Say it with me: This year, we’re giving the gift of cardboard to kids and they’re going to love it. Rose and I have taken inspiration from some of our favorite kids’ toys and made cardboard versions of them for a little fun, a little novelty, and very little period in terms of cost. These aren’t handmade gifts that require an advanced arts degree or an extra day in the week to make. Start saving cardboard scraps now, stockpile a handful of brads and string, and hone your scissor skills and you’ll be well on your way to waste-free holiday gift giving.
What do you wanna do? Divide a cardboard wheel into eight sections, mark each one with your kids’ favorite activities, and give the gift of saying yes to whatever the arrow lands on.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors, pen, brad, paint (optional).
Eyeball some angles and add a bit of color to make a daily weather report that gives the gift of a new morning ritual. We decided to keep this simple, but if you’d like a more complex calendar, add additional dials for things like months, days, and phases of the moon.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors, pen, brads, paint (optional).
Give the gift of analog time telling practice. Simple metal brads make quick work of adding moveable minute and hour hands and Rose used white sticky paper to cut out hand-drawn numbers and attach them to the cardboard.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors, pen, brad, paint or stickers (optional).
If you don’t have wooden blocks to spare, build your own block stamps using craft foam, glue, and squares of thick, corrugated cardboard. Tuck them into an origami masu box and you’ve got a perfect little present ready for giving.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors, glue, craft foam.
Cardboard Lacing Toy
There are only so many times my kids want to re-lace the same wooden sheep or fish, but cut an interesting squiggle out of cardboard and poke a new set of holes and interest is renewed! Use an awl or nail to poke holes large enough for the eye of a blunt darning needle to get through and pair the lacing toy with your choice of festive string. For younger kids, try smaller shapes and a larger hole punch or nail for greater ease of use.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors, awl or nail, darning needle, twine or cord.
Shoe Lacing Practice
Someone in my family (me) had the bright idea of getting lace-up hightop sneakers for two of three children. Before some lacing practice, mornings were rougher than usual but these clever little sneaks painted by Rose are getting us over the learning curve and are endlessly amusing to my kids in the process.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors, awl or nail, darning needle, cotton cord or shoelace.
Nail Painting Toy
Anthropomorphic cardboard for the win. Trace your hands, cut them out, and tie ’em together. Give them with a few colored pencils, or markers, or even stickers, and let the kids live out the bejeweled fantasy of their dreams. When they’re done adorning one side, flip the hands over and start on the next.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors, pen, string.
Abstract Notch Puzzle
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, its a pile of cardboard and what could be better? Cut abstract shapes with small notches sliced into them, tuck them neatly into a box, and watch what your kids create. Notch to notch, there are endless possibilities for building towers or creatures or anything else they see take shape. This is the best thing for pulling out at a restaurant or on a train or while waiting in line for those 2nd shots.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors.
Brads + abstract shapes = moveable monsters. Don’t worry about snipping realistic body parts out of cardboard, just offer a pile of organic shapes and a handful of brads and have your kids build their own moveable monsters, critters, or imaginary friends. For smaller kids, gift them already assembled and watch their imagination start to churn as they manipulate their new toy.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors, brads.
Hows’s the emotional weather in your household today? Invite kids to check in with themselves and their feelings with a moveable face puzzle. All feelings welcomed here.
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors, brads, paint (optional).
Ring pops don’t stand a chance next to oversized lips and mustaches. Cut out the shapes, paint them if you’d like to, and a poke a hole through the middle for the lollipop stick. Presto, a perfect stocking stuffer. (Plus, easily turn any corrugated cardboard shape into a shadow puppets by sticking a bamboo skewer through the corrugated edge.)
Supplies: Cardboard, scissors,awl or nail, paint (optional).
This list isn’t exhaustive of course, so if you have favorite cardboard takes on classic kids’ toys you’d like to share in the comments, please do!
For the past few years, Rose Pearlman and I have been collaborating on simple, useful craft projects made from humble materials that can serve a practical purpose in your home. In celebration of our past work, we’ve designed a series of holiday gift guides that showcase just some of the ways that these humble crafts can become a part of a special holiday gift—or simply be the gift itself.