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I’ll admit it – we order a lot of stuff online, and we throw away an ungodly amount of packaging. That’s why finding ways to reuse cardboard brings me an immense amount of joy.
A few months ago, I discovered this little pocket of Instagram – #diycardboardplay – and it’s like a whole new world opened up to me.
I didn’t even know there were so many fun ways to give cardboard a new life with my toddlers. After months and months of play, I’ve narrowed things down to the 10 best (OK, I’ll be honest, these are the easiest) DIY cardboard games and activities. These cardboard activities are perfect for 2, 3, and 4-year-olds.
Some activities I intended for my 3-year-old were also fun for my 2-year-old, despite being a little too difficult for him. He may not have understood the activity, but he still likes pinching clothespins and making a mess with paint! 🙂
Before long, you’re going to look at incoming Amazon packages and think, “Wow, that’s a good piece of cardboard!”
What can you make with cardboard for toddlers?
Anything you can make with wood, you can likely make out of cardboard. Yes, it won’t last that long, but it’s free and you’re giving another life to cardboard that would otherwise be thrown away.
My sister has made a dupe for the Lovevery ball drop box using an old shoebox, as an example.
You can also make lots of different crafts – especially crafts that involve glue and painting – with cardboard.
I’ll show you 10 of my favorite DIY cardboard activities to make, ideal for ages 2-4!
Supplies You May Need to Make Cardboard Toys and Activities
There are so many fun toys and activities you can make with cardboard, but you will need some supplemental supplies for many of them.
Here’s a quick list of items I keep around so I can whip up a new DIY cardboard activity at any time:
- Hot glue gun
- Washable paint and/or tempera paint sticks
- Masking tape
- Thick popsicle sticks
- Pipe cleaners
- Tissue paper squares
- Clothespins (these colored ones also look fun!)
- Single hole punch
- Pom poms
- Assorted craft supplies – this includes pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, matchsticks, buttons, googly eyes, pom poms, craft feathered, foam sticker shapes, and sequins
- Paint roller
These are all Amazon links, but definitely check out your local Dollar Tree if you have one! I can typically find several things on this list there for $1-$2 (though the quantity is way smaller).
Honestly, keeping these supplies on hand will allow you to make a ton of different DIY activities for your toddlers, whether they include cardboard or not.
Tip: Buy these items for Easter baskets and Christmas stockings!! They’re perfect as filler and you know you can use them to make tons of fun toys and activities all year long.
1. DIY Nail Salon
My 3-year-old daughter already has a healthy obsession with painting her nails, so when we could turn that into an activity, it got her full attention.
All you need to create a DIY nail salon is a long piece of cardboard, a black marker/sharpie, and paint. I traced my hand onto the cardboard a few times, set her up with some paint and a paintbrush, and she was entertained for about 30 minutes.
We’ve revisited this particular activity several times now, and it’s equally exciting each time!
2. Easter Egg Designs
We did these Easter Egg designs around Easter, but you can do this any time of year! Cut out a piece of cardboard into an egg shape, add some designs with painter’s tape, and let your toddlers make a big mess with paint.
This is another solid 30 minutes of independent play, but you definitely have to let your guard down. If a big mess stresses you out, pour yourself a drink, remind yourself that messy play is good for cognitive development, and just let it happen.
3. Montessori Color Sorting
This DIY activity does require a bit of assembly, but it’s soooo easy. Save up your used toilet paper rolls and locate that hot glue gun.
Cut out 10 small squares of cardboard for the shapes. Glue one set to the front of the toilet paper rolls and the second set to the top of thick popsicle sticks. Hot glue the toilet paper rolls onto a rectangular cardboard base, and you have a really fun shape matching game!
4. DIY Hair & Beard Threading
DIY hair threading is a cardboard activity we come back to over and over again. Draw a face on a scrap of cardboard. Poke or punch holes around the crown of the head (or the chin for a beard!).
Give your child objects to thread through the holes. We’ve done this with wildflowers from our yard as well as beads with pipe cleaners.
It takes about 30 seconds to prep this activity, and all you need is scrap cardboard and a sharpie. So easy, and the kids are practicing fine motor skills.
5. Watermelon Counting with Clothespins
This cardboard activity is fantastic for practicing the pincer grasp. You create a watermelon with a different number of seeds in each slot.
Number the clothespins and practice counting the seeds and matching the clothespins to the correct slot.
If I had to do this over again, I would’ve made it simpler with only 5 or 6 sections instead of 10. But still – super fun and perfect for summer.
6. Nature Hair for the Family
My toddlers love going outside and scavenging for rocks, leaves, flowers, and sticks. Usually, they collect a bucketful and then dump it somewhere before we can turn it into a craft.
But sometimes, they’ll humor me or our nanny and will do a fun activity with their nature finds.
One such activity is this nature hair project featuring each member of the family. We drew faces for each family member, and the kids had fun gluing “hair” to each head.
They were quite proud of their work!
7. Pom Pom Color Matching Drop
We love pom poms in our house (check out this DIY pom pom color sorting activity!), and my 2-year-old son is currently working on color identification.
It was a natural win for us when I created this color matching drop game using toilet paper rolls and an old Book of the Month club box.
My kids helped me paint the toilet paper rolls the primary colors, and I hot glued them to the lid of the box. I did reinforce the back with an extra piece of cardboard to help it stay up.
We then painted and hot glued a few more pieces of cardboard to the bottom of the box, and voilà – a fun color matching game! You can use any small, colored object in your home. We had pom poms handy, but you can use anything you want! My kids loved the novelty of dropping items in the toilet paper rolls.
Once you make an activity like this, you’ll never look at a toilet paper roll the same way again! 😂
8. Cardboard Christmas Ornaments
Last Christmas, we had SO much fun making these cardboard ornaments! I cut out some scraps of cardboard into Christmas tree and bell shapes (but you can do whatever shapes you want).
Then, I dumped a bunch of random craft supplies onto the table. I’m talking pom poms, googly eyes, feathers… whatever you have. Arm your child with glue and let them have at it.
When they’re done, you can punch out a circle and thread some string or ribbon through it so you can hang the ornament on your tree. Don’t forget to put your child’s name and the date on the back for safekeeping.
9. Cardboard Rainbow
I’ve seen people do wreaths for Christmas and rainbows for summer… you can modify this DIY cardboard activity for any time of year!
Cut your cardboard into your shape of choice. Then, set your toddler up with a glue stick or glue bottle and tissue paper squares.
I personally like keeping this craft open-ended. Let your child decorate the cardboard however they want. Crafts cease to be fun when you direct your child the entire time and basically do it for them.
However, if you want your child to decorate their rainbow as an actual rainbow, I’d suggest printing out a rainbow and setting it up as a model. You can guide the craft in this way, but try to avoid telling them exactly where to put each piece.
10. Cardboard Beehive
The cardboard beehive was actually a pre-prepped activity included in a We Craft Box. While it’s way nicer to have this activity all ready to go, you could totally recreate it at home.
Cut out a piece of cardboard into a beehive shape.
Then, find some bubble wrap and have your kiddo cover it in yellow paint. Have fun pressing the painted bubble wrap onto the beehive to create that signature honeycomb pattern.
You can decorate it more with a black marker or Sharpie.
When you’re done, you can make little bees and attach them to the beehive with pipe cleaners. Adorable and fun!
While all of these DIY cardboard activities for toddlers are fun to put together, you don’t even have to go this far. Setting up your toddler with a scrap piece of cardboard and a slew of assorted craft supplies is equally as fun.
Sometimes, I just give my kids a piece of cardboard and some markers. That’s often enough to entertain them for a while, and it takes zero prep time or mental effort.
Also, kids love playing with empty cardboard boxes. When you get a new delivery, especially if it’s a big box, just hand the box over to your kids! They’ll have a blast hopping inside, pushing it around, turning it into a fort… you name it! (And I should mention this also requires zero brainpower or prep.)
Sometimes, trying to do things you see on Instagram can be overwhelming, but I hope this fun list of cardboard activities inspires you to give it a shot. Happy playing!