Like red rubber
balls and teddy bears, broccoli refusals, skipping rope, sticky fingers, boo
boo kisses, bath time pouts, and nighty night tuck ins, I think cardboard boxes
are essential kit for little kids.

And the
granddaddy of them all are refrigerator boxes.

Guess what
arrived at my house the other day? (he-he-he!)

After a day
with my grandchildren and a big cardboard box, it got me thinking about why kids
love cardboard boxes, and why cardboard boxes are great for kids...

Learning Dimensions of a Cardboard Box

or Otherwise)

1. SPATIAL AWARENESS. Babies do it. Toddlers do it. Preschoolers
too. (And I bet more than once you've secretly wanted to as well.) The first
thing little kids do when confronted with a cardboard box is try to get in it.
Cute as this is, there's actually an important reason why they do this. It's
called Spatial Awareness.

You see, in the early years, little ones spend a good
deal of time getting to know their own bodies, and with that comes the
necessary question "how big am I?" But they're growing, so the answer
to that question keeps changing.
That's why kids are constantly testing
their own size by crawling in, through, around, over and under things. And
cardboard boxes are often the perfect size for this kind of spatial exploration.

2. COMFORT & SECURITY. There's also an emotional component to
seeking out small spaces. Right from the start, children are soothed by a sense
of being bundled up or embraced in mommy's arms. This need for
"denning" continues throughout childhood (and I would argue
throughout life) because in many ways, it's
a subconscious return to the comfort of the womb.

3. EMPOWERMENT. Imagine what it's like to always be the
smallest person in a room. Everything is sized for big people. In small spaces, kids feel BIG. (Sometimes
it's good to be small.)

Likewise, the light-weight
construction of a cardboard box enables young children to move and manipulate
an object that is bigger than they are. In other words, cardboard yields to
their will.

4. CONTROL. Cardboard boxes make ideal hiding places.
And kids love to hide. Now, I haven't made a scientific study of this, but I
believe the hiding game may well be the first experience a child has with knowing
something you don't know.
And I think this is such a powerful idea when we
grow up, as adults we intuitively "get it."

Think about it.
The hiding game usually begins with an impish grin as she ducks out of sight.
Without even thinking about it, you join the game. "Hmmm. I wonder where
Caitlin is? I can't see her. Is she under the pillow? No. Is she behind the
couch? No. Hmmm. Is she on my head? No..."

Then comes the
big surprise! "Here I am!" And of course, the tone in her voice let's
you know she's got one up on you. What fun! And what a powerful role reversal
that is!

5. ASENSORY PLAY. I've read a lot and I've written a lot about the importance of providing
children with rich sensory experiences each and every day. Yet "asensory" experiences play an
important role in sensory development as well.

For instance, the humble cardboard box is a
great example of an asensory environment.
The brown color suggests nothing in particular. The smooth
sides infer little. The cube structure defines empty space. The subtle smell
lacks distraction. The sound of the cardboard folding is muted and music-less. This
very LACK of sensory inputs (or perhaps, more accurately said, the subtle
nature of the sensory inputs) is an essential contrast to the more powerful and
deliberate stimulation we traditionally think of when we talk about
"sensory play."

This relief from
the sensory world may explain, in part, why kids find the confines of a
cardboard box so appealing. And of course, its
very neutrality is the blank-slate upon which children so easily imprint their

6. IMAGINATION. Much as been written about this, but for
my money, the minimalist Not A Box,
by Antoinette Portis says all that needs to be said on the subject.

A Big Cardboard Box

For the record,
turning a box into a plaything is an eco-friendly first lesson is waste-not,
want-not. So when you have the opportunity, try encouraging preschoolers to
think about the concept of reusing things for other purposes. For instance, you
might explain the purpose of packaging -- that the box was designed to protect
the product so that it wouldn't get scratched. But that doesn't mean that's the
only thing you can do with a box. Then wonder aloud... "I wonder what we
could do with this big box? What do you think?"

natural curiosity should take over, but if the size of the thing is a bit
overwhelming, you might want to encourage a few ideas to get her started, and
before you know it, you won't be able to get her out of it!

Box Ideas?

If you've got a great
big cardboard box idea you've tried with your kids, I'd love to hear about it!
Please post your link here in the comments section. Thanks so much.


For this post, we focused on oversized boxes, but any size box can be put to re-use for recycled
fun. Here are a few activities I found on Pinterest I think would be great to
try. Thanks to all the "pinners" for sharing!

Red Ted Art's Blog

One Box: 40
Crafty Ideas

The Imagination Tree

Small World Play:
Cardboard Box Town


Boy Germs

25 Ideas for a
Carboard Box

Pink & Green Mama

Cardboard Box
Play House, May 2012


Molly Moo Little Tales & Tips



Tot Treasures

Glow Stick Fun


Bolig Liv

Cardboard Display


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