Mini Makers: Cardboarding for Kids

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A learn-by-doing skill for growing makers

Cardboard has entertained kids for decades, and the youngest generation is just as smitten as we were (ahem, are). The concept isn’t new, but have you ever considered its educational value of this inexpensive standby? Cardboarding for kids is an excellent intro to 3-D building for even the littlest makers. Building cardboard forts, castles, bridges and rocket ships introduces young children to design-thinking, supports budding tactile skills, strengthens a growing foundation of physics awareness, builds confidence, and encourages imagination and grit.

What is Cardboarding?

I feel a little silly describing cardboarding to readers who probably built their own box robots and cars when they were young, so I won’t. What I will do is try to expose you to some of the amazing things you can do with cardboard — things I’d certainly never dreamed of. Note that most are certainly not child-lead creations. We’ll get to that later.

Inspiration: Cardboarding Projects from the Blogosphere

These wonderful projects can spark inspiration, but don’t plan to recreate them. Your kids will be in charge and make things their own way. More on this below.

Cardboard Brownstone dollhouses
by mer mag:

Cardboard Brownstone Dollhouses from mer mag

This fold-away playhouse hideaway
by sheknows

Foldaway Cardboard House by sheknows

A cardboard handbag
by ikat bag:

Kids cardboard hand bag from ikat bag,

An epic marble run
by Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls:

cardboard marble run

DIY cardboard tube construction set
by Picklebums:

Cardboard Tube Construction Set from Picklebums.

Cardboarding for Kids

If they build it, they will learn.

The first thing many of us do when planning a craft or maker activity with children is check Pinterest. Pinterest and your favorite blogs offer great inspiration, but that should be the extent of it. Forget the tutorials and neatly planned instructions. Just as importantly, relinquish control. Making is about giving children the opportunity to flex their creative muscles, build confidence, and, most importantly, learn by doing. Your job is to give them materials, support and project ideas, if necessary.

It goes without saying that child-guided making requires a bit of restraint on your part. Cardboarding for kids isn’t neat, and that’s okay.  Compare this lovely cardboard castle from Croissant and Lavender (translated) to the on my kids built with an old Tinker Crate box.







This is what real making looks like.

Cardboarding Supplies and Where to Find Them

There are several different types of cardboarding tools and materials I like to keep on hand for rainy days and moments of inspiration.  I suggest keeping them simple and as kid-friendly as possible. Some ideas:


From shoeboxes to the behemoth that shipped your refrigerator, all cardboard sizes and weights are mini-maker gold. Don’t spend a fortune on new boxes. Big box stores, Good Will, Habitat-for-Humanity’s Re-Cycle Stores, and similar businesses are usually happy to share. You could also post a request on Craigslist and local online yard sales where recent house-movers might see them. Stash away all of your paper towel and toilet paper rolls; tissue boxes; shoe boxes; and anything else that might be useful

Tape (decorative + functional) and dispenser
  • My kids have a few different types of tape in their tinker crates. The 2nd grader likes working with gift, duct, and washi tape while the preschooler sticks to the latter two. I recommend keeping a weighty, but child-friendly tape dispenser on hand — one that won’t skid or fall when they decide they need a foot of tape. I’ve been happy with this one, but anything hanging around your office will probably do. Very little fingers may prefer one of these pop-up dispensers.
Cutting tools
  • This is where children may need your support as even lightweight cardboard can become unwieldy for growing hands. Many projects also call for good, sharp scissors, rotary cutters, or box cutters. I let my kids do everything they can. Grown-up helpers can ask children to trace an outline.
Craft supplies
  • Stock up on wooden craft sticks, pipe cleaners, and other potential adornments.
Art supplies
  • Crayons, markers, and tempera paint with brushes and mini-rollers. You may want to grab a dropcloth for the latter.
Around the house
  • Aluminum foil and plastic food wrap for spaceship walls and windows.
Leftover DIY supplies
  • Hang on to PVC pipes and fittings, tubing, and other kind-manageable materials left over from your own DIY projects.

Join the maker movement

Have cardboarding projects or tips to share? Let us know in the comments and/or on Facebook!

Aimee Hosler Education Journalist
Founder |

Aimee Hosler has a snazzy husband, two boys, a dog, and official pedagogy-nerd status. She doubles as a freelance journalist specializing K-12 and higher education in general, and PBL, maker education and creative thinking specifically. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including USA Today, TeachThought, Education World, The Global Digital Citizen Foundation, Yahoo! News, Teacher Portal and more. She lives in Virginia.

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