30 Upcycled Cardboard Things to Build and Play With

Tower of Hanoi

Upcycled cardboard toys are as much fun to create as they are to play with!

Cardboard is a magical material. It’s free from your recycling bin, it’s easily modified and embellished, and it’s eminently recyclable when you’re done with it. It’s one of my personal favorite crafting materials, and it’s my absolute favorite material to give to young people to craft with.

Looking to save a little money, build a kid’s creativity, have fun while making zero negative impact on the environment, or just spend some time being radically anti-consumerist? Check out my favorite upcycled cardboard things to build and play with. Younger kids can enjoy playing with these upcycled cardboard toys, while older kids and adults can also enjoy the process of creation and construction.

DIY Journals and Coloring Book

coloring book. Make this coloring book using printed coloring pages and a fun food packaging cardboard cover for younger kids. Older kids and adults can use this tutorial to make travel journals, sketchbooks, and scrapbooks… or they can add coloring pages, too!

dollhouse. Make this simple 3D dollhouse from two pieces of corrugated cardboard, then set your young person free to do all the decorating.

cardboard doll bed via HelloBee

doll bed. Those American Girl officially licensed doll beds add up! This DIY version gets the job done in a much more eco-friendly (and budget-friendly!) way, and is infinitely multipliable so that every doll is guaranteed a comfy spot to sleep.

geodesic dome. Size it down for a doll (or cat!) or up for a kid.

upcycled cardboard building toy

corrugated cardboard building toy. Cutting notches into corrugated cardboard pieces allows them to interlock. That one simple technique allows you to build just about anything you can dream up!

tiny model houses. These little cardboard houses are fun to embellish and easy to theme. Paint them black and embellish with puff paint to make haunted houses, keep them unpainted and use a white paint pen and silver glitter to make gingerbread houses, or embellish them however you want to add to a train set or Hot Wheels playset.

box town image via The Imagination Tree

box town. Kids love small world play, and this version, set inside a giant box, also keeps all those small-world toys contained!

fidget spinners. These were on trend long enough ago that kids are excited about them again… especially when they get to DIY them themselves!

Kid-Sized Cardboard Gingerbread House

kid-sized gingerbread house. Use LOTS of cardboard, or find yourself a massive box to make this life-sized play house.

puzzle. Here’s how to make a chunky preschool puzzle out of corrugated cardboard. Even little kids can help paint it!

cardboard guitar image via Make It and Love It

toy guitar. This cardboard guitar with rubber band strings really plays!

easel. An easel comes in so handy when making art, and this one is also easy to recycle when you get paint all over it.

cardboard maze image via M&M Farm Life

maze. Scale this maze up for Hexbugs, Bee-Bots, or Sphero, or scale it down for marbles.

splatter painting set-up. Little kids LOVE messy art. At least setting it up inside a cardboard box will keep it somewhat contained!

upcycled cardboard number tiles

number tiles. Math manipulatives are super educational. To make them even more educational, have kids help write the numbers, too!

art station. A giant cardboard box makes a great art creation and display station.

car ramp. Accessories make playing with toy cars a LOT more fun. A painted ramp is especially potent for the imagination!

stand-up animal toys. Once you master the technique, you can make all kinds of stand-up toys!

Upcycled Cardboard Polyominoes

polyominoes. These manipulatives inspire creative and open-ended play, or you can use them to create and solve logic puzzles and make interesting mathematical patterns.

solar oven. Cardboard solar ovens can be surprisingly functional! Here’s a basic model to get you started.

cardboard nail salon via Happy Toddler Playtime

cardboard nail salon. Little kids are OBSESSED with painting nails. Give your own fingies a break by helping them make their own cardboard version with all the nails they could ever want to paint!

hinged grabber. Experiment with mechanics while making a super fun grabber toy.

Upcycled Cardboard Model Ship

model ship. Since cardboard takes cutting and gluing and painting so well, you can make a surprisingly accurate version of many ships that can then be incorporated into a kid’s small-world play.

interlocking cardboard road pieces. Your toy cars will never run out of road now!

box tunnel via Picklebums

tunnel. So simple, and SO fun!

upcycled cardboard shield

corrugated cardboard shield. Dramatic play elements are easy to construct from cardboard, and when you DIY them, kids can embellish them to look exactly the way they want them to.

penny spinners via Teach Beside Me

penny spinners. A single penny is the secret ingredient to turn these plain corrugated cardboard circles into magical toy tops.

cardboard skeeball via Mombrite

skeeball. This is the perfect toy for a rainy day indoors!

slide. Every staircase should have a slide!

Corrugated Cardboard Tower of Hanoi

Tower of Hanoi puzzle. Have fun cutting and embellishing the pieces, then have even more fun discovering the perfect solution!

Do YOU have a favorite DIY cardboard toy? Tell us about it in the Comments!

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