Easy Cardboard Box Car for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Transform a large cardboard box into a car for kids pretend play. This simple roadster is easy to make with recyclables. Toddlers and preschoolers can help with the construction, then have fun taking 'road trips' with their friends.
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This recycled project is a great way to involve kids in hands-on fun and learning. Kids will engage fine motor and creative skills designing, drawing, cutting and gluing as they help make a cardboard box car.
Kids will be prompted to engage in imaginative play, while learning about engineering and technology.
Designing and building are part of the fun: choosing materials, cutting and gluing, attaching car parts together. The car has a couple options for moving parts which add to the hands-on fun.
While this project requires adult supervision and assistance, kids can be part of the team creating the roadster.
The STEAM KIDS series of books offers lots of activities for kids for kids to build like scientists and create like artists. Interacting with materials in many different ways is an important element of kids play.
Learn more about how STEAM is realized in this activity at the end of the post
Role playing everyday activities such as driving in a car has lots of benefits for kids, supporting social, cognitive and language development.
- Social: sharing rides in the car with a friend (teddy bear)
- Cognitive: building and driving the car, following road signs and traffic signals
- Language: talking about things you see or do on a road trip
Related: How Pretend Play Helps Kids Learn Social Skills from Encourage Play
Related: Magic Mirror Pretend Play
Cardboard box car
The size of the roadster will depend on the size of box you have available. The instructions in this tutorial are for a long shallow box, but they can be adapted to any box. See ideas for using a square box at the end of the post.
Supplies for a cardboard box car
You could use shelf liner in place of fabric for the covering, either self-adhesive or non adhesive.
White glue will work for this project but a glue gun may be more effective in the long run.
Instructions for cardboard box car
1. Recycle a cardboard box, large enough to allow your toddler or preschooler to sit inside.
- Cut a slit from side to side with a craft knife, approximately in the center of the box. Do not go to the edge of the box, leave a side panel of at least 2 inches ( cm)
- Cut along both sides of the box in straight lines to form two flaps as shown. One flap is bent downwards to become seating and one is raised to form the dashboard.
Note: Make a light impression across the cardboard with the cutting knife and the cardboard will bend easily.
- Make another bend in the inside flap to form the shape of the seat, then tape in place.
2. Cover the box with fabric (as we did) or self-adhesive shelf liner.
- Cut strips of fabric for the sides. Cut squares or rectangles from fabric to fit the front 'hood' and back 'trunk'. Glue the fabric covering in place.
3. Cut an opening in the dashboard flap to form a windshield, or cut a larger windshield from another piece of cardboard as we did.
- To attach a larger windshield, trim the dashboard flap to the same height as the bottom part of the frame of the windshield opening in the separate piece of cardboard.
- Tape the two together securely.
4. Cut a steering wheel from cardboard or a plastic lid, or use a take-out tray as we did. Attach the steering wheel to the dashboard with a paper fastener. Make the connection loose enough so the steering wheel can rotate.
- We rounded the edges of a beverage take-out tray and cut the cup openings a bit wider.
5. Glue an aluminum foil grill to the front of the box.
6. Cut circles from yellow craft foam for headlights.
6. Optional: We added racing stripes along the sides with masking tape. They looked cool and also covered some small holes in the cardboard box.
7. Cut wheels from cardboard. Tape or glue to the sides. You can also attach the wheels with paper fasteners if you want them to rotate.
- The bottom edge of the wheel should be just above the floor.
- Color the wheels with paint or markers, or add designs such as spokes if preferred. We kept ours simple with just some foil hubcaps!
8. Upcycle a booster seat pad for a seat!
You can easily add more options such as dashboard gadgets. You can cut open a section of the back end of the vehicle to make a 'trunk'.
There are lots of ways to adjust this design, depending on available supplies and preferences.
If you are using a square carton, you can apply the instructions to the front of the car only.
- Remove three of the box flaps. Make the windshield with the flap that exists on one side of the box. Place the seat into the box, so it rests against the bottom and back of the box.
Part of the fun and learning with any project is the imagination and hands-on participation you and the kids bring to the activity.
How STEAM is incorporated:
Science: How does a car work? (decide what parts are needed)
Technology: What tools do we need to build a car? (scissors, glue, paper fasteners)
Engineering: What will our car look like? (design and build car)
Art: What color will the car be? (choose fabrics and wheel colors)
Math: How many wheels does my car need?
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