Cardboard would seem to be a rather low-risk material for making toys. The truth is, it is a relatively safe material for making toys. Even though it is a lower risk material there are still some pretty serious precautions that need to be taken.
Many of these tips come from CardboardToys.com.
We suggest 3-7 years old. This could probably be lower because there is not much of a choking hazard, but it seems the younger kids struggle to grasp that the cardboard is unstable. Frequently they trust the cardboard to support them like a solid wall would. This can cause minor to serious injury
Cardboard is perfect for kids starting to explore with imaginative play. With a marker you can quickly and inexpensively help them turn a box into just about anything. As a reference ebeanstalk.com lists under the imagination milestones for a 3 year old, that they start to:
Use one object to represent another
Use symbolic toys (barn) in pretend play
Use a doll/puppet to participate in play
Sounds like the perfect stage of development for some cardboard boxes!
Cardboard is very lightweight and so there should not be to large of an issue if your fort happens to tip over. However, if multiple people are playing with the fort it likely that it could tip over onto one child with the other child’s weight on top of it. Just be aware that tipping over does happen.
There are a lot of companies that make and sell cardboard toys. There are even more folks out there making their own cardboard toys. Use good materials. We recommend double walled corrugated cardboard, because it is durable yet flexible. We would also recommend reinforcing all joints with tape.
Falling – Kids like to climb and may try to get on top of cardboard. The good thing is that most cardboard will simply collapse, but it can hurt trying. Just be aware of this and do not make it easy for your kid to climb, like placing cardboard stairs in your fort.
Paper cuts – The nature of working with anything paper is that you might rub the paper the wrong way and get sliced. With cardboard you can help prevent this by always folding over the exposed edges.
Hazards – when using recycled cardboard we recommend you clean the cardboard by removing all existing staples, tape, etc. A lot of cardboard has some hidden extras that could really hurt if not removed. Also beware… cardboard is very flammable.
Most importantly, as the parent you get to make a judgment call of, is my child ready for this toy.
Get some cardboard out and experiment with it before you make hand it over to your kid to play with. Try scoring, cutting, folding, gluing, just to see how the material reacts. This way you can also be the pro that teaches you kid(s) best practices. And please please have fun!
Cutting – An exacto knife and cutting board is probably the easiest way to cut cardboard. There are professional services that will do the cutting for you if you have a CAD file. Ponoko does this and has some design you can purchase or use as inspiration on their site. Here is some cool stuff people have made using Ponoko’s services.
Joints – For the joints, we recommend notching and reinforcing with tape. If you must glue, remember to use a non-toxic glue.
Folding – Folding cardboard is much easier to do along the “grain” of the corrugation. It is also helpful to depress cardboard along the line you want to fold with a solid object (sharpie cap works great).
We hope these tips are helpful. What tips do you have? What are some of your experiences working with cardboard?