Monday, August 1, 2011


I have long believed that simple toys are the best toys. Toys with little detail, and no batteries, leave the most room for the child to invent, and the play they inspire is open-ended, engaging the mind and expanding the imagination. And what could be simpler than a cardboard box?

In preparation for an upcoming roadtrip, we recently bought our quickly-growing Nik a new car seat, and he fell in love with the box. When he insisting on moving his pillow and blanket into the box that first night, to sleep like a little homeless person, I thought, "Here is the ultimate thrifty summer project." Even though our most recent painting project likely took a year off of my life, I decided to break out the paints again, and Nik and I spent a fantastic morning transforming his box into the perfect portable summer hideaway.

Again, like previous tutorials, this is something you could probably figure out all on your lonesome, but maybe seeing it will inspire your own project, for your own thrifty fun.

Adult prep:
Start with a box. Any large box will do, but white boxes are nice. This was ours.
Drag said box onto some sort of paint safe surface. You could do this project outside, if it weren't too windy or wet. We did ours in the kitchen, on top of flyers, taped to the floor with masking tape.
Next step is to prep the box for decoration. My box had a colour glossy print of the car seat on one side that I peeled off. The other sides were printed with orange and blue ink.

This is gesso. I bought it at Hobby Lobby when I was going through an art journalling/altered book phase, inspired by Kelly Rae Roberts and Sabrina Ward Harrison. It is basically a primer that you can apply to any surface to ready it for paint. Think of it as white wash for your box. It dries quickly.

Voila! A mostly white box.

Take a craft knife and cut some windows into your box, prior to painting. You can do any shape, or even cut so that the windows have shutters that open. I used some bowls and plates to mark circles onto my box with a marker, and then cut them out.

Now, you need to gather some paints and whatever you will be using to apply the paints to your box. We had an assortment of brushes, and a large collection of foam stamps that I have amassed for card making.

You are now ready to unleash your little artist! Mine was playing computer while I was getting everything out, and was surprised and happy to walk into the kitchen and find an inviting art project waiting for him.
Decked out in a painting t-shirt of Daddy's, he went to town on the box.

Painting is very serious work.

Keep painting until the box is covered, or your child gets bored, or your other child gets tired of sitting in the bouncy seat and just wants to get nursed already, darn it. Or all three. We finished off with a couple of handprints on the 'floor' of the box, and then it was into the bath for the three year old, while I cleaned up the kitchen. The box was banished for a few hours until it was completely dry, but since coming back not a day has passed that it has been ignored.

It has been climbed in, filled up, turned over, peeked through and shown off. It has been a house, a hiding spot, a rocket ship. A box + paint + a morning's worth of time = thrifty goodness of childhood.

If you love the idea of boxes as open ended play, you'll love this book, by Antoinette Portis.

This post is participating in ON{the laundry}LINE's thrifty summertime link party. Click on through for more fun!


Pamela said...

This line? "When he insisting on moving his pillow and blanket into the box that first night, to sleep like a little homeless person" made me laugh out is also SO Nik. :)

Laura @ ON{thelaundry}LINE said...

very fun! Another thing you can do with a box, you take a box that is shaped like a diaper box or a premier printing box (lol) and cut off all the flaps except for a short one on the top and bottom of the front. Use a scrap you cut off and either tape, stapler, or both, form a point by attaching those two flaps on the outside. Does that make sense? You will have a big open rectangle with a triangle shape attached to one side. A car! Add straps and paint it up and vrrooom, away you go! I wish I had taken photos of the project.

Boxes are awesome. If I only didn't have to find places to put things that come inside them...

Lena said...

Has it been a transmogrifier yet? ;)

Coupon Codes said...

Nice work! My daughter is a tween and she still finds tons of things to do with cardboard boxes.

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