Create your own cardboard creatures! Use slotted construction to build real or imaginary animals with thin cardboard and scissors. Creating connections using slots means no glue required, and parts can be rearranged in whimsical and unexpected ways.
This activity is an opportunity to engage in hands-on building, reimagine a box to create a set of interchangeable component parts, flatten 3D forms into 2D shapes (and then use them to build 3D structures), repurpose recycled materials, explore parts and patterns, and remember that the world around us is editable.
To construct a cardboard creature, it's important to gather your building materials ahead of time so that they're within reach when making. Here are some materials we like to start with (also available as a downloadable PDF below).
☐ Thin Cardboard Boxes: Gather some thin cardboard packaging of different sizes such as cereal boxes, tissue boxes, and paper towel tubes.
☐ Scissors: Make sure you can cut the thin cardboard you collected with your scissors.
☐ Drawing supplies: Like pencils, markers, and colored pencils.
For each of these categories, look for objects you have around your space (and in your recycling bin).
We are passionate about sharing our work and developing a community of people interested in these activities, practices, and ideas. This materials list is free to download and use to help you get started with tinkering, whether it's at home, at school, or anywhere else.
Break Down Your Box
Before you can make a set of cardboard component parts, you'll need to transform your cardboard box into a flat sheet. Take a close look at your cardboard box as you begin to break it down. What are the different parts? Do you notice flaps, seams, or edges? Explore some cardboard box anatomy while transforming your 3D box into a 2D surface.
Connect with Slots
Using flaps from your cardboard box, practice cutting out a thin sliver to make a slot. Cut a slot in each flap and try connecting the pieces. Experiment with cutting longer, shorter, thicker, or thinner slots.
Add Parts and Patterns
Once you've mastered the slotted construction technique, draw out a set of components for your creature onto your thin cardboard. What different parts does your animal have? How will you make it stand up? Draw near the edge of your cardboard sheet so that you have some to spare in case you want to change your initial idea or add new parts to your construction.
Slotted construction makes it easy to add parts with personality like feet, wings, spines, tentacles, and eyes. Create a creature and add patterns to your construction with markers, colored pencils, and other drawing materials. Here are some tips we've found helpful to keep in mind:
- Test early: Decorate your pieces after you try assembling your creature. Make sure that the parts fit together as expected before spending a lot of time on embellishments.
- Go on a cardboard treasure hunt: Consider collecting different kinds of colorful cardboard packaging to incorporate patterns and textures. Check out the fish with tissue box scales below!
- Make collaborative combinations: Create new hybrid animals by combining parts from your different constructions. Build with a friend, and then recombine your animals in unexpected (and sometimes silly) ways.
View Inspiring Examples
Check out some examples of real, imaginary, and combined creatures in our gallery!
Story Time + Tinkering
We've collected a set of our favorite books to use as inspiration for engaging with specific tinkering activities as part of our Story Time + Tinkering initiative. Learn more about Story Time + Tinkering →
With simple and compelling illustrations, Not a Box by Antoinette Portis visually reminds us of all the different ways a box is not just a box, if you add a little bit of imagination. We love using it as inspiration for creating our own projects that use recycled materials in creative ways, and taking a second look at everyday materials.
What else is on our cardboard construction bookshelf? Try pairing this activity with some of our favorite stories about building with boxes, reimagining recycled materials, and expressing ideas through construction.
Boxitects by Kim Smith
We love this STEAM-rich story about building with cardboard boxes because it centers two female builders of color, is filled with inspiring illustrations of cardboard constructions, emphasizes the power of collaboration, and showcases all different kinds of making — from blanketeers and spaghetti-tects to tin-foilers and egg-cartoneers.
A Box Story by Kenneth Kit Lamug
This book is a compelling reminder of all of the possibilities in a simple box. What happens when we can look at everyday objects and recycled materials with a little more creativity?
Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
With simple and compelling illustrations, Not a Box visually reminds us of all the different ways a box is not just a box, if you add a little bit of imagination.
Be a Maker by Katey Howes
"Ask yourself this question in the morning when you wake. In a world of possibilities, today, what will you make?" This book is full of beautifully detailed illustrations of a whole suite of inspiring projects.
Slotted construction makes it easy to add parts with personality like feet, wings, spines, tentacles, and eyes. Create a creature and add embellishment to your construction to make it your own. Consider exploring different kinds of cardboard to incorporate colors and textures, and add your own patterns with drawing supplies.
For some tips to get started, join our friend and fellow tinkerer Mat in turning your slotted constructions into creatures. Mat is the founder of Dowit, a platform dedicated to fostering young children's creativity through making. Here, he shares some playful ideas for constructing your own cardboard creature!