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Shoe Box Tasks & Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers

by Erica Loop, studioD

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, by 3 years old, most children have the hand and finger skills to copy a simple shape, use scissors and even write a letter or two. Play up your little learner's fine motor development with an artsy shoe box activity. Toddlers and preschoolers can reuse shoe boxes and turn them into magnificent mini-masterpieces.


Your toddler or preschooler can transform an old shoe box into a bold new world through the art of the diorama. He can create a pint-sized picnic area, a mini zoo or any other scene that firs within the shoe box size. Take the lid off the box and turn it on its side to start the activity. After choosing a specific theme, help your young artist to draw or paint a background on the inside of the box. If he is making a jungle diorama, he might add a sky, a few lush trees and plants to the background. Help him to draw animals, people or objects on card stock -- or another heavier weight paper -- to populate the diorama. Cut them out, fold the bottom under to make a tab and glue them to the bottom of the box.

Valentine's Box

As Valentine's Day approaches, you may get a note from your child's day care or preschool teacher announcing the need for a card holding box. Instead of buying one, help your child build her own crafty version with a reused shoe box. While you may have the ability to cover the entire box with paper easily, your toddler or preschooler doesn't have the fine motor skills to try this task on her own. Avoid doing the entire project for her and simplify the activity by allowing your child to paint the box. Use a holiday colored non-toxic tempera paint such as red or pink. Cut a slot for the Valentine's Day cards in the top of the box with kids' safety scissors. Give your child a choice of decorative items to add such as glitter and glue, craft foam hearts, sequins or tissue paper. Use stencils or stickers to help your child write her name on the top or side of the box.

Shoe Box Aquarium

If your little one is obsessed with all things ocean -- but you don't think that he's ready for his own real aquarium -- help him create his own mock version. Take the lid off a shoe box and have your child paint the entire inside with blue tempera paint. After the paint dries, turn the box on one of its long sides and get ready to decorate the underwater area. Glue craft sand to the bottom, attach thinly-cut green streamers to the inside top of the box to look like sea plants and add in a few fish. Prop plastic toy fish against the back of the box or glue them from the top and the bottom. Cut a piece of blue cellophane to a size that is slightly larger than the box's opening. Glue or tape the cellophane around the edges of the box to make the entire aquarium look like it's under water.

Doll House

Your toddler or preschooler can build her own doll house using recycled shoe boxes and a few basic art materials. Gather together at least four shoe boxes -- minus the lids. Turn each box into its own room, making a kitchen, bed room or a living room. Have your child decorate the insides of the boxes to match each room's interior. Glue carpet or fabric scraps to the bottom of the boxes as rugs or simply have your child make crayon drawings. Line the boxes up and stack them on top of each other to make a house shape. Tape the boxes to one another to hold them in place. After the crafting is done, let your little one add her dolls' furniture, and the dolls themselves, to the cardboard creation.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

  • Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images