Kindergarteners decorated these houses made of recycled cardboard.

This season of brown paper packages tied up in strings—delivered by our postal carrier and the express trucks— generates a lot of one of my favorite materials, cardboard. Cardboard just happens to be pretty close to the color of some of the lower molasses-content gingerbread recipes, and as a material cardboard is deliciously sturdy, cheap, and versatile!

In this project, I show you how to make blank cardboard gingerbread houses for kids to decorate with paper, stickers, holiday candy, perhaps even some of the leftover Halloween candy (that the Switch Witch stole from your kids and hid on top of the refrigerator so you could use it later for just this inedible purpose!)

Last winter, I produced two dozen little cardboard “gingerboard” houses for my eldest’s kindergarten class to decorate in the final days before the holiday break. Because I was bringing these to a swarm of 5- and 6-year olds, it was important for us to use boxes that were all about the same size, and small enough that the kids could get the surfaces well covered before losing interest. So I came up with a template I could use to make them all similar but slightly different.

boxhouseMaking a whole village of blank gingerboard houses was a bit more ambitious an undertaking than I expected, yet not quite as exhausting as baking 24 houses would have been. Later, I felt I’d slighted my younger child’s preschool class by not making dozens of cardboard houses for them, so I made one big one using a large plain cardboard parcel that came to our doorstep. (See left.) The preschoolers decorated this one collaboratively with pompoms and such.  I describe the simple way to make a nice sturdy roof for a house-ready box in the final two steps of this project.

playhouseThis method is useful beyond just holiday crafting. I used the same construction trick for the roof to build a playhouse for my kids out of my neighbors’ appliance carton. That recycled cardboard structure lasted an astonishing three years under the harsh treatment of two very rambunctious little guys! In that time it lost 3 of 4 windows and its door came off its hinges, but I’d guess it lasted longer than the cardboard playhouse I’ve seen sold commercially. (Our hearty house is pictured right. The round features were traced around the lid of our largest skillet. Having been outgrown by my guys, this 3’x3’x4′ house traveled to a local daycare for one final hurrah.)

If you’d like to make much nicer boxes to wrap gifts, check out this fancier design by Billie and Tootie in Make:Projects. Also, check out the adorable cardboard gingerbread man project.

For the project described below, making small houses from flat cardboard, get the cutting and scoring template here.


Project Steps

Cut and score the cardboard to the right basic shape. (Or, if you are starting with a box, skip to the end of this project.)

Use the template PDF ( )

Cut cardboard 2.5 times wider than it is tall, with the ridges running parallel to the shorter sides.

Hint: Scale up the above template to fit the width of your piece of cardboard, and poke key points with pins.

Cut & score vertical lines with a metal-edged ruler. Slice all the way through your cardboard only on the roof part! Cut your corrugated cardboard all the way through along the solid black lines as indicated in the Gingerboard House template. Score your cardboard by cutting halfway deep along the dotted blue lines in the template.

Do you want your gingerboard house to be taller? Extend the template down at the bottom without changing the roof

Score the front and rear horizontal roof lines. (Skip the house’s sides. You’ll score them next.)

Cut and score the roof shape.

Identify the peak of the roof. (A compass helps: it’s where the front & back roofs would meet.)

Do you want your gingerboard house’s roof to be flatter or steeper? You’ll need to extend the height of the roof in 10 spots in the template: the 4 scored, diagonal lines that define the roof itself, and the 6 vertical lines (4 of which will line up with the scored, diagonal roof lines.) Doing this will alter the roof’s pitch.

Score the side roof lines, and cut off the two shallow triangles from the top on each side of the house.

If your roof segments aren’t exactly the same length, you can always trim a little off the top. You’ll be adding a separate roof on top of this one, so a little sloppiness here is ok.

Add a door (and windows?)

I like to have the door open outward, as it’s easier to open For your door to open inwardly, score its hinge on the other side of the cardboard.

If you want to add windows, you have at least 3 options: (1) Cut out a cluster of 4 to make a paned window; (2) Cut a sideways H shape all the way through, and then score the cardboard to make shutter hinges that swing in or out; (3) Just cut a simple rectangle.

Assemble it.

To assemble, fold back the four triangles which will support the roof, then line up the cuts that were vertical with the scored roof lines (the diagonals.)

Connect the roof with standard staples or hot glue. You’ll have to think through the order of the staples. I stapled the rear roof first, then the front roof, and finally put two staples to connect the house above the door (i.e. connecting the left and right edge in the original template.)

Add a roof.

Take a flat piece of cardboard, probably about 9″x7″, but measure your roof base and then add 1″ to 2″ in each direction for the overhang. The corrugation can run either horizontally or vertically on your roof, depending on your preference. If you’re planning to cover it with decorations, the direction of the corrugation won’t matter at all. Using exposed corrugation (by carefully peeling back one face of the cardboard.)

Note: Younger kids may prefer to decorate by drawing, writing their name, or gluing on decor while the roof is still flat. Give the roof back to them now before you attach it to the house.

On the undecorated side (or the side that you do not plan to decorate), score the piece of cardboard along the peak of the roof (i.e halfway across, in our example at the 4.5″ mark.) This cut should go only halfway through the cardboard, and on the side that will not be visible when you are done.

Attach the roof to the roof base of the house using white glue or hot glue. Carefully place the Ruth on the glue and make sure it is centered horizontally.

While the roof dries, you can use a book to weigh down the roof and make sure it sticks. (Be careful to use a book you don’t love, however, as this can weaken the binding of your book.)

Add a base.

Take a flat piece of cardboard, probably about 9″x9″, large enough to make a little yard around the house. I don’t have any pictures of this step but you can see house placement on the base in these shots from the snowy, cardboard kindergarten village.

Position the house as you’d like it to be. It can be diagonal, centered, or anywhere inbetween.

Use hot glue or white glue to affix the house to the base.


Our kindergarten teacher brought in lots of different kinds of stickers and decor. Be creative! Extra points for using surprising materials!

ALTERNATE: Start with a box

If you have a box that is ready to be transformed into a house, use the same trick for creating a nice stable roof base, and add a separate flat piece as above for the roof.

The trick for doing this is making sure the side flaps are long enough for your roof depth.

ALTERNATE: More pictures.

Just want you to see more pictures of making the the roof using an existing box.

You’ll notice that I removed the base of this box. I find that the base flaps and tape make the house a little unstable for kids when they’re decorating the houses.