Welcome to Moving Smart!

Helping parents and teachers understand the LEARNING benefits of all those wiggles & giggles!


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...

Six Learning Dimensions of a Cardboard Box
(Refrigerator 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 imaginations...

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.

Introducing 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?"

Children's 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!

Big 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
Cardboard Aquarium

Tot Treasures
Glow Stick Fun

Bolig Liv
Cardboard Display Shelf

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  1. I made a giant castle fort once for my daughter out of a bunch of boxes by taping them together, she absolutely loved it!! It took over my living room for about 3 days!!

    Teddy @MultitaskMomma

  2. My four year old grandson is in box heaven. His aunt is having a baby shower on Saturday and all kinds of boxes have been coming to my house. Plus, all the boxes from Christmas shipping. He has made a leprechaun trap, a giant butterfly, a cockroach board game (don't ask!), a chair for the new baby, a baseball cap, and other crazy things.

  3. There's also a wonderful book called Christina Katerina and the Box. About a little girl and what she does with a refrigerator box.

  4. Wonderful post! Have you seen the cardboard classroom experiment at Patterson Preschool Cooperative's Facebook Page? http://www.facebook.com/pages/Patterson-Preschool-Cooperative/198523690158002 and check the photo albums for several big albums of pictures.

    They had a 2 month experiment in which the children had essentially no toys, just a room full of cardboard and duct tape and masking tape etc. The children built all the structures essentially on their own and the level of creativity and the depth of play is astonishing.

    Alec @ Child's Play Music

  5. Great article, agree entirely. A giant TV box became the house that Kipper the dog made for his cousin Arnold to play in, from one of my children's favourite books. Hours and hours, days and weeks of imaginative fun, from a simple oversized cardboard box.

  6. Beautiful article!
    We actually make Cardboard Playhouses for kids, they are durable, recyclable, PEFC certified, ready for decorating and they last for ages!
    If there are no big boxes coming your way this holidays, check out

  7. What a great article. We love combining creativity, imagination and education!

    We've had a "haunted house" made out of three appliance boxes for over 6 years now. It's seen many Halloweens, crazy critters, & even some unexpected rains and still is in great shape. The kids get so excited every year when we take it out of the garage each October. By far the best holiday "decoration" we've ever had!

  8. I teach preschoolers and have a 5 yr old. One of my favorite nooks I've saved from my childhood and share often is "Christina Katerina and the The Box" by Patricia Lee Gauch, about a girl and her neighbor friend who turn a box into several wild creations.

  9. Hey my friends I tell you some tips about moving box. Reinforce the bottom of the box with packing tape. This is especially important if the box has already been broken down and is used. This will ensure that any items in the box don't fall through the bottom in transit.
    Recycled Boxes

  10. It's a good thing that cardboard is bland because then it can be anything in a young child's eyes; there is no special design made by a company and sold at toy stores; the cardboard box is made just how the child likes it.

  11. Haha! It's funny how your grandchildren made those moving boxes their little playground. My kids also did that days after we've moved to our new house and unpacked everything. Moving boxes are durable, so after using them on their main purpose, kids can benefit and have fun out of them.

  12. Best birthday party we gave our son was when he was age three and we had a Builders Party! Ten three-year-olds, several large and not-so-large cardboard boxes (some with windows cut out), they were happy for an hour or more!

  13. I recently found your blog through Pinterest and have some private questions I would love to discuss with you regarding my oldest daughter. Would you mind emailing me at ncatlett1 at yahoo dot com? Thanks :D Natalia

  14. Thanks for sharing this post I also share with you some tip hope you like. A four-piece box that can come in large or small sizes (small shown); can be customized by telescoping in and out; use crumpled packing paper in the corners to add cushion and make sure to wrap your mirror or picture with bubble wrap before placing it in the box
    Sell Shipping Boxes

  15. Hi Gill
    I am a kinder teacher in Victoria Australia - I think that I have asked you before if I can quote your work and acknowledge it of course...I would love to use the post on play dimensions of a cardboard box - hope you say yes!
    Ouyen Kinder

  16. Lo, funny. I have never any idea about the use of corrugated boxes in this ways. Good ones. :)

  17. Thanks for a great article. It brings back so many memories! When my daughter was about 6, we had a new refrigerator delivered - the ultimate box! We had loads of fun coming up with ideas of what we were going to do with it. We ultimately decided on a puppet theatre. We painted the box, cut the appropriate openings and even made curtains. Jess and her friends played with that for years!

  18. This use to be my favorite thing as a kid. My dad did custom cardboard boxes and we would always build things out of them. Best childhood ever!

  19. What a great post! I recycled a bunch of soup can cardboard boxes into storage boxes for my little boy’s ever-growing collection of miniature model cars. He’s made up all kinds of games with them – a parking garage, a car “pool” wash, a garage. It sounds like he loves his cars, but he actually loves the boxes more – he won’t store the cars in there; they are all neatly arranged on his toy-shelf and his beloved cars get to “sleep” in a giant wicker basket!

  20. They are quite innovatively used by kids and mothers at home for making decorative stuff and reusing these boxes.You sure can do a lot of things with a cardboard boxes. With little creativity, it can be more than helpful.

  21. I created a cardboard cave out of lots of flattened boxes here, http://www.sophiefox.com/3/post/2013/10/cardboard-cave.html ,for some 7yr old children to play in and mark make. Interestingly a boy with severe autism choose to stay in our cave all day, perhaps for the asensory reasons you were suggesting. I use cardboard a lot in my work, it is a wonderful material!

  22. Wow!!!
    Really what a great idea you have invented for making the kids happy at the home.
    I would also like to grab this an innovative idea for myself & also would discuss among my close fellows as well for applying this so that they can also teach their children & interact with the wages Packaging Boxes at the home.
    Thanks for sharing such a conceptual matter with us. keep posting ahead.

  23. You have done a great job. I will definitely dig it and personally recommend to my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this site. Thanks a lot for sharing easy-to-follow tips.

  24. Could you recommend any writing that has been done on this? I'm doing a research project on it and could really use it!

  25. Hi Charly - My material in this blog is based on my own many years of teaching experience. Cardboard is endless. It is a play material that can turn into anything - anything a child wants it to be and it is so plain and unaffected, the outcomes are endless. I write a lot about play that has no agenda in my new book A Moving Child Is a Learning Child. You might like to pick up a copy of that on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Moving-Child-Learning-Teaches-Brain/dp/1575424355/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1368608107&sr=1-1&keywords=a+moving+child+is+a+learning+child. Hope that helps.