10 Pretend Play Ideas with a Cardboard Box

Some of my favorite childhood memories are the ones in which my brother and I enacted scenarios from shops and restaurants. Needless to say, the fun was multiplied when we had friends over and we used whatever was available to fit our play needs. We had a few basic toys; for the rest, we put our imagination to work.

Kids today have pretty much every variety of toys available ready-made, in brightly colored plastic. They’re neither cheap nor eco-friendly and kids tire of them easily. Ever heard of the saying that a child would prefer the box the toy came in instead of the actual box? That’s exactly what we’re talking about here!

A plain cardboard box can be transformed in myriad ways, with the addition of just a few common elements. Here we give you ten innovative ways in which you can use a simple Cardboard Box for pretend play. Prepare to be amazed!!

10 Pretend Play Ideas with a Cardboard Box

1. House

Probably the first idea to strike most people, a cardboard play house is something that is guaranteed to delight any child. Make it big or small and fill it with stuff unique to your child’s personality. Check out this very detailed house at Apartment Therapy with its very own kitchen and bedroom!

2. Hair Salon/Boutique

There’s hardly a kid that doesn’t like dress up, especially girls. All you need is a mirror and the rest of the stuff can be taken from Mommy’s dressing table!

For the boutique, fix some knobs so that your little designer can hang the bags she wants to sell. The best part is that both of these can be decorated just the way your child likes. Get your inspiration here!

3. Shops

Shops are perfect for play dates and can keep kids occupied for the longest time, not to mention being a perfect learning exercise in retail! Set up a flower or vegetable shop, and don’t forget to decorate the outside of the shop with pictures of what you’re selling! Here is an amazing idea for a very cute flower shop!

4. Grocery Shop/ Ice Cream Shop

What if you’re not satisfied with just selling but also want to serve your customers at your shop? Don’t worry, just cut out windows and fix shelves to your cardboard box. Awesome blog to get inspiration here!

5. Café

Another great idea for multiple kids!! Display all your play food on shelves and keep trays and paper cups handy for your customers! Don’t forget the coffee machine! Inner Child Fun has an amazing idea for a cafe from cardboard.

6. Kitchen

This is the most common use of a cardboard box in dramatic play. There are so many extremely detailed and beautiful kitchens out there that you’ll wish your real life kitchen were that cute! You can have a relatively simple kitchen with tape and buttons stuck on it or you can have a full-fledged one with multiple boxes for a fridge and cooking range as well like the one at Spoonful.

7. Pet Store/Doctor’s Clinic

Most kids have lots of soft toys that are animals, so let’s put them to use in a pet store. Most kids also have a doctor’s set so let’s turn it into a clinic as well! Cool idea here!

8. Vehicles

This is for your jumpy little bunny who can’t sit still. You can create cardboard cars along with gas stations or trains or even rockets! And they don’t even require as much effort as the others!

9. Post Office

Our kids aren’t very familiar with post offices, considering we hardly send mail the old way. Revive old traditions and teach them the workings of the postal system with this easy to make post office. Keep envelopes and fun stamps handy! Make your own post office from here!

10. Workbench

For all the Handy Mannys out there, here’s a super cool workbench which even has a place to hang your tools! An added advantage is that it has a generic design, so it can be converted to any other play area – your imagination is the limit! Love this workbench!

If you aren’t that used to working with cardboard, there is an exhaustive guide at Ikat Bag.

Along with the box, here are some extras that’ll be useful to keep on hand:

  1. Toy phone
  2. Cash register
  3. Paper and pens/crayons
  4. Shopping bags
  5. Apron
  6. Wallet and play money (You can get some cool free printable play money and cheques)

Apart from being loads of fun, dramatic or pretend play has other benefits:

  1. Real life role play – Kids get to enact scenarios they’ll encounter in real life, like buying, selling, taking orders, using lists etc.
  2. Math Skills – Counting out money, or quantities of goods to be sold will help strengthen basic math skills.
  3. Manners – You can’t be a rude salesman!! Dramatic play will help kids realize the importance of good manners and appropriate places to say Please and Thank you.
  4. Dignity of labor – Kids learn about various professions, but beyond that, this kind of play helps to inculcate a sense of respect for all kinds of work. Now they’ll realize that it’s not easy to wait on tables or stand all day in a store!

As you can see, these aren’t super easy projects that’ll finish in a day, but will take time. They’re perfect for summer, when kids tend to get bored, and they’ll also have many play dates. So start collecting boxes for your very own eco-friendly and customized play areas!