Kid Insight

Box play 2.0

Youth research firm Smarty Pants shows why it's box to the future when it comes to kids' playtime habits.
April 6, 2018

If┬áthe rise of YouTube unboxing videos has taught us anything, it’s that a lot more joy can be gleaned from basic packaging than we could ever have imagined. While hands-on box play isn’t an entirely novel phenomenon—the cardboard box was inducted into the US National Toy Hall of Fame in 2005—family homes are now brimming like never before with deliveries from Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy, leading to a whole new surge in repurposing boxes as toys.

Upcycling fun

From cars and castles, to pretend kitchens and washing machines, kids and their families are coming up with ingenious box projects that take play to new levels. YouTube, for one, has played a prominent role in driving this box play movement. Papa Jake, a 22-year-old YouTube star with 4.1 million subscribers, gets millions of views with his cardboard box creations, how-to videos and challenges.

In addition to building massive haunted houses, space stations and zombie cars, Jake also challenges himself (and his viewers who are building along with him) to live in the boxes for 24 hours.

The internet is also helping parents participate in creative box play. Pinterest, blogs and DIY sites are chock full of creative ideas for families to put their cardboard to use, from practical cardboard mini-drawers, to stylish party decorations. And it’s not (entirely) fun and games. YouTube is also home to videos on how to make corrugated box furniture and cardboard fishing rod racks.

Box, Inc.

The box play movement opens up new opportunities for brands, too. NERF recently joined the fun, arming kids with blasters to survive box fort battles with their friends. Companies like Pizza Hut have also tapped into the eco-friendly nature of the trend by making their pizza boxes multi-functional.

For example, the restaurant chain has instructed patrons on how to turn its boxes into completely functional DJ turntables and solar eclipse viewing devices.

Online retailers like Box Play for Kids and Paper Box Pilots offer colorful, themed stickers that kids, teachers and parents can use to repurpose boxes into toys. And Google famously reminded the world just how cool cardboard can be with Google Cardboard, an inexpensive, simple way to turn a phone into a VR device.

Meanwhile, Nintendo is making its foray into cardboard products in April with Labo, which will offer different cardboard construction kits designed to fit on and play with the Nintendo Switch. Users will be able to build a motorcycle console, piano, wearable robot suit, fishing pole and more—all designed to make specific games more interactive.

As cardboard continues to pile up in homes, expect to see more clever hacks and creative uses for this repurpose-able material— from kids and creative companies alike.

Ricardo Maldonado serves as syndicated sage at Smarty Pants, a youth and family research and consulting firm. The Box Play 2.0 trend is excerpted from the company’s 2017-18 Play & Playthings report. Contact Meredith Franck at 914-939-1897 or visit

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