Who hasn’t noticed that every kid loves an empty box, often more so than the item that came in it? In my house, my kids are pretty much yanking the box out of my hands before I’ve had a chance to open it and planning some kind of reconstructive surgery to transform it into a castle, a dog house, a car, a dragon — whatever they can imagine.
And maybe that’s the universal appeal: an empty box can be anything. Whatever came in the box – the toy, book, dishes, whatever – has a finite number of uses, but the box itself is limitless.
My two little ones went into pleasure overload this September when we purchased new deck furniture. In the store, they were pretty excited about a new table and chairs for our back porch. But when they saw the two large boxes get rolled out, their eyes nearly popped out of their heads. Sierra immediately launched into a series of demands: “Please, mom, please. Can we please have those boxes?! Please, mom? You’re going to give them to us, right? Do you promise?” And so it went. All the way home, during the unloading and unpacking process. “Be careful, please! Will you try not to rip them open, and keep them nice and neat?” “Yes, Sierra. Yes, Sierra. Yes. Stop asking me the same questions or I’m going to recycle the boxes!!”
After deciding that the larger box would be a clubhouse, Sierra and her brother spent a whole morning painting the box, creating artwork for inside, and making “club rules.” They even got the neighbors involved.
They loved it. I loved it. Partly because I got all of the floors in my house washed. But mostly because they were, and still are, entertained by that box and engaged in creative, fun play — outside, mind you — that also helps them learn how to work together.
And, when I struggle to place the trash in the garbage cans or the bottles and paper in the recycling bins (because the clubhouse is stored on top of them) without getting hit in the face by the pitchfork or rake that is hanging behind them, I take three deep breaths and remember that play is a child’s work and sometimes you just have to think inside the box.