Daily Archives: June 8, 2009

Ode to the Cardboard Box

How to Climb in to a Time Portal

Time portal? Rabbit hole? Secret tunnel? Only the day will tell.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Dan Zen

The simple cardboard box has been the inspiration for countless hours of play since the 1800s. A rightful-member of the Toy Hall of Fame, cardboard boxes are a tool for make-believe and sport, with countless uses. As the last of six children, I can’t tell you the hours I spent playing in and with boxes. Often, after presents were opened on Christmas, there was more joy to be found in the boxes themselves, than the toys that they held — much to the chagrin on Santa.

robo-girl dances

Mr. Boxy busts a move!

Creative Commons License photo credit: superclops

Cut up and flattened, a box became a slick sled for a grassy hill down the street. A marker turned a box into a car that I would scoot around in for hours on end. A fort or a fox den. A treasure chest. The back-drop for a play or musical being put on in the driveway. Cardboard boxes held so much joy and wonder. And if someone in the neighborhood got a new refrigerator, it was like winning the lottery! A box big enough to make a clubhouse or a puppet theater, or become a skyscraper in a box city we were building under the deck.  You want to see pure, unbridled joy? Give a kid a refrigerator box and step aside.

There is a reason that the lowly cardboard box is a perennial favorite toy. As we’ve discussed here before, play is defined as a set of behaviors that are freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated. When a child chooses to play with a cardboard box, it is because they truly want to. They look at it and see the possibilities. It is not empty, but rather full of  What Ifs? What if I could fly a rocket to the moon? Or, what if I was lost in the woods and found a cave to live in? It’s also a place just for them, or perhaps a friend. There is no room for adults. There are no rules or limits. The box is the domain of a child’s imagination, which is the cornerstone of play. Left to their own devices, children will make play happen in the most delightful and inspiring ways.


Tweens in France take playing with boxes to a new level. See the result below.


A cardboard box bridge built by a group of kids. AMAZING!

So I say, three cheers for boxes! I wonder where I can find a big enough one to go slide down a hill. It’s been far too long!

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

PS: Want to read about more no-tech toys? Check out Sticks and Stones…

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