Not a box: Open- ended cardboard box activities

Just about every parent, auntie, uncle and friend has bought a present, watched a child tear through the wrapping paper and waited as she uncovered the gift you so thoughtfully chose for her—then scratched your head as she ignored the toy to play with the cardboard box it came in. The preference can be baffling, but it’s also enchanting: Kids can make playing with a cardboard box the highlight of their day. 

You can give a kid a box and let their imaginations run wild—and you can jumpstart the fun with these cardboard box activity prompts.

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Celebrate summer with messy painting

Art, at its best, is a full-body experience—at least according to my kids. And with summer here (happy first day of summer!), it’s the perfect time to get outside for some messy painting.

On a recent afternoon, Peeper, Kiwi and a few friends did just that. I squirted paint onto plates of shaving cream, and the kids dove in: Within minutes, we were all messy. And within minutes, we were all having so much fun.

After all, we often tell kids to be neat. Use a napkin. Don’t spill. Wash your hands. Keep your hands to yourself. 

With the weather warming up, though, it’s a great excuse to play outside. And with a little set-up—and a lot of shaving cream—you can let your kids’ creativity go wild. Come on, color outside the lines!

Summer Fun Messy Painting Play Date - Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more

Kiwi is 10 months: Time to play

baby play trampolineThis month, someone must have hit the “play” button on Kiwi, because she just can’t stop playing! (Ok sorry, terrible pun.)

One day, I put a plastic cup on top of my head. (Why? No idea. Seemed natural at the time.) It fell off. And Kiwi nearly fell over, she was laughing so hard. She made a game of it: She’d hand me a random object for me to balance on my head then giggle uncontrollably when it toppled off.

My favorite game? After she finishes nursing, Kiwi faceplants on my bare belly and blows raspberries. The first time she did it, Eric had to stop what he was doing in the other room to check on us because I was laughing so hard.

Her favorite game is chase. She’ll crawl away from me then pause, peeking behind her to see if I’m following. When I come after her, she squeals in delight and motors away—until I catch her. As I tickle her belly and nibble her cheeks, she surrenders in a fit of laughter—until setting off again.

10 months play crawling

The bruises on my knees from crawling on hardwood and the drool-covered belly barely register. She is happy and I am happy.

I’m even more grateful for this ease of play for both of us because our time together wasn’t always this carefree. In Kiwi’s early months, everything was hard. She cried, and I cried, and neither of us smiled all that much. She was in pain and I was unhappy. On the worst days I had to force myself to play with her—singing nursery rhymes or doing This Little Piggy on her prehensile toes—even though I felt no joy.

The contrast to today is striking—like walking out of a dark movie theater into a July day, it’s almost blinding in its brilliance. Now Kiwi can light me up, and her smile sparks a glow within me that grows with every tickle fest and game of airplane.

baby dog playing

baby play toy carBaby's first taste of apple I thought of her recently when listening to NPR’s TED Radio Hour. The hour-long show explored the benefits of play. The experts made me realize that when I get down on all fours to crawl-chase Kiwi, or when we do pattacake, or when I have puppets act out a scene from Downton Abbey, I’m growing, too.

Putting me in closer connection with my own inner child is just one more gift Kiwi is giving me. As she plays, so do I, and we’re both better off—and happier—for it.

Thundercats, hooooooo!

Toddler playing with Thundercats Batman action figuresGrowing up, my older sister, brother and I would play Thundercats (my younger sister was still in diapers and didn’t quite get the concept of fighting Mumm-Ra and his villain lackeys until later). As the kid with no seniority, I was usually relegated to play Snarf, the goody two-shoes who tagged along and tried to protect Lion-O. We spent hours running around, protecting Third Earth and its berbils.

Years and years later, Cartoon Network began showing reruns of the 80s cartoon. I rushed home every day after school, popped a blank tape in the VCR and hit record with the opening song. We copied every episode.

Flash forward again. My brother recently cleaned out a storage unit when he moved back to Oregon. Among the boxes of books, old furniture and high school yearbooks he unearthed two child-sized suitcases of action figures and Matchbox cars.

“I’m not sure if Peeper will like them,” he began when he brought everything over one night and trailed off.

But he needn’t have worried. The moment Peeper laid eyes on the treasures, she was smitten.

Ever since, she spends hours playing with “Mama’s old toys.” She has learned most of the names of the Thundercats and the Batman villains who live alongside them in the suitcase. She scolds Batman for not wearing a helmet on his “bike” (aka Batcycle). She brings Kit to the grocery store and dentist, and she clutches tiny trucks and racecars to her chest when I read books to her. “Fast car read a book, too!” she’ll say.

She has never seen an episode of Thundercats or Batman, but that doesn’t stop her from imaginative play. “Touchdown!” she whispered the other day when playing with Jaga, his arms raised in the air.

Watching her reminds me of the countless hours I spent sprawled on the carpet, directing miniature dramas between He-Man and Barbie or Panthro and Pretty Ponies, and of the breathless play with my siblings and the rest of the neighborhood kids. We’ll see if she loses interest in the toys or if, like me, she’ll foster a lifelong love of snappy cartoons and their memorable characters.

Of course I hope for the latter. After all, I want to play, too. She’d just better not make me be Snarf.

Toddler playing with Thundercats Batman action figures

Flower, pretty flower

Ten Thousand Hour MamaFlowers are probably in Peeper’s top ten favorite things, ranking below milk and baths but above pizza. Whenever she sees flowers, she makes a sniffing noise and squirms to get closer.

They feature in her play, too. When we have bouquets in the house, I periodically give her a flower or two.

She carries them around and offers them to everyone, making a sniff, sniff noise.

Inevitably, though, she finishes by pulling off all the petals. I imagine her reciting, “She loves me, she loves me not” as she plucks them.

Peeper, the answer is yes, no matter whom you’re picking petals for. How could anyone fail to love you?

Ten Thousand Hour Mama