Cardboard boxes for toys?

Have you ever found the perfect gift for your child, only to end up tinkering with it yourself while your child plays with the cardboard box remnants?

I know I’ve been in this situation plenty of times where I think I’m going to score major Mother-of-the-Year points for a certain must-have toy, only to watch my daughters turn the box into a pirate ship or a castle all afternoon.

A preschool teacher in Ohio this week is putting the cardboard craze to the test, replacing all of the name-brand toys in his classroom with cardboard boxes. So far, the experiment is a success, he says. The students are engaged and using their imaginations to construct everything from an igloo to a hotel to a didgeridoo.

“I just spent so many years looking at all my teaching materials and thinking that so much of them have a preassigned value to them,” teacher Pete Kaser says here. “I wasn’t getting the imagination out of the children that I wanted.”

The problem, he found, was that toys shaped as phones or dogs or kitchens are always only one specific thing. But cardboard? Well, the possibilities are endless.

Other educators have chimed in on the cardboard experiment, saying creative play like this allows students to navigate social situations while they play. One child may see a rocket ship while another sees a castle. Reaching a consensus requires teamwork and compromise.

Who knows how long the cardboard boxes will capture these kids’ imaginations, but I think it is a great reminder to parents that the best gifts for kids aren’t necessarily the ones the toymakers are pushing this year.

Sometimes, the best gifts can be the one of an afternoon of undivided attention, a cardboard box and the freedom to imagine.

How do you encourage your kids to use their imagination while they play? Any not-so-high-tech gifts that have ended up as a favorite toy?



  1. John Charity Spring

    Stewart has pointed out a common error being made by today’s younger parents. Instead of buying presents for the children, they are buying the presents to boost their own egos.

    There is a reason that a toddler would rather play with the box than the fancy toy inside :young children are naturally pure and simple in their desires. They do not need the latest, hippest gadget to be happy. They only become materialistic and greedy when taught to be so by their parents.

    If they are honest, these young parents who buy fancy gifts for infants must admit that they are doing so to impress other adults. They want to make a statement that they are better than other parents because their kids have bigger and better toys than other kids. The gifts are essentially given out of selfishness, not out of love.

    In my day, a child was happy if he received an orange and a pair of socks for Christmas. Now, kids have been trained by overindulgent parents to demand the most expensive gifts imaginable. This in turn has made the modern Christmas into a false and commercial festival.

    In short, it is time for all parents to eliminate this overindulgent gift giving. Any parent who truly cares about the welfare of her child will use moderation instead of excess.

  2. me

    I think that is a pretty hard view of that if children ask for toys or things that it is the parent who is greedy and wants, wants, wants. And that we only buy nice toys for our children to show up other parents and make us feel better about ourselves? Come on. What about we buy nice toys for our children because we want them to have fun! TO play and enjoy the things they have. We buy nice toys so that they last and won’t fall apart after the first play time. I agree that we need to be aware of the way we talk and treat material items, but isn’t it the best feeling as a parent to see your child’s eyes light up when the special toy he/she has been seeing and wanting for months. I’m not saying we should over indulge our children. We should have balance just like any where else in our lives. Just because some of us enjoy good quality and nice things for our children you shouldn’t bad mouth that.

  3. Erin R.

    No, I don’t think Erin bought the toy to be selfish, I think she did it because she loves her kids and thought they’d like it.

    But that is hilarious about them loving the box. I remember being a little kid and playing with the box from our neighbors’ new washing machine until it was wrecked. Funny how kids are fascinated by the simplest things. I got a real kick out of this article, so thanks for the laugh!

  4. Toy storage bins and childrens toy boxes are preferred for wooden toys for toddlers. See these and other toy organizer solutions

    I guess that explains why Legos work.

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