Fun for Free: Old Packaging, New Toys

Are you the parent who spent hundreds of dollars on presents for your toddler, only to find that the cardboard box was far more entertaining to your child than what it contained? Thousands of parents swear each year that next Christmas, they’re getting their children nothing but empty boxes. Why wait until the holidays roll back around to make your children fun toys? With old packaging and a few bucks, you have the ability to create a roomful of toys for your little ones. Here are some of the best:

1. Houses

You’ll need a rather large box to make a house but they’re easy to find. Large kitchen appliance boxes make fantastic playhouses for small children. If you aren’t in the market for a new appliance, stop by your local home improvement store and ask if there’s a box that you can have. Even if it’s broken down for recycling, you can whip it back into shape with some duct tape.

Get creative with the house. You can add custom-printed stickers to the outside, strips from an old roll of wallpaper, or paint it to look like your own house. Cut out windows with a utility knife; add a door and roof “tiles” to make it look like a real house. Your kids will spend hours playing inside of your creation.

2. Play Town

You know those colorful rugs that are designed to look like towns complete with roadways? Instead of spending good money on a play rug, make your own out of a cardboard box. Pick a box that is large enough for your toddler to sit inside of and move freely. Cut off the longest side of the box, leaving about four or five inches around the edges. Draw a “town” on the inside bottom of the box, complete with roads, lakes and parking lots. With blocks, toy vehicles and plastic people, your child can play for an entire afternoon.

3. Cars, Airplanes and Trains; Oh My!

You can make virtually any vehicle with two cardboard boxes. No matter what your child wants to “drive,” you can create it in under an hour. The only things you’ll need to create vehicles for your kids are cardboard boxes, duct tape and a utility knife. When your vehicles are complete, let your kids color them with markers or otherwise decorate them.

All vehicles can be started by simple cutting a space in the top of the box that your child can slip into. A plan is finished by adding a propeller, wings and tail, all made out of cardboard. A car needs nothing but four wheels, and a train can be built just like a car, with another box added to the back for a caboose. Look online for inspiration; you’re bound to find dozens of pictures to copy from.

4. Doll Houses and Castles

If your child likes to pretend and you’ve got a box, you’ve got an instant toy. Cut two sides from the box, and cut a slit in the center of one piece, stopping about an inch from the top. Cut an inch off of the length of your other piece. Take the first piece and slip the slit you cut over the edge of your second piece, forming an “X” or “+” (think tab A into slot B). Stand your creation upright and you’ve got an instant structure. Paint your cardboard with acrylic or poster paints to make it look like a castle, house, hospital or any other type of building that will excite your little one.

5. Easel

Do you have a budding artist on your hands? Why not make him his very own easel out of a pizza box and a single piece of cardboard? Sit the pizza box on the table so that the end you would open is facing away from you. Take a ruler and draw a line about three inches from the edge that is towards you. Carefully bend the top of the box back along the line that you’ve made, creating a crease in the box.

Once you’ve made your crease, cut a second piece of cardboard that you can use to prop the lid open. Place the bottom of this piece of cardboard in the pizza box and tape the top end to the lip of your pizza box top. Once completed, you can tape a piece of blank paper to the “easel” and let your child make his next great work of art.

You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on the next big toy in order to provide your child with hours of fun. Building toys out of cardboard boxes encourages your children to use their imaginations. At the end of the day, isn’t that what play is all about?

About the Author

Amy Chandler is a blogger with, one of the UK’s leading providers of labels and stickers. Follow her on Twitter @DBPamy.