When I was young there was nothing so fun as a whole afternoon and a fresh cardboard box. It still takes very little to keep me entertained. I get this from my mother, who once made an entire play-kitchen for me from a series of found boxes and a little poster paint. Move over, Little Tikes.
Everyone has the Christmas or birthday story involving a Very Expensive Present of some sort and the child who ignores it to play with the box instead. There's a reason for this. As much as we love our kids and want them to have the best of everything, they love making something from nothing. And a cardboard box is just about nothing. Ultimately, it's not just about saving money on toys, it's about creativity.
Nothing is more versatile than a cardboard box. It's an indoor and outdoor toy, it's a fort or a jewelry box. It's a blank canvas and a place to sit and think. An empty cardboard box is possibility.
I did a little searching and had a good laugh over the modern version the Box as Toy. If you use a credit card to buy an $18 (plus shipping, I assume) eco-friendly box online, I believe you might be part of the problem instead of the solution. Don't, I repeat, don't be silly and buy a special box online. Go to a local store or - better yet - a place where they sell appliances. Ask for a box. Done.
Then give it to your kids. There's no need to tell them what to make or "guide their play." The whole point of the box is figuring out what it should be. Providing crayons is fine, box cutters are not. If it's killing you, get your own box and fill the afternoon making your own creation. If it's still killing you, then you have control issues I can't help you with here. Let. It. Go.
While I strongly advocate a real box, in a pinch you can visit The Box Doodle Project and have a blast online. Also free.
Note: You don't need the excuse of parenthood to goof off with a cardboard box. Instead of spending yourself into a night on the town, have some friends over, supply the boxes and maybe a bottle of wine. A little cheap creativity goes a long way and it's infinitely better than worrying over bills or watching American Idol.
Got a cardboard box idea? Leave it in the comments so we can all play!