Easy DIY Cardboard Toddler Toys for Creative Play

Easy DIY Cardboard Toddler Toys for Creative Play

Sometimes the most fun toys are the ones made from the contents of a recycling bin! Three of my toddler’s favorite play activities involve homemade toys made out of scrap cardboard;

1. Toy Car Ramps and Jumps
2. Ball Hoops
3. Forts

And aside from costing nothing, cardboard toys have many other important benefits! When it comes to early childhood development, both building homemade toys and figuring out versatile ways to play with them can help toddlers develop many important skills;

  • Creative thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Self-confidence
  • Gross and fine motor skills
  • Sequencing skills (planning and step-by-step actions)

1. Ramps, Jumps, and Parking Lots or Garages Made From Cardboard Boxes

DIY ramps, jumps and parking garages made from recycled cardboard boxes have been such a big hit with my toddler! He returns to play with these toys again and again. And they are so easy to make. 

For example, a ramp can be as simple as breaking off the side of a big cardboard box and leaning it against your coffee table. Zero craft supplies needed. Unless you want to let your toddler decorate the cardboard, in which case you can pull out some markers and let them go wild!

simple cardboard ramp with toddler drawing all over it

diy cardboard ramp and jump for toy cars

You can also use cardboard tubes and attach them to jumps or halfpipes made from cardboard boxes.

To make a jump/halfpipe, take an empty box, remove the top flaps, and from one of the sides cut out a shallow c shape. Then take the shape that was cut out to trace the same shape on the opposite side that was just cut so that you have a symmetrically cut box. Next cut out that second side. Use an extra stiff and thick piece of paper to become the curved halfpipe shape. Attach a mailing cardboard tube to the edge of the jump and lean the top of the tube against the wall.

Then you can show your toddler how you can drop cars or balls into the tube and watch them come out the other end and fly off the jump. This is my toddler’s favorite toy for the past month! 

Things to Slide Down Ramps

  • Toy race car
  • Balls (golf ball, wooden ball, squish ball, plastic ball, cloth ball)
  • Blocks
  • Pom poms
  • Water bottles (full and empty ones)

Benefits of Toy Ramp Play

  • Learning about gravity

    Offer your toddler objects of different weights, shapes and sizes to let them explore the concept of gravity.

  • Learning about momentum and distance

    Show your toddler how different angles of a ramp affect an object’s speed and travel distance. You can also set a bowl out in front of a ramp/jump so your toddler can try and get a car or ball to land in the bowl. My toddler also likes to stack blocks in front of the jump to try and knock them all down with a flying car. 

  • Pure fun. This ramp/jump has provided hours and hours of fun and creative learning for my toddler!

We have also recently built a parking garage for all of my toddlers Hot Wheels cars. I found an old shoe box and cut up some pasta boxes to tape inside it. He puts his cars in here every night before bed. You could also use toilet paper rolls in place of cut-up pasta boxes to house little cars or other precious little toys. 

diy hot wheels parking garage made out of a cardboard box and pasta boxes

2. Ball Hoops Made From Scrap Cardboard

Making a cardboard “basketball hoop” is a simple and effective way to get energetic toddlers running, jumping, and twisting!

And all you need is a strip of scrap cardboard and some painter’s tape. And of course, some toy balls to throw! I wrap the edges of the strip of cardboard I’m using for the hoop with painter’s tape to prevent any paper cuts during play. Other than that, we just stick the hoop to the wall with a piece of painter’s tape and my toddler has so much fun playing his own version of basketball. 

diy cardboard basketball hoop for toddler

Benefits of DIY Ball Hoops

  • Hand eye coordination skills
  • Depth perception skills
  • Fine and gross motor skills.
    – Jumping, running, twisting and grasping.
  • Cooperative play
    – Taking turns and sharing
  • Burning lots of wild toddler energy!

3. Constructing Forts, Tunnels and Pirate Ships with Large Cardboard Boxes 

I have such fond childhood memories of building forts as a child. There’s something about making special little spaces that is just magical!

My toddler likes to use furniture and blankets for his forts, but when we don’t have enough furniture around, empty cardboard boxes make some great fort walls! 

And a big cardboard box can also become a fort or tunnel in and of itself. You can cut out windows or connect big cardboard boxes to make tunnels or even a pirate ship! 

indoor toddler play fort with blankets and cardboard boxes

Benefits of DIY Fort Play

  • Encourages imaginative pretend play
  • Develops sequencing skills (planning and step-by-step building skills)

Creative Development in Early Childhood with DIY Toddler Toys

These toys encourage open-ended play and creativity. The Tot defines open-ended play as, “…any type of play that doesn’t have set rules, limitations or defined outcome.” This kind of play allows kids to exercise their imaginations and engage in self-led exploration.

Problem-Solving Skills

Figuring out how to assemble these toys and ways to play with them requires some problem-solving skills. For example, when a piece of tape folds in on itself as little ones apply it to a piece of cardboard, they figure out how to keep it flat the next time. Or when they can’t get a rubbery object to slide down their ramp, they figure out what kind of object will slide down. 


Transforming empty cardboard boxes into fun toys gives our little ones a sense of creative power. They have the experience of creating their own toys by making something out of nothing. And then they figure out all sorts of ways to use their toys. This all contributes to their developing self-esteem and self-confidence.

Flexibile Thinking

Versatile toys allow toddlers to explore the multi-functionality of an object. There is not just one way to play with these cardboard toys. The possibilities are endless! These kinds of versatile toys encourage flexible thinking and are also great to Encourage Independent Play.

For example, toddlers can practice throwing balls into a DIY ball hoop from many different distances and positions. They can run right up to the hoop and jump to drop a ball in, or they can throw it from a few feet back. They can even stand underneath the hoop and toss the ball straight up and out, or experiment with different-sized or weighted balls. Additionally, you can intermittently adjust the height of the hoop to give them new challenges. 

Fine and Gross Motor Skills

While cutting cardboard is best left to the adults, toddlers can exercise their motor skills by helping you gather cardboard boxes, handing you tools, and applying tape. They can also go wild with decorating the cardboard with paint, markers, pom poms, pipe cleaners, and any other craft materials you have!


As you build these DIY toys with your toddler, you introduce them to the concept of sequencing. That is, doing things in a progressive order, step-by-step. Learning Without Tears explains that sequencing is a foundational skill that helps young children “learn to recognize patterns that make their world more understandable and predictable”. Without basic sequencing skills, we would not be able to follow instructions or complete routine tasks.  

For another DIY toddler activity to build fine motor skills and sequencing, you can check out this post on DIY Playdough.

DIY Cardboard Toddler Toys Wrap-Up

In addition to helping build important creativity skills and providing hours of fun, DIY toddler toys can simply be put back in the recycle bin at the end of the day.

And you can always make more. When there are so many toys that end up in the landfill, I feel good about doing my part to minimize our footprint. And making these toys is a great way to teach young kids about resourcefulness and environmental consciousness. Plus, they have so much fun with them!

I hope these simple DIY toddler toys provide you with some helpful ideas and inspiration. Say hi in the comments and let me know about your toddler’s favorite carboard toys!


  • Gussi Ochi

    Just another mom learning and growing in motherhood everyday! | BA in psychology, MA in art therapy & counseling, former licensed massage therapist

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