Fun, handmade toys with a personal touch are easier to pull off than you might think. Our magic ingredient? Cardboard. It’s easy to use and easy to find -- in the form of paper towel rolls, shipping boxes, food packaging, old notebooks, and more. Not only is it free, but it comes in tons of shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. Just fold it, shape it, cut it, paint it, and glue it to create all kinds of toys! Cereal boxes can easily become blocks for small children, while paper towel tubes can be toy telescopes! Once you get going with cardboard crafts and toys, you won't want to stop.
We hope this cardboard car project gets you familiar with cardboard! Even if you're not crafty, small children will love it. All you need is one large box that will fit your kid. Use an old appliance shipping box or head to a wholesale outlet such as Costco, Sam's Club, or BJ’s and ask them for spares.
1 long rectangular cardboard box
Masking or packing tape
Box cutter or craft knife
Black construction paper or 5 paper plates for wheels (plastic will do, too)
Silver marker (optional)
Paint and brushes
Craft glue or tacky glue
2 old or damaged CDs for headlights, or 2 same-sized jar lids wrapped in tinfoil
Red construction paper or 2 red plastic cups for break lights
White construction paper for license plate
Colored tape (optional)
Tips for Cardboard Craft Supplies
For Cutting: Use a box cutter or craft knife for thick stocks, large pieces, and inside “window” cuts. Scissors are most effective on smaller, thinner pieces or for making short cuts.
For Gluing: Use the super-adhesive hot glue if attaching thick cardboard pieces to one another. Craft glue will suffice for thinner cardboard, flat objects, and added embellishments.
- Place the assembled box on your work surface open-side up. Make sure the bottom of the box is securely taped or glued shut.
- Use a box cutter or craft knife to cut off three of the four top flaps -- one short flap and both long ones.
- To make the windshield, trace a wide rectangle in the remaining top flap, then cut it out with your box cutter. Stand the windshield up and secure it in place by taping along the bottom crease and corners with masking tape.
- Cut openings for doors on both sides of the box. These can be rectangles or semicircles cut out from the top, which will allow your child to step into the car. Alternatively, draw door handles onto the sides of the box and make sure all passengers step over the “doors” of the car.
- To make tires and a steering wheel, trace and cut five same-sized circles from black construction paper. Draw your tires’ hubcaps with silver marker, if you like. If you’re using paper plates, cut them to fit (if necessary) and consider painting them black to simulate tires.
- Glue your tires in place. Glue your steering wheel to the dashboard, just beneath the windshield.
- Glue each CD, shiny-side up, to the hood of your car to serve as headlights. Or, wrap two same-sized jar lids in tinfoil and glue in place.
- If you’re using red construction paper for break lights, trace and cut out two same-size circles, then glue them in place on the back of the car. If you’re using red plastic cups, glue their bottoms to the car.
- To make a license plate, trace and cut out a rectangle from white construction paper. Decorate with colored markers, then glue to the back of the car.
- Paint your car any colors your kids like. Let the paint dry. Embellish with racecar lines or other designs along the sides, hood, and trunk. You can use paint, markers, or colored tape (or all three!).
Variation: Racecar Costume
If you only have a small box on hand, consider cutting out the bottom so your child can wear it as a racecar costume. Use a box cutter or knife to make a hole in the bottom of the box that will fit around a toddler’s waist. To make shoulder straps, cut off the straps of a shopping bag (or measure and cut strong ribbon to size). Attach the ends of each strap to the inside of the car -- one end in front and the other in back. Hot glue should work, or you can staple the ends in place and tape over the staples to cover sharp edges. Your little one should be able to step inside the car, place the straps over his shoulders, and zoom around like a tiny racecar.