Sometimes, the simplest toys keep kids the most engaged. Pots and pans and plastic containers are great to bang together. Outdoor rocks and sticks are fun to organize and to make into towers. Older clothes and used Halloween costumes provide hours of dress-up entertainment.

No list of simple toys is complete without including cardboard boxes. We’ve got some great suggestions for cardboard box DIY projects for kids that can get their imaginations fired up and keep their hands busy for hours. With these ideas, it is well-worth keeping some boxes around for just those moments when kids are bored and are need something creative and screen-free to occupy them.

Make a dog or cat home

Dogs and cats can become a child’s best friend. Kids may jump at the chance to show their pet how much they love them by turning a cardboard box into a cozy animal abode.

Kids can start the project by picking a box that’s an appropriate size for their pet and then diagraming how they want to convert it into a pet house. They’ll need to decide where to place the door to the structure, if they’d like the house’s roof to be peaked or flat, and how many windows it should have. They’ll also need to decide how they want to paint and decorate the house, if they’d like to include a place for pet toys or treats, and how they’ll add blankets and other soft features. Then kids can get to work bringing their diagram to life and their pet will thank them for it!

Build cardboard box blocks

Toddlers and very young children love to stack and unstack building blocks.  As they work to develop spatial awareness, they can endlessly build towers, smash them to the ground, and then start over again.

Cardboard boxes in varying sizes can be converted into homemade building blocks. The easiest approach is to collect the boxes to use, tape each box so it is tightly closed, and then wrap the boxes with decorative paper just as you’d wrap a gift. A variation on this project includes filling the box with macaroni, dried beans, or small toys so the box makes a noise when it moves. Another variation is to cover the box with white paper so that kids can decorate it with markers or paint. Once the box blocks are finished, kids can enjoy playing with them.

Create a skeeball game

Cardboard boxes can be the perfect raw material to make a classic skeeball game. All you need to get started is a pair of long, shallow boxes with shallow sides, a marker, and something to prop the boxes up with. To start, elevate the end of a long box so that it is a ramp and add a second piece at the top as a headboard. Next, turn strips of cardboard into a set of increasingly smaller circles (this is the target), write the points total on the top inside of each circle, and place them in front of the headboard in the same place as the target in a real machine. Kids can decorate the game as much as they’d like to and then they’re ready to play.

Make other cardboard amusement park games

Once kids have created a skeeball game, they may realize that it isn’t that hard to make other kinds of cardboard games and to connect their games together into an amusement area.  One easy amusement park game is the bottle ring toss. To make it kids should decorate a larger, flat box with shallow sides and enough room to stand between nine and 15 bottles in them. Once kids make rings out of pipe cleaners or plastic tubing the fun can start.

Another cardboard box game kids can make is the classic tic tac toe. This requires a box that once carried bottles and is cut so it only has 9 sections but reaches a fairly shallow height. They can decorate it however they’d like and find nine rubber bouncing balls in just two colors. Once set up is complete, kids can bounce the balls into the box and see if they can make a row of all on color.

Create a maze

If you’re lucky enough to collect a lot of reasonably large boxes that are the same size, kids can turn them all into a box maze. Be sure that the boxes are firmly assembled and that any openings are reinforced with thick tape. Cut the tops off all of the boxes, set a few aside, and then cut doors into two sides of each of the rest of the boxes. Measure the location of each door so they all are the same distance from the end of the box and be sure the doors are large enough for kids to crawl through easily.

Once the cutting is complete, kids can get to work assembling the boxes so that doorways match each other and they can crawl from one box to the next, ultimately finding a way out of the maze. This isn’t as easy as it sounds but it teaches a lot of problem solving and patience. The boxes that don’t have doors can be used to create dead-ends. Once the boxes are arranged as kids would like, they should be taped together at the top so that they stay put. Then kids are read to work through their maze

Adult help may be required

While these projects are fun, kids may not be able to complete each project on their own. They may require some help from mom or dad if they’re too young to safely cut the cardboard. In those cases, it can become a bonding craft for you both to do together and for kids to play with later on their own. Be sure to take lots of pictures as you’ll be making memories right along with unique cardboard creations.