’t want to buy another plastic toy. So, I drew shapes onto a small cardboard box, cut them out using an exacto knife and ta da! Don’t forget to cut out a larger access door.
By the way, we played with this shape sorter for over 2 years before we got around to painting it.
Then, one day, the toddler dumped a ton of paint in a bowl while we were working on our neon popsicle stick craft (turn your back for one second…oops!). So we gave it a little splash of color.
Ice Cream Cart Toy
One cardboard box, a pair of heavy duty scissors, some hot glue, and about 15 minutes are all it takes to make this adorable ice cream cart toy.
I did an entire post with a step by step tutorial here. And this project could easily also be a hot dog cart, a lemonade cart, or a paleta wagon. My kids love this thing and play with it all the time!
Kids love the mail! This fun mailbox is just a literature style box that we painted. We cut a hole on one side and then added a cardboard flag using a metal brad.
Set out some blank envelopes and stickers to add to the fun play mail experience. My kids have played with this toy for hours.
Cut out large shapes of muffins, donuts, or other treats. Paint and use glitter glue or sequins to decorate.
This muffin’s sprinkles are made from up-cycled Bunch O’ Balloons tubes. These would also make cute, easy Halloween costumes!
This cardboard project was a multi-day, multi-step, everyone in the family process. Day 1 was painting the rocket ship.
Day 2 involved a lot of trial and error stacking and taping boxes together. We got dad involved to help create the wings.
On Day 3, we decorated the rocket with odds and ends of recycled pieces, stickers, and items found in nature. I used the hot glue gun, and the kids helped stick stuff on.
We also created a control panel inside the rocket. I think that was their favorite part!
Cardboard Box Cake
This year, I decided I wanted a Cardboard Box Cake for my birthday. I think I first saw this idea on Meri Cherry’s blog. She has so many amazing and creative ideas.
It was really hot outside the day we made this, so we painted inside. It was a lot of fun to paint. But it was also a mess! Unless you have a pretty high cleanup tolerance, I’d recommend this as an outdoor project.
A few weeks later, for my daughter’s birthday, we took it outside and decorated it with dot markers, flowers, leaves, and garden gemstones. I think it turned out so pretty and it was fun to add on to our original creation.
We recently discovered this sweet cardboard box picture book called Boxitects by Kim Smith. It is a great story about working together and even has a few ideas and instructions for creating a cardboard tunnel and castle.
We were able to check out Boxitects from our local library. But if you’re interested in buying this creative and fun book, you can shop online and support local bookstores through Bookshop! If you shop through the Barefoot Carrot Bookshop links, I will earn a small commission and appreciate your support.
Ideas and Tips for Cardboard Creations
If you’re new to creating with cardboard, here are a few ideas and tips to help you start on your journey.
- Start simple – A cardboard box house is a great place to begin!
- Follow your kids interests – Not into rainbows? Try a race car nature collage instead. Trains aren’t your kids thing? Make a magical cardboard fairy path with tunnels.
- Let kids lead – Ask for ideas, work together and see how your project unfolds.
- Focus on the process with a general goal in mind – Process art is all about the process of creating rather than just the finished product.
- Invest in good cardboard scissors – If you’re going to cut cardboard you have several options: box cutter, exacto knife, regular scissors, or my recommendation, Cardboard Scissors. Any of the options will do the trick for most projects (please don’t leave sharp cutting instruments where kids can reach them). But cardboard scissors save a lot of time and hand discomfort. These are the pair that I have and I love them!
- Use what you have to decorate – Basic markers, crayons, and stickers can provide just as magical of an art experience as paint and more messy mediums. Use what you have (or have capacity to clean up on a given day).
- Revisit projects – Sometimes we’ll pull out older, less decorated cardboard creations and give them a coat of paint or use them for a new project.
- Have fun – Approach cardboard with a sense of wonder. Cardboard is just one way to tap into creative magic together and have fun.
What Will You Create?
If you try any of these cardboard projects, please share your pictures with us! We’d love to see what you create!