They have as much fun with the box as they do with the toy that came in it! If you have been around toddlers at a birthday party then you know it is true. That’s not much consolation to friends or relatives who poured valuable time and deep thought into finding the perfect gift for the child, but they can always consider it as two gifts in one, right? By using your own ingenuity and letting your children use their creativity, you can find plenty of inexpensive ways to entertain ages from the toddler crowd all the way up through grade school. Extending the life of a piece of cardboard destined for the recycler is one way. Here is a hefty list of ideas to get you started, inside or outside the box.
If friends or neighbors are purchasing a new piece of furniture—anything from an end table or file cabinet to a large kitchen appliance—by all means ask them to save the box for you. Turn it on its side and the flaps make excellent doors of a little house. With your child at a safe distance, use a box cutter to create a mail slot, windows with shutters, peep holes, and even fake electrical outlets. Junk mail envelopes with free stickers and return address labels serve as useful elements in playing post office. Or the box could morph into a hidden fort with blankets draped over the top, stuffed animals seeking shelter from the storm. It can also become a shed for any number of vehicular toys: it’s an airplane hangar, a Quonset hut, a train station, a train tunnel, a parking garage. Or it converts to its own mode of transit: a spaceship, a race car, a train engine, an airplane.
Smaller boxes are great for drawing on to make old–fashioned switchboards, electrical panels, musical keyboards, vehicular consoles, computer monitors, puppet theatre stages, cash registers, or those now quaint and archaic machines called typewriters. All that is required is a good marker and some imagination.
One of my favorite cardboard box memories is from a childhood birthday that my parents hosted. My father fashioned a castle entrance with doors, windows and medieval–style walls. This spanned the width of our double door porch and the party guests passed through the entrance of the castle to the festivities inside. The most it cost was some time. What a payoff and what fun memories.
Nowadays, children are scheduled and pushed to complete tasks from the moment they step into kindergarten, if not earlier. Many children in this country are growing adept at performing tasks and repeating information (achievements with their own merits), but they are lacking in the ability to figure things out for themselves. Good old–fashioned unstructured play is an avenue to problem–solving on a cognitive level and on a social level. If you encourage your children’s inventiveness, problem–solving and creativity with a simple box, then you are helping to move them in a good direction, and they will have a great time playing outside and inside the box.