Box Cubby House (dollhouse style)

I shared this idea for the Pumpkin Patch blog last year, and am re-sharing it here.

box cubby - dollhouse style

School holidays: It’s the opportunity to think big about play. Play, not only in sessions, but over days and weeks. Creating play environments, like a cubby house, is a good example because it starts with the building phase, then comes the play phase, and the fun evolves as the children add their own ideas to the mix. 

The cooler months will set in soon, so creating a play space in a nook in the house or other undercover area can be a good idea.  I transformed an empty unused garage into a simple play space for the school holidays using cardboard boxes.   The idea is to stimulate the imagination by creating an environment that inspires creativity.  The set-up is quick, cheap and easy and can be extended in many ways.

I had a large empty space to play with, but this idea can be used on a small scale (even with only one box) in a spot in the house. 

box cubby house

What you need

  • 1 to 5 Boxes (tea-chest size or larger works best)
    – Try asking a department store like Good Guys or Harvey Norman for empty boxes, or you can buy boxes starting from about $3 from self-storage places and stationery stores like Officeworks.  It’s a small investment for many hours of play.
  • Masking or Packing tape
    – I used masking tape because it’s easy to work with and the children can draw/decorate over the top if they like.
  • Crepe Streamers (optional)

1. Assemble

To create the dollhouse style cubbyhouse (as pictured above), you will first need to make 2 boxes with pointed roofs. 

Box Cubby House

  1. Put the box together (if flat) and tape to secure.
  2. Sit the box with the opening at the top (as you would if you were packing).
  3. Leave the fold-over flaps upright for height and tape along the join for strength.
  4. Cut out one side panel of the box with large scissors or a Stanley knife. This will become the roof.
  5. Use the cut out panel of the box for the roof. Bend in half and tape to the top of the box. (If the box you’re using is smaller than tea-chest size, you may need to use an extra piece of cardboard and tape two even pieces of cardboard together before attaching the roof to the box).

For the remainder of the 3 boxes, repeat the above, however for the roof, cut the panel cardboard to the size of the top of the box, and tape to secure (rather than having it pointed).

2. Decoration

Decorating the boxes is all part of the fun. I wanted to keep this activity relatively mess-free, so went with streamers to add that splash of colour but you can just leave them blank or get kids to decorate with texta.

1. Lay a section of tape (as long as the width of the box) on a flat surface with the sticky side up.  Rip off streamers (to the height of the box) and place one end of each streamer evenly spaced along the tape. Once full, carefully pick up the tape and press into the top back corner of the inside of the box and reinforce with another layer of tape over the top.

2. Using another piece of tape, secure the streamers to the bottom corner inside the back of the box.  It doesn’t have to look perfect as you can add a cushion or small blanket to the bottom of the box.

Decorating box cubby

3. For the upper level boxes, I used the streamers in the opening between the roof and the box. To do this, simply tape sections of streamers from the roof to the back of the box. Again, this can just be left open or a piece of cellophane looks awesome.

decorating box

Other decoration ideas

Decorate the box however you like! Below are more ideas:

  • Coloured masking tape
  • Texters/drawings
  • Paint
  • Stickers
  • Wrapping paper
  • Cellophane
  • Stencils
  • Stick photos to make a collage wall inside the box
  • Cut outs from magazines
  • Washi tape
  • Cut out windows on either side of the box
  • Glue on gems or shells
  • Clear contact collage over windows

3. Set up

Stack three flat-top boxes at the bottom and the two pointed boxes at the top.  This gives it a dollhouse look. The top section can be used for light objects like stuffed toys, dolls or Lego; it’s a lovely height for standing play too. The bottom section fits a sitting child. Again, this can be done at a smaller scale with just one pointed-roof box. Great fun for toddlers to crawl in and out too.

box cubby house -- dollhouse style

Another set up idea: Beach hut style

Google ‘beach hut’ together before you start for inspiration. Create 5 pointed roof houses and line up in beach hut style. Lay a yellow sheet /blanket (you could look for one at a second-hand shop) or piece of material in front to mimic sand and then do the same with another layer of blue material for the sea.  Add a few towels, shells, buckets and sea inspired books.

Reading Box

Place a box (or boxes) up against a wall so children can lean back and read a book. This can become a special reading box for the holidays.

Box cubby house

4. Add

To make the area inviting and cosy, add:

  • Cushions or a small blanket to the bottom of each box
  • Books
  • A rug, floor cushions and a few throw blankets

5. Play & Create

The morning after creating this space, I woke to hear the kids happily playing. I found them, still in their flannelette PJs, sitting in the cubbyhouse, eating breakfast with tea towels on the ground and mini umbrellas in their cereal bowls.  I almost scolded them for not being at the table, then I saw how much effort they put into the set up and what fun they were having.  Since then, boxes have been moved, toys added, pillows stacked and picnics eaten.  We had it set up for about 3 months until the boxes started to crumble from use! All good stuff. And it all started with a few boxes.

More indoor cubbyhouse ideas

  • Place a sheet over a table and cushions underneath
  • Put a sheet between two separated sofas
  • Tie even lengths of crepe streamers around a hula hoop and suspend from a hook in the ceiling to create a colour bubble
  • Stack pillows and cushions and create an indoor obstacle course
  • Hang streamers in a door way
  • Criss-cross red streamers along a hallway to create a spy lazer challenge
  • Create a comfy reading corner by scattering pillows and placing a box of books nearby

More

Another way to use a big cardboard box: Cardboard Box City (with milk bottle lid signs)

Play Scene: Cardboard Box City

carboard box city -- play scene

Well, well! The children and I spent a glorious afternoon creating this cardboard box city.  It cost me all of…nothing, was mess free and is still going strong! There are many inspirational ideas like this around the web, like this one from Picklebums.

Below is how we made our city.

Materials

Tea Chest Size packing box larger (the bigger the box, the better!)

(I have many packing boxes around from our last move but you can buy them (cheap) from office works, many real estate agents or packing suppliers)

Packing tape

Drawing materials

Matchbox cars

Instructions

1. Prepare the box for decoration

carboard box city instructions

2. Draw in roads

I drew in the roads with permanent marker before the kids decorated the box.

cardboard box road city -- draw in roads

3. Decorate

In the spaces in between the roads, draw in details with texters and pencils. Also use the back, verticle side of the box to draw in  buildings, trees or anything else you like.   Each one of my children contributed something.

These are some of the details we added.

  • Homes
  • Bushes
  • Grass
  • Ponds
  • Trees
  • Birds
  • Walking path
  • Bike path
  • Fruit market
  • Car park
  • Farm
  • Flowers
  • Houses
  • Playground
  • Highrise buildings

Vertical Buildings

cardboard road city high rise match box cars

Oval and playground

cardboard box city with roads and matchbox cars

Carpark & fruit market

cardboard box play scene -- roads

Trees

cardboard box play scene -- trees and buildings

4. Add Extras

Extra materials (optional)

3D Buildings

- empty capsule boxes, for example, the box panadol comes in

– Paint

Street signs

– Milk bottle lids

– Craft glue

– Paddlepop sticks

– Blu-tack

Clouds

– Cotton wool balls

– glue

Add detail to the creation by adding 3D buildings, clouds and street signs. This doesn’t have to be done in one sitting; create this play scene over days or weeks even.

milk bottle lid street signs

Milk Bottle Lid Signs

  • Draw symbol or words on the inside of the milk bottle lid
  • Glue paddle pop stick on the back of the milk bottle lid
  • Once dry, use blu-tack as a stand on the cardboard road

Clouds

  • Glue cotton wool in the sky.

3D Buildings

  • Decorate empty capsule boxes (like Nurofen & Panadol)with paint or markers and glue at the back of the box. It’s a good idea to wrap the boxes in brown craft paper (or white paper) before you paint so the paint stands out.

5. Play

Matchbox cars, Lego and animal figures are examples of the toys you can add to this play scene.  The box can be used outside on the grass in the late afternoon, on a patio or deck and inside too.

cardboard box city

More

Imaginative Play Scenes

Dollhouse Style Box Cubby