DIY Activity 22: Pretend shop front made out of cardboard box

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Author: Gauri Kshirsagar

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The Twins had a “Market”- themed month in school, wherein one of them got this idea of making a pretend shop-front for school. And not just any shop she specifically wanted to make a ‘Perfume shop’. She was ready with a plan all meticulously noted down on paper – exotic named perfumes, their price, colour of the shop, name of the shop….and so on. She had her eyes on an amazon cardboard box which she declared was perfect for her and got us all on board. Me doing all the cutting and decorating of the box, their dad getting a stack of small perfumes bottles and the twins coming up with different perfumes names and making a price list.

Cardboard boxes are a hot commodity in our home —they’re pretty much the perfect toy, because boxes are free, plentiful and provide endless creative possibilities. My Twins are always excited about a delivery- not for what’s inside but what’s outside! Placing any sized box from Amazon on the floor will make their imaginations soar. The box is sometimes a home, a boat, a car, a canvas or even a picnic table.

Pretend play, or open-ended play as it’s sometimes called, is super fun for kids for a super great reason: It lets them be in charge of what happens. And that can be a real plus when you are little and the grown-ups are in charge most of the time. Open-ended play toys (things like cardboard boxes) also build creative and critical-thinking skills, and teach kids that it’s okay to make mistakes and take chances, because when the play is open-ended, there’s no right way to do it!

Following are some images and a short video about the pretend shop. It is very easy to make, I just cut out the back flaps of the box and one flap from the front making the other flap as a roof. It took us about 2-3 hours to get it done, but it was worth the time spend. My twin along with her classmates had a great time in class pretend selling the perfumes, learning the trade, counting money, giving back change and learning about how a business and profit works.

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What you need for playing with cardboard boxes?

Boxes of any size are fun to play with and will get your child’s imagination working. If you can find a really big cardboard box, your child can fit inside it and create something amazing. You might be able to get cardboard boxes from local supermarkets and other shops.
If you want your child to be able to change or decorate the box, some of these might be useful:

  1. Scissors or a craft knife (adult use only)
  2. Tape and glue
  3. Paints, marker pens or thick crayons.

Depending on how your child wants to use the box, he/she could also use things like:

  1. Colourful paper, foil, cellophane or fabric to decorate the box
  2. Paper plates to use as the wheels of a car, bus, truck or train
  3. Puppets and a bit of fabric for a curtain to make a puppet theatre.

How to play with cardboard boxes?

There’s no ‘right’ way to play with a cardboard box, so let your child decide what she wants to do and follow her lead. You could start by just talking about the box together. For example, ask, ‘How big is it? Can you fit inside?’ or ‘What does it remind you of? A house? A car?’
If your child needs suggestions to get started, you could try these ideas:

  1. Make a house. Cut open a window and a door and let your child add cushions and other ‘furniture’. He/she could bring in some toys for a tea party. Here is one which we made some years back: https://raisingtwinsblog.com/2017/05/18/diy-activity-15-how-to-make-an-easy-kids-playhouse-out-of-an-ordinary-cardboard-box/ 
  2. Make a plane or a car. Use paper plates for wheels and steering wheels. Cut off the box flaps and stick them back on as the wings and tail of a plane. Let your child draw or paste markings and racing stripes.
  3. Make a robot costume. Cut out a head hole and armholes for your child and let her decorate the box with foil and coloured markers.
  4. Make a puppet theatre. Cut a doorway and a window on opposite sides of the box. Hang a curtain over the window and let your child put on a show for the family from inside the box.
  5. Decorate the box. Cut holes for your child to stick colourful cellophane over. Let him draw or paint on it, and stick paper or scraps of fabric of different textures inside and outside for a sensory experience.
  6. Use the box to encourage active play. For example, turn it sideways to make a tunnel. Or your child could be a Jack-in-the-Box – crouching low inside the box and then jumping up like she’s on a spring.
  7. Adapting cardboard box play for children of different ages
  8. Let your younger child take the lead with cardboard boxes. Let him climb in and out, or make scribbles on the box with markers.

Encourage your older child to get involved in construction. But help her to solve problems rather than giving her all the solutions. For example, let your child work out whether glue or sticky tape works best, or which way up the box should be for a puppet show

This is the latest of the twins’ creation on a giant canvas – Tribal ‘Warli’ art on a giant IKEA bookcase box.

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