Turn Cardboard Boxes and Paper Towel Rolls into Toys

Before you throw away that appliance box or those paper-towel rolls, check out all the different kinds of toys and games you can make out of recycled cardboard.
By: Lisa Frederick

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Typewriter

Your tech-savvy kids may not know what it is, but don’t let that stop you — they’ll appreciate the novelty. A rolling pin forms the platen for this old-fashioned typewriter. Let the kids use a label machine to create messages that they can stick to their letters and memos.

Puppet Show Theater

Trim and shape a plain oversized cardboard box into a mini theater, then deck it out with curtains and colorful detailing. Voila: a stage that’s ready for hours of stuffed-animal improv.

Train Cars

Little ones will be off to the races in these adorable pint-sized cars, complete with paper-plate wheels. They’re perfect on their own, but you could also hook a few together to create a train.

Guitar

How ingenious is this? A small box, a cardboard panel cut in the shape of a guitar face, a cardboard-tube neck and a handful of rubber bands will keep your brood making beautiful music for hours on end. And if a string snaps, a replacement is as close as the kitchen junk drawer.

Playhouse

Cover an oversized box with colorful paper or fabric, add cute touches such as a mail slot, and top it all off with fresh flowers. The result: a mini playhouse that any tot would be proud to call home.

Appliance-Box Barn

Remember how excited you were when your parents bought a new appliance, because you knew you’d get to play with the box? Kids today haven’t changed. Surprise them with a cardboard barn, painted traditional red, that will house them as well as a farmyard’s worth of animals.

Piñata

No need to wait for a birthday party — piñatas are a hit for everyday playtime, too. Craft an easy version from cardboard box panels and tissue paper, then invite the neighborhood kids over for an impromptu fiesta.

Doll Bunk Bed

Two shallow cardboard boxes, cut down and embellished with decorative cut-outs, become a snuggly spot for dolls to lay their heads. Wooden craft sticks form a ladder that connects the two.

Castle

Cardboard tubes and a box, embellished with bright paper and glitter, create a fanciful castle for knights and damsels.

Townhouse

You could shell out for a cookie-cutter plastic model at the store, or you could let your imagination loose. This fanciful dollhouse, crafted from cardboard and a handful of other miscellaneous materials, would be easy to personalize with your kids’ favorite colors, their names or any other details you like.

Art Gallery

Want a creative way to showcase your child’s collections? Cut cardboard into basic frames, then embellish with ink, paint, stickers or other materials. Affix a plastic figurine or other special trinket on the wall with removable adhesive, then mount the frame around it. Instant artwork!

Rocket

Up, up and away! Cut out a few holes to seat plush passengers, and this cardboard-tube rocket is ready to explore the universe.

Flower Stamps

Try this fun alternative to finger-painting: Snip the ends of cardboard tubes into patterns and flatten them to create a flower-petal effect. Then dip the flattened ends into various paint colors and use them to make sweet, simple stamp art.

Animals

Snakes, giraffes, horses: Nearly any critter you can think of can be fashioned from a cardboard tube. These cute creatures are a good way for kids to start their own menagerie.

Space Helmet

A cardboard flowerpot or other container makes a perfect space helmet for kids. Just cover it in aluminum foil, then stick on celestial decorations (either homemade or purchased).