giving: cardboard gifts for kids.

November 15, 2021

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.

Activity Spinner

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).

Weather Report

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).

Time-telling Clock

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).

Block Stamps

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.

Build-A-Monster Toy

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.

Feelings Face

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).

Sucker ‘Staches

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!

Also! Cardboard’s not for kids only! The gift of a kumihimo loom or loom for a woven pouch make perfect gifts for crafty adults and older kids, too.

***

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.

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15 Comments

  • Reply Danielle M Early November 15, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    This is what I needed after months of the news creating all this anxiety about shipping delays for imported toys. We don’t shop for those toys anyways, but still….just seeing it in the news every week and wondering how many other ppl were falling into that consumeristic, emotional sinkhole. So THANK YOU! I can imagine this might have felt like a risk, but I think this is AMAZING! My oldest already likes to turn boxes into dollhouses and now I can show her this page and see if there’s anything she’d like to make together- I love how you took an activity kids already liked and elevated it a bit aesthetically for adults and gave the designs some educational purpose- and, as always, you make things feel super affordable for everyone. You and Rose are a dream team- please start a kids magazine or show together!

    7
  • Reply Liz November 15, 2021 at 1:17 pm

    this is the only gift guide a parent will ever need!!!!!!!!

    4
  • Reply Sanna November 15, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    Amazing! Thank you for all great ideas!!

  • Reply Megan November 15, 2021 at 3:08 pm

    Obsessed.

  • Reply Cal November 15, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    This is so fantastic, thank you! I particularly love the abstract puzzle – I can’t wait to try these ideas.

    1
  • Reply riye November 15, 2021 at 6:47 pm

    These are all great but the shoe lacing project is my favorite! I think I’m going to make one for myself. 🙂

  • Reply Victoria November 15, 2021 at 9:41 pm

    Great ideas and so inspiring. We got our nieces cardboard “screws” from http://www.make.do/ and, though it’s rough gifting tiny plastic things, we are so excited to see where their minds go with it! I feel like the options are endless.

  • Reply Suz November 15, 2021 at 10:38 pm

    My daughter has been creating things out of cardboard for years. I joke that she will have the first museum of art/things made out of cardboard…so this post is perfect for her! I love all of the ideas and I feel that hours of entertainment and crafting are in her future.
    Such a fun post and thanks for quelling any boredom that might occur over winter.

  • Reply Ris November 16, 2021 at 8:31 am

    This is lovely, and a much-needed departure from the BUY NOW BUY EARLY CONSUMERISM WILL SAVE US that has been dominating every aspect of social media since, oh, September. It’s nice to know I’m not the only person who doesn’t think the answer to supply chain issues is just panic shopping. Thank you thank you thank you.

  • Reply Laura November 16, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    Would you be able to point to any specific brands for a project paint recommendation? LOVE those vivid colors on the activity spinner + weather report projects. Everything here is fabulous and super excited to start saving my cardboard. Thanks!

  • Reply Mary November 17, 2021 at 8:05 am

    This is amazing!! Well done

  • Reply MC November 18, 2021 at 3:23 pm

    Adding my two cents of cardboard projects that my kids have loved:
    1) a tangram (like this: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Make_a_tangram.svg)
    2) a die.
    I love that you can decide what size the object is when you make it with cardboard! We’ve made dice that were fist-sized to basketball-sized, and the tangram a bit bigger too to accommodate smaller hands.

    Thanks for these ideas!

    1
    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 18, 2021 at 3:30 pm

      Yes! We actually have a cardboard tangram set kicking around here somewhere that Rose made! How did you guys do the dice? Hot glue or folding or both?

  • Reply steph November 23, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    this is wonderful and so cute! my toddler niece is as obsessed with cardboard as i am, so i’m sure a few of these would work. an idea that came to me while perusing an entirely different and frustrating gift guide – diy mask kit (the fun kind not the covid kind). cut out some templates and add in whatever craft supplies you have around. also, puzzles with old calendar pages? idk but my brain is turning. thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

  • Reply Camilla November 30, 2021 at 7:33 am

    Beautiful! I love the ideas soo much!

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