Screen-Free City-Building Activity

Mar 2, 2015


In a world where screens are everywhere—be it iPods, iPads, TVs or video game consoles—our children have no shortage of ways to play in the digital world. But what happens when mom turns off the screens? Just recently, in order to preserve and enhance imaginations for non-digital play, I have instated a "no screens while the sun shines" rule in our home. Surprisingly, my kids have not staged a coup, there has been no wailing or gnashing of teeth, and only a few "I'm bored, moms" tossed about here and there.

However, they do crave the building and creating aspects of on-screen games like Minecraft. The power to build their own cities and worlds as they please is highly satisfying. And rightly so. So today, I let my two littlest ones, ages 10 and 8, plan a create their own little cities, right at the kitchen table.

They glued, and painted, marked, and taped until the sun went down. It kept them just as busy, and just as engaged as an afternoon with an iPad in their laps.


Two children busy working on their box cities.

They started out with a shallow cardboard box each, some wooden cubes from the dollar store, some craft paint, markers, glitter, wood glue, school glue, glue stick, cotton balls, toothpicks and coloured paper. Within a couple of hours, they had created the cutest little tiny cities, complete with clouds, road signs and cars.

A completed box city, complete with buildings made from wooden blocks, cotton-ball clouds, painted roads and small cars.

They both chose to paint the inside walls of their boxes blue for the sky. One painted the floor of the box green, the other used green paper and cut it to fit on bottom. Roads were planned and painted...


A child painting yellow lines on a road inside a box city.

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Buildings were created by adding a small amount of wood glue to the tiny wooden cubes and stacking them as they pleased. The buildings were then painted and windows made with permanent markers or craft paint.

A stack of five wooden cubes glued together and being painted grey.

Once the buildings and roads were in place, water fountains, hospitals, ponds, power stations and—funny enough—wifi towers were installed in their little cities. They used cotton balls to created clouds, and glitter for power stations and water reflections, and they painted the outside of the box to pretty it up even more.

A view of the inside of a box city as a child paints the outside of the box.

Their cities were built and they were beautiful. I had challenged them to build so that the whole box could be turned upside down upon completion and nothing would fall out. They both succeeded in this challenge and were quite proud of themselves. If you're making these at home, the fun isn't over when the building is! You can extend the play activity by adding little micro cars to the box for your child to drive around in their new little city any time they want!

Article Author Arlee Greenwood
Arlee Greenwood

Arlee is an Early Childhood Educator, earning her degree at BYU Idaho. She runs a government accredited care center in her home in Red Deer, AB. She studied with the New York Institute of Photography and she owns her own photography studio. Arlee is a mother of 6, an aspiring yogi, a lover of books, bento box lunches, travel, good food and wine. She’s a blogger in her “spare time” and she will never say no to chocolate. Find her at Small Potatoes, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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