Simplifying Science

The Gift of Nothing

Yup, you read that right. An empty cardboard box is a great gift for a toddler!

Not joking here. Pediatricians have been putting this at the top of their go-to gift list for years. I mean, think about it. When a two-year old opens a box, how often is she more interested in the box? You are right if you said most of the time. There's paper, ribbons, sometimes even bubble wrap. What more could they want?!

I will disagree on how long this trick can stretch, though. The report covered here suggests up to age five - I say good luck. When my daughter was three, or maybe she was four, I tried to replicate the magic of the gift of nothing and she didn't exactly go for it. So then I stashed a new pair of underpants in a separate box and "gifted" those to her. She opened the box and did a double take. Then she asked me, sweetly but with a subtle smirk foreshadowing her future teen years, "Did you just give me underwear?"

Yes, yes I did. And we laughed so hard that every year since, at least one holiday present has been a box with underpants.

Skip the costly electronic games and flashy digital gizmos. Pediatricians say the best toys for tots are old-fashioned hands-on playthings that young children can enjoy with parents — things like blocks, puzzles — even throwaway cardboard boxes — that spark imagination and creativity.

“A cardboard box can be used to draw on, or made into a house,” said Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, co-author of a new report on selecting toys for young children, up to around age 5. READ MORE