We all know that cardboard is a material that attracts children. It is a classic to see them enjoy entering cardboard boxes to transform them into houses, cars, giants … It is pure symbolic game: adopt a material or object to transform it into another, according to their own wishes and concerns.

But why is cardboard so successful? Why is it so easy for a child to turn it into a multitude of other things?

I think the reason lies in the potential of the material. So simple and open, so flexible and versatile … Its soft brown color does not attract powerfully attention, does not over stimulate, which leaves room for this material to be filled with new ideas and imagination.

The cardboard boxes, tubes and plates come without an instruction manual. How do they work? What are they? Undoubtedly, these questions will be answered by the children, with their daily chores / games, imagining how much they want or need.

For this reason, at home we have been collecting cardboard elements for a long time as play materials of high educational and playful value, if they are different things.


But beyond that they simply love them … What benefits can playing with cardboard materials have?


Using these types of materials for the game conveys the notion and value of reusing. Not everything is bought, not everything has to be new, we can take advantage of the packaging to play and create.

What for many is a “waste” for children can be a wonderful opportunity to let their imagination run wild.


Linked to the previous point, the fact that we can obtain cardboard materials from our environment, from what we use daily, forces us to pay attention to discover new game elements.

The adult can start by observing and wondering, what packages might be interesting to play with? Is it appropriate to incorporate this cardboard box or this tube, or this little tray as a game element?

Soon children will adopt that attitude too, guessing and inventing new uses for the endless things and materials they observe.

What I especially like about cardboard materials is that they are not only play elements but allow children to find their own resources to play with .


It may seem that the fragility of a game element is negative. For me, in this case, it is the opposite. Getting used to playing with cardboard materials, which are relatively fragile, which soften after a lot of use, is also positive for learning. It helps them to be careful if they want to keep it for a long time.

But at the same time, being recycling, they can destroy (rebuild) or transform them freely, if they need to do that process. For example… they can build towers out of cardboard boxes and destroy them. Will the boxes fall? How does gravity work?

Or they can cut the cardboard tubes, modify them, glue them, etc.


Cardboard materials are unstructured play items. They are nothing in particular, they are not a doll, not a car or an airplane, although they can be all that and much more. Depending on their shape and size, they will inspire children with a multitude of different things and ideas, also depending on the stage and needs of that particular child.

I like to think that these materials release the imagination of children in the sense that they do not stop it, because they are not something predetermined that already leads us to play something in particular, but they are only a starting point to develop creativity and the imagination that children already bring as standard.


But for that imagination to take off it is also important that the adult respect it.

What attitude should the adult have towards cardboard boxes? The question may surprise you, but the answer is important because the adult does not have to interfere, he can accompany, he can be present but he should limit the suggestions .

Of course, this should be the case in most games. But with cardboard materials and especially with boxes something very curious happens … often it is inevitable for us to want to improve their inventions “if we made a window here … a door there …”.

When a child imagines that a cardboard box is a car, the game itself is complete . As adults we always have the inertia to turn that cardboard box into a more real car, we suggest adding wheels, perhaps a steering wheel … But in this way we are also limiting the possibilities of the box. Suddenly it will only be a car and it will lose all the potential it had (it could have been a house too, a table or who knows how many other things).

And the boy didn’t need it. He could see the car in the box without needing to transform

Of course, I don’t mean to say that adults can’t create toys out of cardboard boxes. If we can buy them we can also build them, but then it is already our activity, something we want to offer, but not the child’s play or imagination. Perhaps the game will come later, but it will already be modulated by the adult’s creation and will therefore require less creative exercise on the part of the child.

Nor do I mean that we never suggest any idea … what I am saying is that we regularly try not to “tune” everything that comes out of your imagination . We may not realize it, but those little “tips” can sometimes completely destroy a unique moment of imagination.

Although I reiterate, it is not that we can never build anything for children. Sometimes we can even build something together, but when the little one is creating… when he is playing, at that moment we should not interrupt .


But summing up and going back to the wording of the article… Why do cardboard materials release the creativity of the little ones? And why do they like the wrappers many times more than the gifts themselves?

It is probably because these types of elements give the child creative freedom . The packaging comes without an instruction manual , they can use it in any way they want, while the inside, the toy, does have them.

Of course, there are very open toys, but in general, they tend to serve a specific purpose. And it’s not that it’s wrong, it may be appropriate at times. But when children play they also need to recreate their thoughts and the world for themselves and, in that sense, cardboard boxes are an excellent support for this.

To all these ideas we must add, as I said at the beginning , the fact that packaging and cardboard boxes are absolutely present in our day to day , in countless products that we buy,   which allows children to find their own resources of game, being attentive to the environment . Isn’t it fantastic? In this way they not only play but also respond to their need to know and interact with the world around them .

We will continue talking about cardboard materials, but for today I say goodbye with something that I have learned over the years. For children, the best gifts do not go in cardboard packaging … although these, the packaging, can be a great gift, in themselves.