Easy Cardboard Box Car for Toddlers and Preschoolers

It's easy to make a cardboard box car for kids' pretend play. Toddlers and preschoolers can help with the construction and have fun taking 'road trips' with their friends.

DIY roadster from a cardboard box for pretend play

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Recycling a cardboard box into a car is a fun way to invite kids to engage in imaginative play while learning a lot about engineering and technology.

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
  • Cognitive: building and driving the car
  • Language: talking about things you see or do on a road trip


Related: How Pretend Play Helps Kids Learn Social Skills from Encourage Play

Cardboard box car

Kids will engage fine motor and creative skills designing, drawing, cutting and gluing as they help make a cardboard box car.

They'll also be exploring and experimenting with STEAM as they play.

STEAM = Science + Technology + Engineering + Art + Math

Learn more about how these learning experiences are included in the activity at the end of the post.


Related: Magic Mirror Pretend Play


Supplies for a cardboard box car

  • large cardboard box
  • craft knife
  • fabric
  • tape

You could use shelf liner in place of fabric for the covering, either self-adhesive or non adhesive.


Instructions for cardboard box car

Cut cardboard box to make car with a seat and windshield


1. Recycle a cardboard box, large enough to allow your toddler or preschooler to sit inside.

  • Cut a slit with a craft knife approximately in the center of the box.
  • Cut along both sides of the box in straight lines to form two flaps. 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.


 Bend cardboard box flap seat into place and tape to bottom of cardboard box


  • 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.


Tape windshield to cardboard tab at front of pretend play car


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.

 Add steering wheel to cardboard box car with paper fastener


4. Cut a steering wheel from cardboard or a plastic lid or use a take-out tray as we did. Attach to the dashboard with a paper fastener so it can rotate.

  • We rounded the edges of a beverage take-out tray and made the cup openings a bit wider.


 Add a tinfoil grill and yellow foam headlights


5. Glue an aluminum foil grill to the front of the box.

6. Cut circles from yellow craft foam for headlights.


DIY cardboard box car for toddler pretend play


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 and tape to the sides.

  • 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!


Cardboard box roadster to make for kids pretend play


You can easily add more options such as dashboard gadgets and wheel spokes. 

There are lots of ways to adjust this design, depending on available supplies and preferences. 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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