Thinking Outside The Box

Posted on 21st January 2019

As we have tidied up after Christmas, and returned to work and routine, I have heard so many parents say that their children get more fun out of the cardboard boxes!

We hear this so often, so much so, that we should consider what is the appeal for children?

So here is some of the learning and development that may take place through play with a simple cardboard box.

Young children are getting to know their own bodies, and how big they are! They constantly test their own size by crawling in and out of enclosrues and confined spaces. Cardboard boxes present the ideal invitation for children to do all of this. Small children can feel empowered when they get into a box, it makes them feel BIG!

Young children like to move in and out of boxes or containers, or simply hide under the sheet or behind a curtain. The child will often seek to engage an adult in this game of hide and seek. From a very young age they are learning to control these simple interactions. They are developing turn taking, early conversation and positive social interactions.

Some children enjoy posting items into a box, bag or container – and then tipping them out again (this is known as posting and dumping – which is an important schematic developmental stage that many children experience.) It’s not simply making a mess! It is how children learn to make connections in their world and discover how things work.


Children have wonderful imaginations! They might imagine that the box is a tool shed and carry all the tools in, or a hospital where they will take a sick baby -enabling children to engage in early role-play. This type of role-play is important for developing children’s imagination and early conversation and language skills.

When you are a child, a box can be anything you want it to be! Don’t underestimate your child’s need for time out, and away from all the overstimulation that often goes hand in hand with Christmas (and busy life in general!)

Children love to make and talk about shadows. Many of us remember making shadows with our hands in the dark against the lamplight. There is great opportunity here for scientific and mathematical investigation around size, shape, light and dark.

Make images and patterns on the wall of the box by poking or punching holes. Shine the light through the holes. Children are very creative and see the world somewhat differently than adults. It is our job to support their creativity and engage children’s investigative minds! Try not to impose your ideas on the child, or see creativity as a time when you need to always produce an end product such as a painting.

Children like to test how high they can build a tower, which is all very much linked to scientific and mathematical development. There is great excitement and anticipation as they wait for the tower to topple over!


In order to maximise the learning and development for children, it is really important that adults take time to play with the child, or simply comment naturally on what the child is doing. Just simply provide the vocabulary for the actions, movements and objects that the child might be using. For example, “I see you inside the box with your book and teddy ”. Through this simple statement, you are modelling positional language as well as naming objects. It is this type of simple engagement that can make so much difference to children’s social, emotional and communication skills


  • Don't throw out your cardboard boxes
  • Play these simple games with your child
  • Provide the words and setences that accompany your child's actions

There is so much to be learned from simply “being” in the here and now with our children. It’s not complicated.
Just remember; If you pay full attention some of the time, then children are happy to go off on their own;If you pay part attention all of the time, then children and adults are never fulfilled!

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