/ Parenting, Shopping, Technology

An all-singing, all-dancing toy vs a cardboard box

A happy family wearing cardboard boxes on their heads

A report just published by Ribena found almost 50% of children prefer playing with a cardboard box rather than the toy it contains. Yet nearly a fifth of parents spent over £200 on gifts for their child last Christmas.

With the festive season fast approaching, it’s unlikely to be any different this year. There’s lots of pressure on parents to buy the latest pricey hi-tech gadget with noises and flashing lights. After all, these toys often make educational claims that they will help your child learn. As a parent of a three-year-old, I know I’ve bought into promises that this is the toy that will teach your child to read, to count, to become a genius.

We asked experts to assess the claims of these ‘educational’ toys. The experts gave their verdicts and found that, while the toys did offer some educational benefits, some of the claims they made were vague and misleading. I think these toys have their place, but they certainly aren’t essential to your child’s successful development.

Tech vs traditional

With this in mind I was intrigued to see what the Slow Toy Awards 2012 had to offer. Now in its second year, these awards were created to honour traditional toys that are the antithesis of the tech-heavy or plastic offerings on the market today.

The winning toys share common ground in that they are all designed to encourage imaginative and creative play. There were beautiful stacking hoops made from a multitude of different materials and fabrics (all sustainably sourced) and traditional wooden puzzles with multiple solutions. There was even a soft doll the same size as a six-month old baby, so it can wear your child’s old baby clothes.

These are lovely gifts that would hopefully last a family through several years, children and perhaps generations. But while you may feel your money is better spent on toys like these, is there any need to spend money at all?

Imagination is everything

It seems to me the key is allowing children the freedom to let their imagination run wild and this shouldn’t require vast expenditure.

Cardboard boxes can become spaceships, blankets draped over the top of tables make cosy dens, saucepans and spoons a wonderfully noisy drum kit. My daughter will spend hours pretending to take the bus, or will play nursery teacher by putting her soft toys to bed. She also eschews the realistic pretend food in her play kitchen by making mud pies and leaf sandwiches in the garden.

I’m as guilty as any parent of buying too much for my child, but I’m slowly learning that more money doesn’t always equal more fun. What sort of toys will you be buying this Christmas? Do you have any tips for cheap, imaginative toys and games?


This is something that I’ve heard so often through the years that there has to be some truth in it, yet, whilst I did indeed used to play with boxes, I have absolutely no memory of receiving Christmas presents and then playing with the boxes.

This has been known about for a great many years – at least since 1945 to my personal knowledge. It encourages creativity – whereas the vast majority of toys restrict creativity to the toy. I certainly enjoyed playing with boxes – so did my children. My father actually built a very large cardboard castle complete with drawbridge to contain a set of Cavalry – The castle was used for several years – well after the Cavalry were lost or broken – It was so many things – not just a “castle”

The most successful toys for my two boys are lego and a soft football that’s safe to chuck around indoors.

And they both love playing with empty boxes.

Perhaps Which? should be testing cardboard boxes and suggesting some best buys. As far as I know, they have only tested some of the ‘free gifts’ inside. 🙂

To be serious, parents should remove any large metal staples, plastic bags, etc, so that kids can play safely with their boxes.