Why ‘the box it came in’ is often the most popular toy

Couriers will be delivering millions of parcels of all shapes and sizes around Christmas and perhaps the most famous courier of them all, Santa Claus, will be leaving some bright and shiny toys for children to play with.

They’ll have carefully written their letters, maybe made a few amendments along the way, and most children will know exactly what they want.

However, many parents will tell you that after the initial excitement of that new toy subsides, the most popular thing to play with turns out to be the cardboard box it came in.

Playing with packaging is often when kids have the most fun and there have even been psychological studies done to work out just what is so appealing about a large, brown cardboard box.

There are many reasons why the box it came in can wind up being the most popular toy. Here are just a few.

Space and security

For very small children who are just exploring their world. Playing inside a cardboard box can give them a good sense of spatial awareness. They’ll want to get into it and see how they fit into it. The world of adults can seem huge and daunting, so toddlers can find some security in the smaller confines of a cardboard box. A smaller space can remind children of the comfort of the womb and that is something which stays with them for many years, even into adulthood

It’s not just toddlers, though, who find comfort. Older children will turn a cardboard box into a den or fort, giving them a sense of security.


You might think there is nothing drabber than a brown cardboard box, for many children it can be a blank canvas. With the help of some crayons, scissors and sticky tape it can be transformed into a car or rocket. It can also be flattened out and used to draw on, creating all manner of masterpieces on it with crayons, markers or paint. This cultivates their imaginations and transports them to weird and wonderful worlds.

Independence and control

Cardboard may not look much to an adult, but for a child, it can represent something that gives them some sort of independence and control. It’s their little world and they can invite you in if they want. They are empowered by the fact they get to make their own little space for themselves. They can hide in it and ask you to find them, giving them the chance to take control of the play.


You might not think that a cardboard box can stimulate a child’s sense, but it can in a more subtle way. While there are lots of toys that have bright lights and make lots of noises, a child can enjoy great sensory play with a cardboard box. There are different textures, it makes different noises depending on how you touch it and there can even be a certain smell to it. These can all help children test out their senses while playing.

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