A child on a skateboard with cardboard airplane wings and flight goggles and a helmet. Riding down a paved road.

Cardboard engineering—three fun ideas

engineeringBuddy Neu, Experience DeveloperJun 5, 2020

When my latest package was delivered, I looked at the box as it sat on my living room floor. I saw all kinds of possibilities. It would make a great pirate ship, or maybe a robot, it could even be the beginning of a little city of boxes.

Sure, it was only a box. But it could become all the things I just mentioned and so much more. With a little imagination, some simple tools, and engineering principles, a corrugated box (also known as a cardboard box) can become just about anything you want it to be. Whether young or all grown up, making things out of cardboard requires us to imagine, plan, build, adjust and improve our creation. When we build with cardboard, we use an engineering design process.

Give it a try! With all the boxes coming into our homes during these stay-at-home days, there’s no end to the possibilities.

To get started, gather your materials

What you will need:

  • A box, a piece, or pieces of cardboard

  • Tape—all kinds are useful, masking tape is most versatile

  • Safety scissors

  • Pencil or pen

  • Paper for planning your project

  • A ruler or tape measure for marking things to size and drawing straight lines for cutting or scoring

What you might want:

  • Adult-sized scissors or box cutter (Sharp tools require adult supervision.)

  • Markers, crayons, paint, and other decorative materials

  • Whatever else you want or need to complete your project

Before you pick up that roll of tape, take a look at this diagram of a simple engineering design cycle to apply the engineering design cycle to your project.

As you plan, you might ask questions about the materials you have available. Do you have a big piece of cardboard or small? Is it strong and sturdy, or floppy? If you’ll make something to wear, how will you get it on and off? Does it need to stand up? Test your project while you're making it and revise as needed.

Now, get busy! Your cardboard engineering design challenge awaits. Pick your favorite or try all three.

Make something you can wear

Cardboard seems like an unusual material to make something you can wear, but you can do it. Create a top hat that is soooo tall it would make Abraham Lincoln jealous. How will you get it to stand? Or make a mask, but one that’s not too scary! How about a suit of armor, shoes and all?

Make something that can move across different surfaces

It’s a car! It’s a plane! It’s a car-plane-rocket-train-thingy. How will you get your design to move? Does it have wheels? Will it float on water?

Make something that is entertaining

A board game sounds fun. What about a pinball machine or a cardboard theater for a puppet show? Think about some of your favorite games. What do you like about them?

After you’re finished with your cardboard creation, it’s selfie time! Let us know how your project turned out. Take a photo of your creation and post it using #ShareYourDiscovery.

You see, with imagination and some engineering, cardboard can become almost anything. I hope you had fun.

A big thank you to International Paper for sponsoring this cardboard engineering activity.