DIY Cardboard City

By Melissa Taylor

Timely topics

It starts with a box. Cardboard. Ordinary. Empty and yet full of possibilities. Soon the box will morph into something wonderful.


Your child will take the box, imagine and build something belonging in her expanding cardboard city, a city powered totally by imagination.


Your job is easy. It’s to be a facilitator. You’ll provide your child with materials and help when asked. You’ll need a large space and supplies to get started. Then, you’ll facilitate planning and building.


Steps to Creating a Cardboard City 

1.  Large Space

A city requires space, especially if it has many buildings. Find a space in your house that can be transformed into a city. My daughter uses a wide hallway.


Let go of your tidiness for these days of pretend play. Allow the play to engulf the area, for it will be long remembered and worth the clutter.


2.  Supplies

You’ll want to provide supplies for building. Here’s a list of suggestions to get you started:

  • Boxes (from juice boxes to shoe boxes to shipping boxes)
  • Other cardboard items (toilet paper tubes, egg cartons)
  • Scissors
  • Tape (regular and decorative)
  • Glue
  • Paper (colored)
  • Markers
  • Paint and brushes
  • Stickers
  • Yarn
  • Aluminum foil


3.  Plans

Your child might not need help, but if he does, encourage him to think of all the places in a neighborhood and city.

  • Houses
  • Grocery store
  • School
  • Library
  • Bank
  • Museum
  • Pet store
  • Toy store
  • Clothing store
  • Zoo
  • Church


4.  Build

Building the structures will take days. Which is a good thing. When kids get engaged and focused on pretend play that it lasts for sustained periods of time, it’s stimulating for the child’s brain and easier for you. You don’t need to plan any other activities!


Tips for Facilitating Learning

Since your role is facilitator, you want to communicate that there is not a “right” way of building. That means don’t sit down and build for your child. Let your child think of her own ideas and methods for building.


As a facilitator, you can intervene when your child is stuck for ideas. You might suggest more ideas or ask questions such as, “What places did we visit yesterday?”


Also, you might teach new building techniques — but do it out of context (somewhere else and on something else) so your child doesn’t get the message that his way isn’t good enough. You could say something like, “Look at this interesting way to attach cardboard with duct tape.”


If your child asks for your help, show her step-by-step, then ask her to apply the steps on her own project. If your child asks you to pretend play — do it!


A cardboard city starts with a box.


Give that box to a child, and you’ll end with essential brain-building growth and development.


(And a huge city.)



Compensation was provided by Sylvan Learning. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Sylvan.