Thursday, December 9

The Power of Cardboard

(From January 2011 Montana Woman)

I hear older folks say that kids don’t need all those fancy toys they make these days, but it’s easy to forget in the advertising and rush of our modern Christmas season. Now that the decorations are put away and the new toys are sorted into the kids’ rooms, I’m reminded of the simple toys that occupy my children the longest, such as sticks and dirt. But my personal favorite, and the best for use in my living room in winter, is cardboard.

One of the surest ways to brighten the faces of my son and daughter is to ask who would like to go to the appliance store. On grey Montana winter days, when it’s too cold or too wet to go outside, we’ll take a drive to the back of the nearest store that sells washers and dryers and find ourselves the biggest cardboard box we can fit in the back of the minivan. Then using my trusty box cutter stashed in my glovebox for this purpose, I break down the box, slide it in the back of the van over the kids’ heads (my son’s favorite part), and head home to reassemble.

Once home, we set the box back up in its full size and days of fun ensue. The big box transforms into a dragon’s lair, a fighter jet, a pirate ship, a kennel for packs of barking dogs, a cozy playhouse or an ice cream shop all at the whim of my children’s imagination. With the handy box cutter, we add portholes, drive-thru windows and garage doors. With crayons and markers, the kids decorate the insides and outsides to match their imaginary project.

When the box no longer holds up to the pirate attacks, wild hyenas, and ice cream sales – or I can’t stand the box in the living room anymore, whichever comes first – we cut the sides apart to make giant Viking shields, two-handed swords and magic wands. Glitter, paint and markers aid in the transformation. And a month later, when the allure has faded, all that mangled cardboard gets sent off to the recycle bin – it’s the ultimate “green” toy!

For the Sistine chapel of cardboard box play, go to (check out the cardboard kitchen!) where super achiever moms can get intricate directions on cardboard creations … but really, a washing machine box with a hole cut in the side, some crayons and a child are all you need.