Have you ever had a cardboard box that seemed perfect for pretend play, but you weren’t sure how to use it? My dad got the kids a battery four-wheeler for Christmas, which came in a huge box. (Thanks again, Dad!) As soon as I saw the box, I knew we had to keep it.
The idea that kids will ignore a toy and play with the box it came in instead has definitely rung true for my little ones haha. They’re super excited about the four-wheeler, but the box has been another source of excitement too.
I decided to bring one of Lu’s favorite books to life, A Box Can Be Many Things (affiliate link). It’s a cute short story about how a girl and her little brother take a large box their mom had thrown out and use it a bunch of different ways.
So thanks to the fun ideas in the book, we were able to make them our own and have some awesome cardboard box pretend play!
Note: My main goal with this was to entertain the kids EASILY, without much prep or effort put into it. Sometimes we see things done beautifully on Pinterest and feel like we need to live up to those expectations.
But seriously, the kids were just happy to play with a box. They didn’t care how realistic or pretty it looked. So don’t get hung up on the little details- just add a few things here and there to hint at what it is, and let their imagination do the rest 🙂
Bear Cave Pretend Play
Starting out with the box as a bear cave is the easiest since you don’t really have to do much! Just turn it on its side and the kids can go in and out. Lulu and J wanted to place some bear stuffed animals in the box too for their family.
We took a blue blanket, rolled it up the long way, and placed it nearby to be their “stream”. The kiddos would go to their stream and pretend to drink as well as look for fishies that I hid throughout for them to eat.
Using actual Swedish Fish gummies would be a lot of fun for them, but I’m a lame mom. I didn’t want to find candy fish hidden 4 months from now, so I just drew little ones. They loved crawling around roaring, going up on their “hind legs” to play with each other, and snuggling up in their cave.
Racecar Pretend Play
It was dreary and rainy the next day, which turned out to be perfect for staying in jammies and playing with the box some more! The next way they played with it was to turn it upright and pretend it was a racecar.
Anyone who knows J, knows that he is already a little motorhead even at only 21 months old! So he loved pretending to drive around in it. I wanted to decorate it without drawing directly on the box, so we added some construction paper pieces.
I cut 4 big circles out of black construction paper and taped them on the sides for wheels. Then I cut a rectangle out of another box (we have a lot of them floating around right now haha) and drew lines on it to make a grill. That got taped right to the front!
I cut 2 smaller circles out of yellow construction paper to place on either side of the grill for headlights, and did the same thing in red for the rear lights.
Last, but not least, we had to make a steering wheel! First, I taped a plastic paper plate perpendicular to a paper towel roll and let that dry. Then I cut a hole in the front flap of the box about the size of the roll.
All you have to do after that is put the roll into the hole and you have a little steering wheel! If you have a tall box like ours, you may have to put stools or little chairs in so that the kiddos are high enough to see out. A few pillows stacked up would work too!
House Pretend Play
Next up on our cardboard box pretend play list was turning the box into a little house. Flip the box over so that the opening is on the ground. I cut 3 sides of a large rectangle for the front door, and then did the same on the side, but smaller, for a window.
At this point I knew the next step would be cutting the box up a lot, so I just went ahead and drew right on it. I had ambitions of drawing flowers on the sides, but the kids were anxious to get playing, so I kept it very simple.
On one side of the door I put their address, and on the other I cut a little slit out and wrote “mail” over it for a mailbox. Besides that, I just drew a doorknob and window on the door itself!
I didn’t do much inside the house, their imaginations pretty much took over at that point. We did do one other extra thing that they loved though. I took a smaller box and cut an opening in the front of it and placed it upside down.
Then we put a pig in there for a pet. I intended for it to be a doghouse and put a little stuffed dog in there, but my kids are country bumpkins. So we went with the pig lol.
The whole house setup seemed to be their favorite overall. They loved pretending to come and go, take care of the pig, and draw each other letters to put in the mail. Lu even wanted to have her quiet time in it. This one entertained them for a while, so we kept it like this for a couple of days!
Bird Cage Pretend Play
Once they grew tired of the house, we moved into the next scenario in the book. A bird cage! Keeping the box upside down as it was, I cut bars into the whole thing.
The only parts to be mindful of were the door and window. I made sure to cut the bars so they didn’t get too close to either, and then cut smaller bars on the door and window.
Again, my little weirdos like to do things their own way. In the book this cage was used as a bird cage, but they decided to be cats and dogs instead. They already love pretending to be animals, so this was a lot of fun for them!
Hat, Flag, Necklace, and Sword Pretend Play
At this point in the story, the box is so ripped up that the little brother thinks it really must be junk by now. But big sister still finds inspiration in the little pieces! She manages to make the smaller bits into a hat, flag, necklace, and sword. So that’s what we did as well!
For the hats, we used some of the flaps and cut a large oval. Then we cut a spiral into it so that it would set down on their heads better. The flag was made from a top flap. I ended up cutting the handle too thin and had to glue an extra piece of cardboard between the handle and flag part for support. After that it was great!
We cut the necklaces out of the top flaps as well. I cut a large oval again and then cut smaller ovals inside of those to have a thin oval left. And the swords were pretty easy to make too! We used one of the “bars” as the sword, and some extra from the top was left on to be the handle.
At this point they just used their costumes as inspiration for lots of random pretend play. The fun thing about mismatched items like this is you never know what they’ll come up with!
Less can be more for a child’s imagination
Once it was all said and done, we had a lot of little cardboard pieces all over the place. But the amount of fun they had leading up to that was seriously priceless!
The fact that we got DAYS of entertainment out of one box was so amazing. There are tons of other ways out there to use a cardboard box for pretend play, but bringing a book to life that the kids love was so cool.
Finding ways to use cardboard boxes before recycling them is such a fun way to extend their usefulness! It definitely makes me feel better about all the boxes we have stacked up at times haha. And my favorite part is that is provides quick and easy entertainment for the kiddos! No prep or consideration to put in beforehand.
If you enjoyed this idea, check out my post where we used a box to make Life-Size Gingerbread Kids. It’s past Christmas now, but you could still take the same idea and make little cardboard friends for your kids!