The Beauty of Box Play

Posted April 14, 2020

By, Roxie Zeller

Almost every family has a story about children playing in boxes. For my husband’s family the story is about the refrigerator box that the neighborhood families turned into a rocket ship. This story usually ends with my husband telling about the “horrific” sight of watching the box, with his stomp rockets taped to the side, being crushed by the recycling truck. I remember turning boxes into boats, race cars, and a puppet theater as a child. The puppet theater ended up staying in my room for almost a year after we made it. 

As an adult, I now look at boxes and tend to think, “How am I going to get this in the recycling?”, “That is a lot of cardboard,” or “Should I save this for a moving box?” Rarely do I look at a box now and think things like, “Wow! That looks like a good place to read,” or “This is the perfect rocket ship,” or “If I cut a hole here, I could make this into a fort.” 

Recently I found myself with two big boxes sitting in my apartment taking up space. With no desire to wrestle the boxes down to the recycling, I decided to take them to All Seasons to see what the preschoolers would do with the boxes. As the preschoolers started to look at the boxes and make plans, I began to see the endless possibilities of boxes again. These boxes were houses, rockets, monsters, and haunted houses. The children decided what the boxes would be and worked together to plan out where doors or windows would be cut out, and eventually they worked together to paint the boxes. They tried to make scary colors, mixing the primary colors with black to make them spookier. Then with the addition of Halloween decorations, the boxes transformed from plain cardboard boxes into haunted houses. The preschoolers would climb inside and sit all squished together giggling.

I kept thinking there is so much beauty in box play. It’s not the same kind of play that comes from the dramatic play area or blocks, but is something truly unique. On the outside, it just looks like children sitting in boxes, but for the preschoolers, sitting in the small, dark box transports them into a different creative space that is truly open to endless possibilities. In other areas of play, children have boundaries in place, or there are specific scenarios that adults decide. But boxes provide children a different kind of self-directed play that is full of pure creativity. This kind of play can also occupy a child for quite a long while and tends to carry over from day to day. The beauty of box play is not exclusive to boxes, however; blanket and pillow forts can invoke this same pure creative play. It must be something about small dark places that let children’s imaginations run wild. 


 Now that we are all under the stay-home order and families have their children home all day, it can be overwhelming for parents to keep them occupied and get work done. Toys can occupy a child for a while, but over time they will grow bored of them, and start finding themselves in sticky situations. A simple solution may be to find some boxes and let children freely explore the beauty of box play.