I shared this idea for the Pumpkin Patch blog last year, and am re-sharing it here.
School holidays: It’s the opportunity to think big about play. Play, not only in sessions, but over days and weeks. Creating play environments, like a cubby house, is a good example because it starts with the building phase, then comes the play phase, and the fun evolves as the children add their own ideas to the mix.
The cooler months will set in soon, so creating a play space in a nook in the house or other undercover area can be a good idea. I transformed an empty unused garage into a simple play space for the school holidays using cardboard boxes. The idea is to stimulate the imagination by creating an environment that inspires creativity. The set-up is quick, cheap and easy and can be extended in many ways.
I had a large empty space to play with, but this idea can be used on a small scale (even with only one box) in a spot in the house.
What you need
- 1 to 5 Boxes (tea-chest size or larger works best)
– Try asking a department store like Good Guys or Harvey Norman for empty boxes, or you can buy boxes starting from about $3 from self-storage places and stationery stores like Officeworks. It’s a small investment for many hours of play.
- Masking or Packing tape
– I used masking tape because it’s easy to work with and the children can draw/decorate over the top if they like.
- Crepe Streamers (optional)
To create the dollhouse style cubbyhouse (as pictured above), you will first need to make 2 boxes with pointed roofs.
- Put the box together (if flat) and tape to secure.
- Sit the box with the opening at the top (as you would if you were packing).
- Leave the fold-over flaps upright for height and tape along the join for strength.
- Cut out one side panel of the box with large scissors or a Stanley knife. This will become the roof.
- Use the cut out panel of the box for the roof. Bend in half and tape to the top of the box. (If the box you’re using is smaller than tea-chest size, you may need to use an extra piece of cardboard and tape two even pieces of cardboard together before attaching the roof to the box).
For the remainder of the 3 boxes, repeat the above, however for the roof, cut the panel cardboard to the size of the top of the box, and tape to secure (rather than having it pointed).
Decorating the boxes is all part of the fun. I wanted to keep this activity relatively mess-free, so went with streamers to add that splash of colour but you can just leave them blank or get kids to decorate with texta.
1. Lay a section of tape (as long as the width of the box) on a flat surface with the sticky side up. Rip off streamers (to the height of the box) and place one end of each streamer evenly spaced along the tape. Once full, carefully pick up the tape and press into the top back corner of the inside of the box and reinforce with another layer of tape over the top.
2. Using another piece of tape, secure the streamers to the bottom corner inside the back of the box. It doesn’t have to look perfect as you can add a cushion or small blanket to the bottom of the box.
3. For the upper level boxes, I used the streamers in the opening between the roof and the box. To do this, simply tape sections of streamers from the roof to the back of the box. Again, this can just be left open or a piece of cellophane looks awesome.
Other decoration ideas
Decorate the box however you like! Below are more ideas:
- Coloured masking tape
- Wrapping paper
- Stick photos to make a collage wall inside the box
- Cut outs from magazines
- Washi tape
- Cut out windows on either side of the box
- Glue on gems or shells
- Clear contact collage over windows
3. Set up
Stack three flat-top boxes at the bottom and the two pointed boxes at the top. This gives it a dollhouse look. The top section can be used for light objects like stuffed toys, dolls or Lego; it’s a lovely height for standing play too. The bottom section fits a sitting child. Again, this can be done at a smaller scale with just one pointed-roof box. Great fun for toddlers to crawl in and out too.
Another set up idea: Beach hut style
Google ‘beach hut’ together before you start for inspiration. Create 5 pointed roof houses and line up in beach hut style. Lay a yellow sheet /blanket (you could look for one at a second-hand shop) or piece of material in front to mimic sand and then do the same with another layer of blue material for the sea. Add a few towels, shells, buckets and sea inspired books.
Place a box (or boxes) up against a wall so children can lean back and read a book. This can become a special reading box for the holidays.
To make the area inviting and cosy, add:
- Cushions or a small blanket to the bottom of each box
- A rug, floor cushions and a few throw blankets
5. Play & Create
The morning after creating this space, I woke to hear the kids happily playing. I found them, still in their flannelette PJs, sitting in the cubbyhouse, eating breakfast with tea towels on the ground and mini umbrellas in their cereal bowls. I almost scolded them for not being at the table, then I saw how much effort they put into the set up and what fun they were having. Since then, boxes have been moved, toys added, pillows stacked and picnics eaten. We had it set up for about 3 months until the boxes started to crumble from use! All good stuff. And it all started with a few boxes.
More indoor cubbyhouse ideas
- Place a sheet over a table and cushions underneath
- Put a sheet between two separated sofas
- Tie even lengths of crepe streamers around a hula hoop and suspend from a hook in the ceiling to create a colour bubble
- Stack pillows and cushions and create an indoor obstacle course
- Hang streamers in a door way
- Criss-cross red streamers along a hallway to create a spy lazer challenge
- Create a comfy reading corner by scattering pillows and placing a box of books nearby
Another way to use a big cardboard box: Cardboard Box City (with milk bottle lid signs)