Make a Sailor a Boat

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Veronika recently played with a box in a very free-form way, where we let the box serve as a prompt for imagination, but with almost no embellishments. Today’s play was the opposite, carefully crafting an upcycled box for a specific use: A boat!

I started with details like the sail and mast first, because I knew Veronika would be antsy to climb in for a ride and not want to wait for paint to dry. Use tape (or hot glue) to rig up two dowels one one end of the box, then attach tissue paper or fabric for the sail. We used the latter, with a fun whale print that was just right for the open seas.

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Next, cut a steering wheel shape from construction paper and tape to a craft stick, then attach at the end of the box opposite the sail.

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Don’t forget to cut out circles for portholes, too!

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Veronika couldn’t wait to cast off from shore! The box was just the right size for her and one stuffed animal passenger to sail around the globe (well, apartment).

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Once she’d had her fill of sailing, I did take the time to paint. Black, blue, and white stripes gave the box a quick nautical sheen! Now she was content to wait before hopping in for another sail.

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Anchors aweigh!

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Play in a Box

Boxes can be anything and everything, but often when we play with them, I give Veronika a prompt or we embellish the boxes in some way. Today, we had several empty delivery boxes in the house, and I simply presented them to her as is, curious to see what she’d do with them!

First, she wanted to climb in. I did add a little bit of detail with crayon so she had a “steering wheel” and dashboard, and now it was her race car! Similarly, you can quickly make a box into a boat or plane with just a few swipes of crayon.

Next, I turned the box so the opening was on the bottom. Now it was a perfect table! I loved watching her stage a tea party in the afternoon sunlight. A box like this is also perfect for kitchen or restaurant play.

Finally, we turned a few smaller boxes on their sides. Now they were a perfect stable for horses…

…or a cozy house for her puppy dog!

What will your child do with a box? Please share in the comments!

Decorate a Castle

This might not have been the most intricate castle we’ve ever put together, but a few large boxes are all any child needs to be king or queen of the realm for the day!

I recommend starting this project the night before, unless you want very impatient kids waiting for paint to dry. We used a big bristle brush to slather the sides of 4 cardboard boxes with paint. Because it was a lot of surface area to cover, this quickly needed to become a multi-colored castle, but the kids loved the result.

In the morning, it was time to assemble. I cut a few holes in some of the boxes for various purposes; some were small holes to be windows; some were large for Veronika to be able to crawl from box to box; and one was cut out on three sides but still attached at the bottom, to be the drawbridge of course! Be prepared for kids already crawling through and playing while you work. Chances are you won’t be able to keep them away.

You can leave the tops of the boxes straight, or cut out a few crenelations.

To make a working drawbridge, just attach a string or rope to the drawbridge flap that your child can pull on. Now Veronika could safely guard against intruders (like a certain big brother).

For window curtains, I hot-glued a few fabric scraps to a wooden dowel, then hot-glued the dowel over the smallest cut-out.

The queen was ready to rule! Having recently discovered that chalk works great for coloring big boxes, this proved to be a much cleaner method for her to decorate than painting. Veronika loved scribbling, and wanted me to add rainbows and sunshine, too.

I loved watching her take charge of the decorations!

I recommend leaving up big creations like this for at least a week, so your child can revisit it, continue to decorate, and play in new ways. What will your child’s castle look like? Please share in the comments!

Shoebox Train Craft

Veronika has loved books about trains lately, especially old favorites like The Little Engine That Could. So today we made her a train of her very own!

To set up, I used three cardboard boxes (none of which were actually shoeboxes, despite the title of this post, but they were roughly that size). Make sure the box you choose for the engine still has a lid. Cut two rectangles from that lid, and cut out a “window” from each, then adhere to the sides of this first box as the sides of the engine. Our engine box also still had a flap on the front which was perfect for gluing down an empty toilet paper tube as the funnel. You can also affix an additional flap of cardboard here if needed.

Next, I measured construction paper to fit the sides of each box, and then affixed with hot glue. We used blue for the engine, green for the middle car, and red for the caboose. Cut black circles from construction paper as wheels and glue down. Finally, punch a hole in the front and back of each box so you can tie them together with string. This train was ready to chug along the track!

I pulled it up to the “station” (i.e. the playroom) where lots of Veronika’s stuffed animals were waiting to board. She wasted no time loading her passengers into the train!

She absolutely adored chugging the train all around the apartment, sometimes pausing to let passengers on and off, or sometimes talking to her passengers: “Come on black puppy!”

You can use these train cars in other ways, too, even for color sorting blocks or other toys into the train car with the same color paper. We skipped that part today, though, since Veronika loved loading it up in conjunction with another read-though of Little Engine.

Chugga chugga choo choo!

Big Mouth Game

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Here’s another classic from the Toddler’s Busy Book, a game I played with Travis when he was so young this blog didn’t even exist yet! All you need to get started is a medium-sized cardboard box.

First, I drew a face on one side of the box with markers. No doubt your toddler will want to help out with this part; Veronika sure did!

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I then used a craft knife to cut out the mouth shape. For the final touch, we rubbed a glue stick all over the top and attached strips of tissue paper to be the hair. The big mouth is hungry and ready to eat!

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You can use just about anything as balls for the target. Tennis balls were just a touch too big to easily fit, but sock balls were the perfect size.

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We also had extra tissue paper and Veronika loved crumpling these into balls and tossing into the mouth.

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“He’s so hungry!” she said with delight every time she added to the box. When it was full, she could pull everything out and start all over again.

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This game is sure to keep toddlers busy and delighted.

A Morning in a Cardboard Box

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Travis had remote Zoom schooling today, which meant I had to find a way to keep Veronika entertained, out of his way, quiet (well, mostly quiet!), but also be nearby and ready to swoop in if Travis needed my help. What could possibly tick the boxes to fulfill this criteria? A giant cardboard box of course!

I’d been saving an old box for a while, because Veronika has recently shown a desire just to … sit in them! She gets such joy from climbing into delivery boxes, the bigger the better.

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For a spin, I decided to set up this particular box as a “dumpster”, an idea I spotted at Hands on as We Grow. Add recyclables like crumpled newspaper, saved snack boxes, and old sponges. Anything that seems like “trash” without actually being dirty will work!

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It turned our that she didn’t love this full box nearly as much as an empty one. That said, she latched onto the sponges right away. Soon she was “cleaning” the box, which I guess made this the cleanest dumpster in town!

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I helped her climb out and now those crumpled pieces of newspaper were perfect for target practice. Slam dunk!

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Meanwhile, I had also hidden a few cars and trucks under the debris to see if she wanted to hunt for them. She didn’t show much interest in the hidden cars in the box, so instead I cut off one of the box flaps and tilted it like a ramp against our lowest stair.

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Now, she loved zooming the cars down, and then started steering them up and down the ramp so carefully. I marveled at the control she’s developed playing with cars, for example always now turning them so the hood of the car faced forward.

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Travis’s Zoom class was still underway and we needed to buy more time with the box. So next up was chalk! It turns out that sidewalk chalk shows up beautifully on cardboard, and was a novelty compared to crayons.

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She told me she was drawing blue for a daytime sky, and then purple for dark! So I added a sun and moon, which made her so happy.

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She kept drawing in the box for almost half an hour by herself after that. Mission accomplished!

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Box Flap Car Bridges

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Leftover flaps from Christmas packages were the perfect way to mix up Veronika’s car play today!

For set up, I simply pulled out an assortment of box flaps I’d saved, having cut the longest ones from packages we received in the run-up to the holiday. Ideally I would have liked to prop all of these flaps on top of still more cardboard boxes, but I only had one box left that was tall enough. In a pinch, chairs from our craft table could be additional supports for the ramps and brdiges.

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Anywhere I needed to attach two box flaps together, I clipped them with a clothespin. Veronika loved helping out as we set up this configuration, which turned into a neat triangle of bridges. I placed her directly in the center of all the flaps and then let a few cars loose along the ramps. She got the idea right away!

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The bridges are great for kids to experiment with, getting a little STEM lesson in the process. Anywhere they sag in a downhill, cars will roll with the force of gravity. Anywhere with an ascent, kids will have to push up.

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Veronika narrowly saved this car from disaster!

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She loved pushing cars along, zooming them down, and occasionally tossing them right off the ramps.


In addition, the “fort” itself was a delight, especially once she discovered that she could crawl under the box flaps or back in all by herself, without me needing to lift her out.

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What a super fun way to recycle boxes and fit in car play.

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Mansion of Mystery

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We’re kicking off Halloween with a big BOO around here! This project is definitely a complicated one, but so worth the effort when your kids see not just a dollhouse but a haunted dollhouse… that includes its very own witch!

To assemble the house, start collecting cardboard boxes, empty paper towel tubes, and empty toilet paper rolls, and wait until you have a good assortment. Paint all of the cardboard pieces with black acrylic paint and let dry. I recommend two coats of paint for maximum spookiness.

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The next day, I mixed and matched the boxes and tubes until I liked the arrangement, and then used hot glue to attach everything together.

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On the third day, I added adornments. Cut squares of yellow construction paper to be window panes and arrange in groups of 4 around your boxes. I also had one arched window for added spookiness.

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For tower tops, cut circles from black construction paper and cut one notch in toward the center of each, then fold into cones and use tape or glue to attach atop each paper towel tube

For doors, cut shapes from brown construction paper, either rectangular or arched. One door couldn’t actually open, and had a red bead glued on as a handle.

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Because Travis requested we actually be able to put figures inside the house, I cut one box so it was open in the back and added doors that could swing open and closed.

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You can get a lot crazier with decoration, using construction paper for a fence or shutters, or adding additional boxes cut on the diagonal for a roof. But I reined in the haunted-housiness there.

All we needed now was a witch! Paint a toilet paper tube black. Once completely dry, paint a green square on the top for the face. You’ll need several coats of green to hide the black. Cut a rectangle from black felt and fringe the bottom with scissors, then glue on for hair.

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Add facial details with marker. So as not to spook the kids, we had a happy witch.

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You can make a whole witch family if you have enough cardboard tubes. Want to get really crafty? Add brooms! Just glue fringed brown construction paper around the bottom of a short stick.

Needless to say, I think the kids will find ways to play with this house all October.

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Set Design

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Here’s an easy hack to turn empty cardboard boxes into play spaces with zero mess: use stickers as the backdrop to create scenery for a “stage”!

To put this together, I simply taped the background pages from a sticker set inside a large cardboard box.

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We started out with an ocean page, and Veronika could go “under the sea” simply by crawling in. She loved peeking out from this watery cave, and also adding animals to the backdrop. It was almost like a virtual aquarium!

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As an alternative, you can cut the box so it stands flat, and tape pages to the outside of it. In this way, the box now became her jungle! Use stickers or other pictures to create a farm, beach, or whatever else strikes your little stage actor’s fancy.

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This was a neat way to build on Veronika’s imaginative play as she becomes less interested in merely manipulating objects, and more interested in acting out stories. I talked about her trip to each place, and the various animals she could see.

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Other fun ideas? Use stickers to make a backdrop like a castle¬†or outer space! If you’re more artistic than I am, of course feel free to paint these scenes. But relying on stickers was a great hack with no mess.

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A Box is a Box

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With big brother involved in box play for home school, I threw in a few boxes for Veronika, too! We started out with the very simple (a box hat!) and moved on to ideas that were more complex.

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She loved climbing in one that was just the right size for sitting in, so we made it into a “boat”. We rowed all around the living room, of course.

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Next up was making a garage for some of her cars. She loved helping to decorate this, and we added a cut-out for her cars to drive in and out.

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If a box is big enough, it can become a cave for your toddler. Because she loves painting, we decided to paint the outside of the “cave”.

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Of course I knew this would be an invitation to a mess, but she loved the big tray of paint and large brushes I laid out.

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Not only did she love crawling in once the paint was dry, but she climbed on top and made it a slide, too!

None of these ideas were very complicated, especially compared to past projects like mailboxes, houses, railroad stations, and even castles. But it was a case in point that boxes never fail to entertain!