Cardboard STEM: 25 Ideas for All Those BOXES

Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

There’s no escaping the cold, hard truth: Children love to play with cardboard boxes.

As parents, we’ve all experienced this cardboard-fueled phenomenon. It’s almost become an old adage: He played with the box more than the gift.

With the holidays on the horizon, there will be oodles of boxes to contend with especially if, like myself, you prefer to do your holiday shopping online in your jammies. And, as the holidays draw near, the to-do list increases. There are gifts to buy, presents to wrap, gatherings to organize. If your home is anything like ours, it can be tricky to get all the things done with children underfoot. Unless, of course, you have a plan.

And have I got a plan this year! This plan is sure to keep your children engaged and learning and provide you with some uninterrupted time to tackle that mounting must-do list. This plan requires your kids to get creative and to think outside of that proverbial box… while playing with all those cardboard boxes that are strewn about your home just waiting to be recycled.

What is this plan, you wonder? I have two words for you: Cardboard STEM. Today, I am sharing some fun Cardboard STEM ideas. In fact, I’m sharing 25 creative cardboard challenges that will tap into your children’s creativity, innovation, and imagination because STEM careers are among the fastest-growing and most lucrative around!

This holiday season, as those online-shopping boxes roll in on UPS’s wheels, don’t immediately chuck them in the to-be-recycled pile. Save them for a little while and I guarantee that you will be saving your sanity in the process because kids love boxes.

cardboard STEM
Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

What do you need to complete these challenges? Truly, you need only cardboard boxes and imagination. That said, if you provide your kiddos with some craft supplies, the fun will last longer.

Simply gather common art materials that you likely have laying around your home, including crayons, markers, paint, tape, glue, scissors, and, if you’re wholeheartedly devoted to the cause: glitter.

They’ll also need a space in which to work. Bonus points for letting them have at all of that bubble wrap included in those boxes or even some paper towel rolls. To add an exciting challenge, grab a stopwatch and challenge your children to complete the task with within an allotted amount of time.

Cardboard STEM: 25 Creative Cardboard Challenges

Once you’ve collected some cardboard boxes, challenge your children to create the following:

  1. A house or castle. Bonus points for a working drawbridge or portcullis!
  2. An office
    Card Board sTEM
    Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
  3. A cardboard carnival, a la Caine’s Arcade
  4. A puppet theater
  5. A mailbox, which will naturally inspire some creative writing!
  6. Tunnels!!
    Image source: Caitlin FItzpatrick Curley
    Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
  7. A boat that floats
  8. Create abstract art by placing a piece of paper inside the box and adding some paint and marbles. Shake gently and see what you create!
  9. A fort or book nook
  10. Swords and shields
  11. Cars that children can “ride” in when complete. After they are done, pop in a movie and you have your very own drive-in theater!
  12. Along these lines, can you make an airplane?
  13. A guitar that plays music, like this one that my son made with some help from Groovy Lab in a Box:
  14. Play kitchen, complete with sink, fridge, oven, and stovetop. Bonus points for a washer and dryer!
  15. A storefront!
  16. Sled. Do you remember sliding down the stairs on flattened boxes as a kid? I sure do!
  17. Use a box to house a board game of your own invention. Here is my son’s recent creation, Lichen Land: 
    IMG_4331
    Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
  18. Create an entire city, from the buildings to roads to parking garages and then get out the matchbox cars and have a blast.
  19. A dollhouse for small dolls, or a doll bed for larger dolls.
  20. Use the boxes as blocks and make a gigantic tower, or a fortress, or a maze!
  21. A treasure box
    IMG_0211
    Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

    Or, a treasure can: 

  22. A costume!
  23. A cardboard marble run
  24. Remember dioramas? Make one of those! Or, one of these:
  25. Finally, see who can fill the most boxes with donation items for those less fortunate this holiday season.
    Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
    Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Looking for more fun with cardboard?

If you have a child who loves to raid your trash and recycling bins to create, be sure to check out this fun product from ThinkFun…

IMG_0898
Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

…or this book, about a little boy’s love of his cardboard box, or this book which is definitely not about a box!

12 Days of Cardboard

Our family is planning to complete a bunch of the above challenges before the holidays in what we are calling The 12 Days of Cardboard. You can feel free to follow along and please share your creations using the hashtags #cardboardstem and #12daysofcardboard—we’d love to see what you’ve made!

What amazing things have your children created lately? Share here!

Cait is a school psychologist, mom to three amazing children, and an unexpected homeschooler. She loves nature, good books, board games, strong coffee, and dancing in her kitchen. You can read about all of these things and more at My Little Poppies. Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast. She is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and G+.