Dear Santa, I’ve been a good kid all year. All I want for Christmas is a cardboard box.
Funny…because it’s true.
How many parents have cursed their little one through muffled laughter as they forgo the shiny new toy for its simpler companion box? So common a practice, the National Toy Hall of Fame includes the humble cardboard box in its collection. Inducted in 2005, the Toy Hall of Fame praises the box for its inherent possibilities and the ability to recycle them into innumerable playthings. Best of all boxes are easily accessible, free of expensive batteries, annoying songs and voices telling a child what to do. A box can inspire imagination and promote gross motor skill development.
A healthy mind is as important to overall wellbeing as physical health. Thinking inside and outside of a box (metaphor aside) is a great way to stimulate a child’s imagination and encourage spontaneous, unstructured play. A box transformed into a rocket ship, secret fort, or teddy bear train teaches a child that there is more than one way to look at things. It allows children to explore imaginary places in their minds and reinforces the idea that things can go their own way sometimes too.
Boxes are also a great tool for building gross motor skills. Little people need to spend lots of time each day using the large muscles in their arms, legs and trunk (core). Physical gross motor skills require movement of the whole body to perform everyday functions such as standing, walking, running and sitting upright. These skills become important for everyday tasks and self-care. For example, we need core strength and balance to put on pants while standing and upper body support to sit at a school desk. Hand-eye coordination is also a part of gross motor development. Skills such as throwing, catching or kicking a ball are important for playground games and sports activities.
For infants and toddlers, a box is a wonderful object to explore. Crawling through cardboard tunnels, stepping in and out, pushing them around the house, even opening and closing flaps engage muscles and encourage motor control. Older children will enjoy more elaborate creations and revel in infinite box potential. Obstacles courses, stair slides, jumping ship to ship on the lava floor or stacking and building playhouses are all great games that are vital to the healthy development of their bodies and minds.
Remember, there is no right way or wrong way to play with a box. That is part of the charm. In a child’s mind, anything is possible, and the box can be manipulated to fit whatever game they choose to play. As children get older and their ideas get bigger, they may ask for help to paint, draw or cutout shapes – until then, parents should resist the urge to take the driver seat and give little people the opportunity to create, imagine and move free of a suggested result.
So, if Santa scores the highly sought-after holiday toy and its buddy box proves to be favourite, don’t be discouraged. Let the playing proceed freely – who knows that simple piece of cardboard could be the catalyst for a life of sports, a career in architecture or trip to space!