Turn Cardboard Boxes and Paper Towel Rolls into Toys

Before you throw away that appliance box or those paper-towel rolls, check out all the different kinds of toys and games you can make out of recycled cardboard.
By: Lisa Frederick

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Typewriter

Your tech-savvy kids may not know what it is, but don’t let that stop you — they’ll appreciate the novelty. A rolling pin forms the platen for this old-fashioned typewriter. Let the kids use a label machine to create messages that they can stick to their letters and memos.

Puppet Show Theater

Trim and shape a plain oversized cardboard box into a mini theater, then deck it out with curtains and colorful detailing. Voila: a stage that’s ready for hours of stuffed-animal improv.

Train Cars

Little ones will be off to the races in these adorable pint-sized cars, complete with paper-plate wheels. They’re perfect on their own, but you could also hook a few together to create a train.

Guitar

How ingenious is this? A small box, a cardboard panel cut in the shape of a guitar face, a cardboard-tube neck and a handful of rubber bands will keep your brood making beautiful music for hours on end. And if a string snaps, a replacement is as close as the kitchen junk drawer.

Playhouse

Cover an oversized box with colorful paper or fabric, add cute touches such as a mail slot, and top it all off with fresh flowers. The result: a mini playhouse that any tot would be proud to call home.

Appliance-Box Barn

Remember how excited you were when your parents bought a new appliance, because you knew you’d get to play with the box? Kids today haven’t changed. Surprise them with a cardboard barn, painted traditional red, that will house them as well as a farmyard’s worth of animals.

Piñata

No need to wait for a birthday party — piñatas are a hit for everyday playtime, too. Craft an easy version from cardboard box panels and tissue paper, then invite the neighborhood kids over for an impromptu fiesta.
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Doll Bunk Bed

Two shallow cardboard boxes, cut down and embellished with decorative cut-outs, become a snuggly spot for dolls to lay their heads. Wooden craft sticks form a ladder that connects the two.

Castle

Cardboard tubes and a box, embellished with bright paper and glitter, create a fanciful castle for knights and damsels.

Townhouse

You could shell out for a cookie-cutter plastic model at the store, or you could let your imagination loose. This fanciful dollhouse, crafted from cardboard and a handful of other miscellaneous materials, would be easy to personalize with your kids’ favorite colors, their names or any other details you like.

Art Gallery

Want a creative way to showcase your child’s collections? Cut cardboard into basic frames, then embellish with ink, paint, stickers or other materials. Affix a plastic figurine or other special trinket on the wall with removable adhesive, then mount the frame around it. Instant artwork!

Rocket

Up, up and away! Cut out a few holes to seat plush passengers, and this cardboard-tube rocket is ready to explore the universe.

Flower Stamps

Try this fun alternative to finger-painting: Snip the ends of cardboard tubes into patterns and flatten them to create a flower-petal effect. Then dip the flattened ends into various paint colors and use them to make sweet, simple stamp art.

Animals

Snakes, giraffes, horses: Nearly any critter you can think of can be fashioned from a cardboard tube. These cute creatures are a good way for kids to start their own menagerie.

Space Helmet

A cardboard flowerpot or other container makes a perfect space helmet for kids. Just cover it in aluminum foil, then stick on celestial decorations (either homemade or purchased).