101 things babies can do with a box

Look at this brilliant train?

If you’ve got children then there are far more than 101 things you and they can do with a box. But this post will have you eyeing up cardboard boxes in a new way. Please send your ideas in as well – and ideally order my new book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children for you AND your nearest library. The book (by Nicola Baird) is published on 1 July. If you already feel very green consider it a great gift for new parents.

Sections below are divided into: Weenie (mini matchbox size); Small (cereal size); Smallish (shoebox size); Medium (packing case size); Large (modest TV size) and XXL (washing machine size).

WEENIE (mini matchbox size)
Family curio – save your baby’s first teeth, a special lock of hair.

2 Curiosity – how many things can you get into it? These contests can be good fundraisers at nurseries and schools if children are sponsored for each object they can cram in.

3 Gross – injury box for primary school kids (scabs, stitches).

4 Palace – let your child create the perfect fairy palace. Line with moss or feathers, sheep’s wool or tissue to make a comfortable bed for the fairies.

5 Building block – paint it, wrap it up and make it into a brick that can be piled into a tower and then knocked down.

SMALL (cereal size)
1 Creative – perfect for games (eg, throwing stuff in to the mouth) or making your own Snakes & Ladders.  Or decorate with wallpaper samples and use to file drawings/playgroup newsletters.

Breakfast cereal boxes make great model material.

2 Strong – cut out pieces to use as spinners, create models (eg, the teddy on the cover of Homemade Kids made his own ipod like this, as did the children on the right).

3 Get sewing – using a hole punch (biro or skewer) you can make holes to practise threading a shoe lace.

4 Template Or cut out animal/planet shapes and get sorting into big, bigger, biggest…

5 Ready-made packaging – disguise the wrapping up of your handicraft by padding them with newspaper and then squeezing into the box.

Smallish (shoebox size)

Billy's next game is search the treasure box!

1 Treasure – fill together with safe baby play toys. Mary, 60, said: “I made my grandson Billy a magic bag [but you could use a box]. Into it I put a toy gazelle, shaky African egg, oyster shell, whisk, sponge, bangle, lofah, brush, wood napkin ring, glittery stick and two 30cm lengths of chain. Billy loves taking things out of it.” (see photo left of Billy with mum Jo).

2 Museum – fill with your extra special finds, eg, bits of china dug up from the garden, lolly sticks, stones, feathers etc

3 Storage – save in one place all the arrival cards, Birthday/Christmas cards, postcards and letters from relations. This is lovely in an age of skype, email and phone as a way of keeping family messages, and recalling everyone’s unique handwriting.

4 Miniature worlds – fill with sand, soil or material and create your own landscape. What could you make, a country garden, a planet, a farm or a child-friendly street? Use an old mirror or a piece of silver foil (or bottle tops) to create a pond.

5 Keep tabs on – use for collectables (cards, beer caps, Horrible History books, CDs…

Medium (liftable packing case size)
1Base camp – trim the sides and you have a perfect support seat for your baby – this may be a fun way to watch a favourite DVD.

2 Be your own architect – if you’ve got the space then clip or glue on boxes with your preschooler to make a castle, store, fantasty world that you can decorate together. Brilliant project for wet days.

Elaine loves doing art with Finn, baby Niall, cousins and friends.

3 Art store – gather together all materials that may one day be turned into something else so you just can’t recycle (eg, steel tins, washed yoghurt pots, glossy mags). Add paints, paintbrushes, scissors and glue etc to create the best art cart in the world. “I have two big boxes of every kind of pen, paint, coloured card, saved birthday and Christmas cards and anything that is glittery/feathery/has the potential to be used in a card or picture.Nothing gets wasted! Having children has given me a fantastic excuse to spend hours messing about with pens and with paints, which I loved doing as a child.” Elaine with Finn and Niall (pic right).

4 For the veg plot – use flattened boxes (this is a fun task for primary school children) as a biodegradable weed suppressing mat.

5 Shop in bulk – it can save money and cut packaging. Plus you get nice size play boxes to do all these things with…

LARGE (modest TV size)
1Den – get out the cushions/rugs and let your child cosy up to read.

2 Sun shade – on hot days you can use this shade as a way of avoiding battles to keep hats on (sunscreen is not recommended on under one year olds).

3 Distraction – can’t entertain or satisfy your child?  Then drag in a box and let them have fun exploring, punching, crushing, decorating or incorporating into their own games. Is it a ship? Dragon belly? Train? Nursery? Granny’s home?

4 Doll’s house – let your young child decorate their own room using the real stuff: paint, wallpaper, material etc.

5 Travel to the moon – this is a rocket, not a box. Put on your crash helmet (made with a cereal box) and off you go: 3,2, 1, take off!

XXL (washing machine size)
1Castle – this is your kid’s new home!

2 Energy workshop – share energy-efficiency and eco-home tips with mums/dads while their little children decorate the box. If you cut out a few windows toddlers will enjoy climbing in and out while the grown ups debate internal or external insulation.

3 Toy tidy – but you call it a toy store and by encouraging your children to tidy up they’ll also have the fun of slinging the toys out. A big box is ideal for heaps of soft toys.

4 Fill it up – add some balls to create your own ball pond. Access through a highish window cut (carefully) with a Stanley knife/penknife so the balls don’t roll out too easily

5 Play shops – let your child create a store and then sell or swap items with friends/family.

Your turn now. What ‘s your children’s favourite use for cardboard boxes? Thanks, Nicola x

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