In an effort to get our kids away from screens and into an unplugged play environment, it can be tempting to think about all the cute DIY projects we see online, the craft ideas, and other “boredom-busting” structured activities available today. But we underestimate our kids’ boundless creativity and innate imagination when we try to create the perfect playtime for them. We also rob them of the opportunity to exercise their imagination muscles by bringing their ideas to life on their own—and letting those ideas evolve day by day, moment by moment.
Take cardboard forts for example: when you look at some of the pristine builds you see online, their purposes are often very clear—it’s a little house, a spaceship, a mini-castle. And many of our kids don’t want to play space captain every single day. When kids build their own forts and have access to all the tools necessary, they have the power to create a chameleon, versatile fort that can be a castle one day, an evil science lab the next, often using common (and cheap!) DIY craft materials that you already have around the house.
Common items like cardboard, tape, and chalk are easy to find and budget-friendly—and tend to be easier for little hands to work with (bonus!) Sure, we caregivers can help along the way by providing supplies and using grown-up scissors and other tools when necessary, but when it comes to unplugged play, amazing things can happen when your child takes the reins.
If you’re wondering what you can do to enable your child to build his or her own playtime, take a look at some of our indoor DIY cardboard fort ideas for inspiration!
DIY cardboard fort must-haves for kids:
How to make a box fort: the building blocks
Big boxes, small boxes, they’re all fair game! Try saving your old shoe boxes, delivery packaging, and—if you can—the big boxes from furniture or appliances. These can either be repurposed by your creative kid or broken down and reshaped to make something brand new. Take our roof for example, where the corrugated texture of the cardboard makes a perfect “tin roof!” And don’t forget other cardboard products like paper towel and toilet paper rolls—they’re perfect for flower gardens, pirate-esque spy glasses, and anything else your kid can dream up.
So what’s keeping all this cardboard together? Tape. Tape creates a sturdy structure and lets your kid explore unique shapes, colors, and ideas while building. Playing with tape also lets kids learn experientially about physics—like when your roof gets too heavy and your kid improvises a cardboard “support pillar” to keep it standing!
So what kind of tape do you need? Duct tape works well for fort-building, but painters tape is a little less sticky, easier for little hands to work with, and good for quickly and easily switching things around for new fort designs and purposes. Your tot can also use colored tape for decoration on their cardboard props and the fort walls!
Craft supplies bring a box fort to life
Markers are the magic wands of fort-building—and they’re easy to clean up in case more than their fort gets marked up in the decoration process! Markers can turn a shoebox into a space-age control panel or a box of baby wipes into the chimney on top of your child’s masterpiece. Washable markers are the ultimate prop-builder—and props are everything when your kid is transforming their fort from secret super-spy HQ to grand castle.
Then there’s chalk. Chalk is one of the easiest no-mess ways for your child to decorate a fort. You can find large, colorful, less breakable sticks perfect for younger kids in most stores for pretty cheap. It might be worthwhile to invest in a can of chalkboard paint for cardboard fort walls—when your kid can go big with decorating his or her fort (and change it up on a whim) they will inevitably create amazing things. In a pinch, colored chalk will work on plain cardboard for easily changeable decor.
Decorate the box fort with household items
There’s a reason the blanket-and-pillow fort has been a staple of childhood play for decades. It’s useful and cozy! Blankets make good doors, makeshift walls, and floors for your kid’s fort. Pillows make great building blocks in a pinch and are the comfiest of captain’s chairs and thrones. Your kid can easily add imaginative details with cardboard and painter’s tape (and can easily remove them before bedtime!)
And if your child is going to spend a lot of time in his or her fort, it might as well be as bright as it is comfortable. String lights can provide endless patterns, orientations, and roles in building and play. In our fort, we have lights wound around a support pillar. But they can go anywhere, ceiling, floor, anywhere in the reach of the electrical outlet. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, we recommend adult supervision around any electrical components.
There’s no wrong way to build a fort—your kid makes the rules. And when your child is the architect of his or her own play, even something as simple as a cardboard box can become a secret base, a space shuttle—anything a kid could imagine. The process of building something unique can provide infinite entertainment for kids (not to mention a brain-building engineering challenge!) Once built, new props and small additions and adjustments can create an entirely new play experience. And that’s truly magical.
Share your kid’s DIY cardboard fort with us by using the hashtag #PlayRelay on social media for a chance to be featured on our blog—happy building!