Cardboard Box, Clay and Sand

Cardboard boxes are industrially prefabricated boxes, primarily used for packaging goods and materials.

The cardboard was invented in China circa 1600 while the English created the first commercial cardboard box in 1817. It is made of pleated paper, a form of corrugated board, initially serving as lining for men’s hats. Later in the same decade, corrugated cardboard was used to cushion delicate glassware during shipment. “Stronger, lined corrugated cardboard soon followed. American Robert Gair produced the first really efficient cardboard box in 1879. His die-cut and scored box could be stored flat and then easily folded for use. Refinements followed, enabling cardboard cartons to substitute for labor-intensive, space-consuming, and weighty wooden boxes and crates. Since then, cardboard boxes have been widely appreciated for being strong, light, inexpensive, and recyclable.” (Retrieved from “The Strong: National Museum of Play, Cardboard Box-National Toy Hall of Fame,” inducted 2005). Aside from its main purpose, the cardboard box has been very appealing to children in making it a toy.

This “toy” is developmentally appropriate for a child in the 3-5 years age group as this is when a child gains the ability to mentally represent an object that is not present. Cardboard boxes are available everywhere and these offer a wide range of scenes that can be created using the child’s imagination. Castles and cabins, cars and trucks, anything that the children can develop fun stories with will likewise develop their cognitive and socio-emotional skills. The size of the cardboard box, its light weight and flexibility all makes it appealing to the child because he is able to manipulate, cut and change its form to suit every story he creates. Considering cardboard boxes are readily available (and they come in free) in the household, a parent aware of its benefits would eagerly pick this as a toy. Even a teacher who will initially guide the child to play with it and provide other materials such as paint and markers can eventually distance herself and will be able to observe the child for a good 30-40 minutes of exploration and child-directed learning and amusement.

Clay dough or play dough is a soft modelling compound played with by children in art activities. This can be created in various ways, mostly involving the mixing of flour, water, salt, baby oil or vegetable oil, and food color. In the 1930’s, this was initially used as wallpaper cleaner and was reworked to modelling clay for use in schools in the 1950’s. 

Clay dough malleability makes it easily manipulated by the little hands of 3-5 year olds. With all its properties, combined with the emerging skills of a young child who is developing fine motor skills, she is readied for more complex coloring, drawing and writing. Activities with clay dough: starting from pounding and squashing it, to turning it into a ball, to rolling it and cutting it into small pieces then making figures as she desires; all help to strengthen the hand muscles and promote bilateral coordination using both hands and arms. This makes it developmentally appropriate for the 3-5 years age group. The variety of colors available makes the clay dough appealing to the child. Combining different colors and making figures stimulates creativity and imagination which likewise entertain and amuse them. Parents would select this toy considering its ingredients are readily available and fun to make with promoting some bonding time. It is also very popular and has become a figure in the school setting for early childhood educators who choose it. In the school setting, a lot of skills can be mastered and developed that are required for more complex skills; pinching develops the pincer grasp for writing, rolling big and small/long and short develops comparing sizes for future math skills, and left to right sequencing of shapes/colors/figures prepares the child for reading skills.

Sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles. The composition of sand is highly variable, depending on the local rock sources and conditions, but the most common constituent of sand is silica, usually in the form of quartz. The second most common type of sand is calcium carbonate which has mostly been created, over the past half billion years, by various forms of life, like coral and shellfish. It is, for example, the primary form of sand apparent in areas where reefs have dominated the ecosystem. 

At 3 to 5 years of age, children’s gross motor skills are being mastered and continuously developed. Sand in sand pits/boxes/trays can be dug, scooped, brushed and cleaned up thereby promoting physical movement and development of the large muscles. Even fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination are repeatedly practiced and improved as children become familiar with sand and learn to play with it with a wide variety of accessories. Social skills are similarly promoted in the sand table as children communicate their roles to others and as they work together to negotiate these roles. Sand appeals to the young child because once they are familiarized with it, the soothing effects of the sensory experience sets in. Aside from that, children in the 3-5 age groups love to explore and using sand during play makes them build, pour, sift and pretend. Whether parents need more time for other chores or need time to spend with their child will select sand as medium. A child can be kept busy for one good hour or two in the sand pit while a parent tries to get things done. A parent can also encourage arts through sand drawings, making colored sand, and sand molding while sharing precious moments and making stories with them. As an early childhood educator, sand would also be a preference in building confidence for more complex science and math concepts. These include: the use of measuring spoons and cups, weighing scales, magnets, plastic bottles, funnels, and a long list of other materials.


Crosser, S., Ph.D. (2008).  Early Childhood News, “Making the Most of Sand Play”

Dr. Toy (Stevanne Auerbach) (2012), “Why This Toy?”

Friedman, S. (2013) NAEYC. “8 Things to Know About Toys”

Guyton, G. (2011). Young Children, NAEYC September 2011 issue. “Using Toys to Support Infant-Toddler Learning and Development”

NAEYC (n.d.). “Good Toys for Young Children”

OT Mom Learning Activities (n.d.). “Playdough Activities to Improve School Skills”

Santrock, John W. (2011). Life-Span Development, 13th ed., McGraw Hill Publishing (p.218-223). Chapter 7, Physical and Cognitive Development in Early Childhood.

Sayre N.E. & Gallagher J.D. (2001). The Young Child and the Environment: Issues Related to Health, Nutrition, Safety, and Physical Activity. “Movement Skills” p.169.

Zero to Three, National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families (n.d.). “Tips for Choosing Toys for Toddlers”