A large appliance box waiting at the curb has always been a call to action. We’ve done whatever is necessary to get it home, mostly dragging it behind our bikes or lashing it to the car roof. That because every refrigerator or washing machine box (as well as every smaller box) has another life waiting for it. One dreamed up by children.
When I was a little girl, we played for months with a tall furniture box. My mother fashioned a door and windows that opened like shutters. It stood in our basement ready to serve as a palace, fort, or playhouse. This box was large enough to fit my sister and me and a few of our friends. It lasted through the winter before sagging into uselessness. (Check out a wonderful gallery of cardboard creations on MyMakeDo.)
One of my favorite events to throw for the kids of friends and neighbors is a BYOB gathering. As in Bring Your Own Box. Guests are invited to show up with cardboard boxes of all sizes. We supply masking tape, duct tape, markers, paint, and plenty of room on our property. The adults wield mat knifes, cutting where the kids direct. Sometimes more than a dozen huge boxes are transformed into cardboard rooms featuring turrets and rope-opening drawbridges. Sometimes they are a connected series of tunnels leading to a fort under a tree. Once the kids made a child-sized passageway they invited to adults to enter, giggling as we stooped and crawled and squeezed our way through. The biggest thrill for kids seems to be in the planning, arguing for one vision or another, then working together to make the project a reality. Of course, playing in it afterwards is fun too. The benefit of hosting it here? Plenty of days to play in the box creation after the event is over.
A cardboard box-related program we ran at enrichment classes was a hit. We called it Junk Science. We saved cardboard boxes and cardboard tubes of all sizes, along with string, rubber bands, lids, paper clips, yogurt cups, and other creativity-inspiring loose parts. Each child or team was given equal amounts of this “junk” and on free days allowed to build whatever he or she choose. On other days they were given a specific challenge, similar to the old TV series Junkyard Wars. The kids built sorters that sent pennies down one chute and dimes down another, bridges that held weight, catapults that tossed ping pong balls, and much more. They preferred the specific challenges to free days, perhaps enjoying the way their ideas took off while solving a problem.
I know a boy who used to make vehicles and trains out of cardboard boxes. He hitched them together with ropes and dragged them around. This made cleaning up toys more fun, and conveying groceries from the front door to the cupboards became his favorite job. And I know a girl who used to make mazes out of boxes for her pet rats to scurry through, kissing them on their pink noses when they emerged to find a treat at the end.
I also know a child who made a world out of a refrigerator box, a world that continutes to absorb his interest for hours on end day after day.
You may have thought I’d list 955 other ways to play with cardboard boxes but any child can do that. Who wants to limit creativity to a list anyway? Start saving those free toys called boxes.