Keep kids entertained for hours creating shoebox houses

Vivienne Wynter

When I was in Grade 3 in New Zealand, my favourite activity at school was making something our teacher called ‘Spider Houses’. We were given pipe cleaners to make a little spider, a shoebox to make their home and craft materials to furnish the house. I’ve always called them Spider Houses but maybe that’s a New Zealand thing because this activity is really just a shoebox house. Maybe the spider makes it fun for little ones becuase they can imagine a cute little creature actually living in their tiny home.

I don’t have kids and was aware that during the Covid lockdowns in 2020, lots of my relatives were stuck at home with children to keep occupied. As a way to help, I offered to run a Spider House activity for kids over Zoom during the lockdowns.


The parents assembled the materials:

  • Shoeboxes, obviously!
  • Toilet rolls, paper towel rolls, any cardboard tubes
  • Aluminium foil
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Sticky tape
  • Blue tac
  • Old towels or clean rags
  • Glue stick
  • Small boxes such as matchboxes, perfume boxes
  • Clean egg cartons
  • Wrapping paper
  • Lids from milk or juice cartons
  • Scissors
  • A black marker pen
  • A hard boiled egg (or raw egg if you are game). Or a golf ball or something cylindrical.
  • Old magazines to cut images from
  • Small foil pie or cake trays you get from the bakery
  • Small figurine toys to occupy the house if the kids don’t want to make spiders (I used a little Bingo in the house I made above)
  • Any other materials you have to hand. I keep a permanent big plastic box full of materials (that would just go in recycling) handy these days. Great when babysitting.

Over the Zoom sessions (which the parents projected on their big flat screen tv or laptop  so the kids could see me clearly) I gave the children simple instructions and showed them photos for inspiration. I demonstrated how to make a spider from pipe cleaners. Lay six pipe cleaners side by side and flat on a table. Take a seventh pipe cleaner and wrap around the middle of the other six pipe cleaners for a body. Then trim the six legs and shape like a spider. If you have googly eyes to stick on, great! Not essential though.  Here’s how they look:


If you don’t have pipe cleaners just draw a spider like my nephew did in the photo.

Making a spider to live in the house is optional

Then I modelled how to make some furniture. For example, if you cover a matchbox in foil or white paper and draw the handles on with black marker, you can make a fridge, chest of drawers, cupboard or bedside table. If you wrap foil around the egg or golf ball you can make a bath or bathroom sink. It’s easy to mould foil into a shower head or tap.  I showed the kids how to cut wrapping paper and use the glue stick to wallpaper their houses. And then I said ‘Go for it. Use your imagination. You can furnish this house however you want. Readers, the kids loved this activity.

Most sessions went for two to three hours with the record set at six hours. Kids aged three to fourteen got right into this (the oldest kids often helping the younger ones). You may not be surprised to hear that the parents got way into it too. I even took time out to make my own shoebox house (occupied by Bingo at top).

The kids’ creativity blew my mind. Once nephew made a rooftop combination spa and washing machine.

There were Christmas themed shoebox houses, luxury shoebox houses with ‘shag’ carpet made from old towels. Some children used the shoebox lid to make a garden out front complete with lush green plants cut from magazines and glued to cardboard supports. At least two children made an outoor pool and a foil waterslide (supported with bamboo skewers). At one session I ran in person,  my three year old nephew took what a teabag box  and some bits of paper and cloth and made his own mini shoebox house with no instruction from me. He totally got what his older siblings were doing. (I made him a  mini spider to go in it and he made a little bed for it).

The kids were so into it, the only problem was getting them to take rest breaks and to eat and drink.  I learned the hard way the younger children will keep going when they are engaged, but then have an energy crash and the fights started! A two hour limit is probably best with the under eights. If you can stand the mess, or put everything away after a session, the children can come back to this activity (as we did at primary school, over several weeks).

Here are some ideas to inspire you and your little architects/builders/designers:

  • Cut pictures from magazines and paste them on the walls as artwork
  • Cut sections from egg cartoons to make lounge chairs
  • Make a garage or shed with a second shoebox
  • Make a spa with a foil pie dish
  • Add levels with extra shoeboxes or walls with cardboard
  • Use milk carton lids as light shades
  • Make a tiny vase from foil and fill with real teeny tiny flowers or leaves from outside

I hope the little ones in your family enjoy this activity as much as the little ones in my family do! I’ve done several sessions with my neices and nephews and it’s a great way to spend a morning or a rainy day. Recently one of the Mums told me her 6 and 9 year old disappeared into their room for hours and came out with some pretty spiffy looking shoebox houses they decided to make with things they found themselves. Isn’t that as good as it gets with kids?

Here they are:


Once I realised how popular this activity was, I asked my local Facebook community page if anyone had shoeboxes to give away and several neighbours contacted me to say ‘Yes please take my designers shoeboxes away!’ So stock up for the holidays if you think this will work for you and your family.

Have fun and if your children do create some shoebox houses I’d love to see your pix on The Pineapple Facebook or Instagram pages. Here are some pics for inspo:




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