Parents of the world: forget the iPads and scooters, Sylvanian families and even LEGO, because no modern toy can contend with the joy and creativity that a good cardboard box can bring.
Kids these days need to exercise their imagination more – they probably need to exercise more, full stop. But let’s not deviate from the issue at hand here. Imaginative play sets the brain cogs in motion and is how the little cutesters figure out their interests, passions, and possibilities.
And no, imagining getting to the next level on their Nintendo doesn’t count.
Like many people, most of my favourite childhood memories revolve around play. Sure, there were Barbies and stickers and one dodgy hand-me-down Playstation, but nothing ever matched-up to the fun and adventures that came with those big empty cardboard boxes.
Once crouched inside I could be anyone I wanted to be: the captain of a ship; the pilot of a helicopter; a spy; an interior designer. There was something so liberating about playing in a box, which is ironic, considering the confining nature of the space itself.
Because the box didn’t just fit me (and my younger sister, if I allowed her to join), it also squeezed my endless array of storyline ideas, my alternative worlds, and glitter. Glitter always ended up in my boxes, somehow.
So when my dad presented me a with an especially large box one day, oh boy, I knew I was in for a treat. Being the socially-active six-year-old that I was, I immediately ordered my mum to cancel all upcoming playdates; I would be “otherwise engaged” from here on out.
The majority of my days thereafter were spent in that box, only emerging for food, toilet breaks, and the odd episode of Saved By The Bell. Whenever a friend came knocking I would lean against the door, fold my arms, nod my head back to the dubiously-decorated box and sigh “Nah, I really better be getting back to the old gal”. This, I’m sure, was met with confused blinks from my fellow six-year-olds.
At the beginning, my creativity within the box was encouraged – the parents even thought it might lead to a lucrative interior design career down the line. But, as is often the way with creatives, my enthusiasm gradually transformed into obsession, until eventually it was decided that box had to be destroyed.
Although at the time I’m sure I was devastated, looking back I fully support my parents’ decision – I was fast on my way to developing a Quasimodo appearance. Don’t let that scare you, though, most children will probably not go to the extremes that I did.
The moral of this story is that boxes allow children to express their imagination, their creativity and their sense of self. What’s more, this kind of play establishes their stamina and commitment in the face of life’s future challenges (staying in such a small confined space for long periods of time is not easy, let me tell you).
So the next time your young child complains of being bored, or whines about how “there’s nothing to doooo”, head down to your local Tesco and ask for a spare cardboard box. It’ll be the cheapest, most hassle-free way of occupying your child, especially during the school holidays; a time that tests even the most devoted of parents’ patience.