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Toys and the Boxes They Come In

"Whatever do you think they'll do with all those boxes? Well..."
—Min Flyte, Box

Fun in a box!You're thrilled with the gift you've chosen for your toddler, and you can't wait to see her open it up. She takes forever tearing off the paper, and becomes enchanted with the ribbon and wrappings. You help navigate the opening of the box and express your excitement over the surprise inside. She explores the gift for a minute or two, and then returns to the paper, ribbons, and empty box and spends the next half hour discovering all their possibilities.

It Doesn't Take Much

A young child doesn't need much to become engaged with the world. Children can spend hours playing with the simplest items. They love empty boxes that might hold their treasures. Ribbons, paper, string, and tape are perfect for creating whatever they might imagine.

I recall seeing young neighbors having a grand time with the runoff from a rain shower, along with a stick, a few rocks, and a piece of string. First, they watched the string float down the stream, and then did the same with the stick. Next, a few rocks dammed up the flow and the string floated in the pool until the water flowed over the dam. A leaf came down onto the pool which was picked up by one of the children who pierced it with the stick. It floated like a little boat down the stream until it got stuck against the rocks. I watched these budding engineers for fifteen minutes, but I'm guessing they continued to play for a long while after I left.

Consider a Box

What can you do with a box? Of course it depends on its size and thickness. Many a game or activity await, and here are a few ideas:

  • Play catch. Toss a beanbag or a paper ball into the box, and continue to move further away. This can be a solitary or group game.
  • Open up two ends of a long box and roll a ball through the tunnel.
  • Lift a toddler inside a big corrugated box with a crayon or two in-hand, and watch time fly as she decorates each wall.
  • Play a game of peek-a-boo when the box is big enough for a child to hide in or small enough to fit over someone's head.
  • Several boxes can be put together to make a skyscraper or doll house.
  • With a little handiwork, a box can become a car, a firetruck, an airplane - and be wearable, too! Cut out the bottom and top, draw or paint the sides accordingly, and then attach ribbons to go over your child's shoulders.
  • Give your child a plain gift box and some crayons or markers - then discover what he creates.
  • Use a sturdy gift box without its lid to hold an activity for your child, like two small pitchers, one filled with rice, to practice pouring.
  • An appliance box will give children endless options for play. It might become a secret quiet place, a fort, or a garage for the scooter, wagon, and wheelbarrow.

Classic Toys Come In Boxes

Some toys are as basic as the boxes they come in. A kaleidoscope, a magnifying glass, a small wagon, or a top never go out-of-date. Children love the wooden "work bench" pounding toy. A substantial set of wooden blocks will be used by your children for years to come. When your children are older, they can use the same blocks to engineer more complex structures such as airports and towns.

Create a treasure hunt by placing a ball, yo-yo, or little book in the smallest of several graduated sized boxes. Consider pairing a doll or stuffed animal with a favorite childhood book - for example, a plush bear and Winnie the Pooh. Children like to string beads, stick stickers, play hopscotch, and paint.

A young child can spend hours playing with a simple box. There's really no need for toys that have all the "bells and whistles," and batteries. With such toys - and screens - children become passive watchers instead of active creators. A deck of cards is always welcome. When was the last time you played Crazy Eights or Go Fish? You can teach your child to play a simple game of solitaire, too.

What was your favorite toy? A doll house? A jack-in-the-box? An erector set? A baby doll? Lincoln Logs? Tonka trucks? Whatever the gift you choose to give, the box it comes in is often a source of more delight than we could ever imagine.

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

—Originally Published 2016

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