10 Ideas to Keep Kids Happy With A Box

10 ideas box happy.jpg

I find the first few days back to daycare a bit hard for the children.  They have had a change in routine and sometimes the adjustment is difficult. The holidays are a time when regular sleeping patterns are disrupted and sugar intake sky rockets. Houses are filled with extra people and the excitement level is high.  This is a wonderful time for families but also a chaotic time for young children who try to make sense of all the new events and emotions.

The first few days back to work can also be trying for home daycare providers who are over tired from the stress and busyness of the holiday time.  I have a little tip to make your first day back a fun one for the children and an easy one for you.

Grab a few boxes from your recycle bin and help your daycare children build something interesting.  A good box will create a full day of focused fun.

I searched through my old photos and found some ideas to get you started.

#1 Draw on a flat piece of cardboard


This keeps them busy for a good chunk of time if you give them a variety of crayons/markers/chalk, etc. They could make roads and train tracks for their toy cars and trains.

#2 Help them build a fort


This was more of a tunnel that they wanted to crawl through again and again and again. They decided to cover the tunnel with blankets to make it darker. Figuring out how to arrange the blankets and keep them from sliding off was a great team effort.

#3 Give them snack in their fort


We always eat snack at the table sitting down, so whenever we deviate from the norm it is a big treat in their eyes. They delighted in eating their snack inside the box fort.

#4 Use a box to make a marble painting


Cut one side off of a box.  Put a piece of paper in it, a few blobs of paint and some marbles.  Let the children tilt the box and watch the marbles run through the paint.  The more they make the marbles roll, the more paint tracks are created. You could try small cars or anything that rolls.  See how different colours blend together.  My daycare children can do this mess free painting activity for hours.

#5 Make a train tunnel or a car garage


My kids like it when we make tunnels for the trains or cars because they can create something specific that they want to play.  They like to decorate the tunnel and add different features (a car wash station) and then the imaginative game begins.  It’s the imaginative game that lasts for hours.  The empty box and me with a strong pair of scissors are the ingredients needed to get an idea from a child’s head into a detailed pretend game.

#6 Make some cardboard stencils


Stencils are fun to use and keep my daycare children occupied far longer than just paint and paper.  Here are some letter stencils but you can also do simple shapes. Show the children how they can paint around the outside of the stencil to create squares and rectangles. Thin cardboard works best for this activity.

#7 Turn the box into a car, plane or train


We added some scrap pieces of fabric over the shoulders so that the kids could zoom around without having to hold their cars.

#8 Make a castle or a house


Ask the children if their favourite toy needs a house? Small figurines or animals often need some sort of shelter to go to sleep in.  Creating and decorating the space can last a whole afternoon.

#9 Attach a string and pull your box around


Here are some chuck wagons waiting to be pulled on our annual rodeo day race.  Boxes can also be pretend wagons for stuffed animals or dolls. I’ve also seen small boxes double as dogs that need to be walked on leashes.

#10 See what the children come up with all by themselves


O.K., this wasn’t his best idea yet. But doesn’t he look cute in his jammies and box hat?  With a few minor alterations the box became a hockey helmet!

May all your empty boxes transform themselves into endless play pieces for your daycare children.


  1. I just adore these ideas, they are going to be perfect for my in-home daycare thank you

  2. Hi Jana,

    Thank you for all the creative articles!
    I know this one is a bit older, but I shared it recently. I definitely remember how fun forts were from when I was a kid.


  3. hi Jana
    Im having an issue right now from seprating my home space and my dayhome space Ive been a provider for several years now but always worked outside of my home and decided to open a dayhome due to staying home with my two younger boys, we have a back spilt house and im finding it hard please help thanks

    • HowToDaycare says

      Hi Katie,

      I’d be happy to help. Please send me a message to howtorunahomedaycare@gmail.com and describe the rooms or issues you are having the most difficulty with on a daily basis. There is a big adjustment the first year as we sort out blending working from home with home life. It’s also challenging for our children to share their mother and their house with other kids everyday. This blog post might be helpful, https://www.howtorunahomedaycare.com/articles/sharing-my-toys-and-my-mommy/

      There are many solutions for organizing space, materials, food, toys to help with physical issues and also solutions for sharing time and attention. Email me with your specific concerns and we can chat further.