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Make a Cardboard Train Craft with Kids

Make this whimsical and fun cardboard train craft with your kids! It’s an adorable circus train full of details, made to foster hours of imaginative play.

When I was little, I stayed with my grandmother for a week while my parents were on a trip. I’m sure we did a million things together that week, my grandmother and I, but the one thing I remember out of them all?

We made a cardboard train together.

She had been collecting scraps of this and that for weeks, and during our days together we transformed those scraps into the most wonderful, magical circus train.

There were monkeys hanging from the bars, a giraffe with a neck taller than anything else, and so many beautiful details. I loved everything about that train, from the making of it to the playing with it.

I’ve always wanted to recreate that magic and finally did it with my own kids! So this little cardboard train has come to life.

    How to Involve Kids in This Project

    This cardboard train is such a great project to create not just for, but with kids! There are so many moments for learning and creativity.

    First, engage your child with the task collecting your used or empty containers for a few days. Cardboard boxes, plastic tubs, and paper rolls can all be turned into this whimsical train. It’s a great project for talking about reusing, recycling, and turning something old into something new.

    You might not have the exact materials that we used, and that’s okay! Make it your own.

    Next, involve your child in the cardboard train craft by letting them help plan how it will look! Pick paint colors, animals, train design, and more.

    Finally, let them help. Crafting with kids can be daunting because you often have to slow down and release a bit of your control over the project. But that’s the beauty of making! And your kids will have that much more ownership over this fun little craft.

    The Best Kid-Friendly Tool for Cardboard Crafts

    There’s one tool that I always recommend when making cardboard crafts for kids like this cardboard train, or just crafting with kids in general. It’s one that not everybody has heard of, but comes in totally clutch.

    My favorite kid-friendly crafting tool is a low temperature glue gun!

    The beauty of this tool is that it works just as well as a high temperature glue gun, and melts glue sticks in order to help glue your work together. But it doesn’t get nearly as hot on the outside, making it more safe for little hands to help use and operate the tool.

    I’ve given myself many a glue gun burn, and if you’ve experienced that, you know it’s painful! This particular tool that I’ve linked here runs about 75 degrees cooler than a standard glue gun. It works with cool glue sticks.

    It also is a perfect size for smaller hands, so that little kids can learn to safely handle a glue gun properly.

    Why Make a Cardboard Train?

    Why not! There’s so much to love about this DIY idea.

    It encourages creativity in putting it together. No two trains will look alike, and that’s because you and your child get to decide how your train should look and work.

    It is a great project for teaching the value of reusing materials. And also wonderful for working with younger kids on fine motor skills as you build it.

    And finally, it’s a toy that functions once it’s done! Hours of creative and imaginative play are possible with this little cardboard train.

    Materials You’ll Need

    Here’s what you’ll need! Be sure to raid your craft stash and your recycling to see what you might already have on hand.

    How to Make a Cardboard Circus Train

    Let’s make a cardboard train!

    1. Cut off the bottom of an empty cereal or cracker box. Make the cuts decorative or wavy for fun. Cut out as many as you would like to have train cars.
    2. Paint the cardboard and let dry. Trim straws to your desired height and glue them all around the edge of the cardboard to create bars.
    3. Flip the circus car upside down. Glue two straws across the bottom to act as axels for the wheels. Add a cardboard circle with a center hole on the end of each straw. Glue another cardboard circle over the end of each straw to hold the wheels on.
    4. Cut an arched piece of cardboard for each side of each train car, and glue onto the tops of the straws. Add cardboard rectangles to the tops of the straws at the front and back of each train car for support. Paint or decorate all of these parts as desired.
    5. Make the engine. Cut the toilet paper roll in half with an arched shape, and cut off the top of the plastic canister. Then cut off the end of a cereal box to use as an engine base. Use more cardboard to create the back piece of the engine (it should look like a box with no back on it — an empty tissue box would work well!). Paint all pieces as desired.
    6. Glue the back of the engine onto the base and align the back edges. Then glue the canister to the front of the train base, abutting the back piece. Glue the smokestack onto the top of the canister. Then glue three small circles onto either side of the base of the engine, with a straw glued over the top of the circles.
    7. Punch holes in the ends of the engine and cars and tie them together with yarn to link up your train.

    How to Make Paper Circus Animals

    Something to note! If you don’t want to freehand the animals, we have a downloadable eBook full of kids’ craft ideas — and it has a printable for the circus animals! You can check out the eBook and everything it comes with below.

    1. Make the elephant. If you’re using the eBook, print out the animal page, cut out the elephant shapes, and trace and cut them out of gray paper. Otherwise, draw and cut out two ears and a trunk.
    2. Cut out a large gray rectangle (about 3″ x 9″), roll and glue the ends together to create the elephant’s body. Fold a little tab down on the ears and trunk and glue the tab to the body.
    3. Draw wrinkles on the front of the trunk, and eyes on the facial area.
    4. Make the lion. Again, if you’re using our printables you can cut and trace. Otherwise, start by cutting a similar rectangle (about 3″ x 9″) from yellow paper. Roll into a tube and glue.
    5. Cut out a circle of brown paper and a circle of orange paper. Then cut out an inner circle from each piece, and cut fringe on the outer edge of the circle to create a mane.
    6. Cut a yellow tail, and a small orange tuft for the end of the tail. Glue all pieces together as you see below.
    7. Draw a face on your lion.
    how to make a paper elephant
    how to make a paper elephant
    how to make a paper lion
    how to make a paper lion

    More Fun Kid Craft Ideas

    If you love this cardboard train idea, I’ve got more where this came from! Check out some of our most popular kid-friendly ideas below.

    And be sure to rate our DIY below if you try it out! xoxo

    Make a Cardboard Train Craft with Kids

    Make a Cardboard Train Craft with Kids

    Yield: Cardboard Train
    Active Time: 2 hours
    Total Time: 2 hours
    Difficulty: Easy

    A cardboard train craft is a fun and whimsical DIY to try with kiddos!

    Materials

    • empty cereal or cracker boxes
    • empty plastic canister
    • empty toilet paper roll
    • yarn
    • colored paper
    • craft paint
    • paper straws

    Tools

    • scissors
    • low temp glue gun
    • paintbrushes

    Instructions

      1. Cut off the bottom of an empty cereal or cracker box. Make the cuts decorative or wavy for fun. Cut out as many as you would like to have train cars.
      2. Paint the cardboard and let dry. Trim straws to your desired height and glue them all around the edge of the cardboard to create bars.
      3. Flip the circus car upside down. Glue two straws across the bottom to act as axels for the wheels. Add a cardboard circle with a center hole on the end of each straw. Glue another cardboard circle over the end of each straw to hold the wheels on.
      4. Cut an arched piece of cardboard for each side of each train car, and glue onto the tops of the straws. Add cardboard rectangles to the tops of the straws at the front and back of each train car for support. Paint or decorate all of these parts as desired.
      5. Make the engine. Cut the toilet paper roll in half with an arched shape, and cut off the top of the plastic canister. Then cut off the end of a cereal box to use as an engine base. Use more cardboard to create the back piece of the engine (it should look like a box with no back on it -- an empty tissue box would work well!). Paint all pieces as desired.
      6. Glue the back of the engine onto the base and align the back edges. Then glue the canister to the front of the train base, abutting the back piece. Glue the smokestack onto the top of the canister. Then glue three small circles onto either side of the base of the engine, with a straw glued over the top of the circles.
      7. Punch holes in the ends of the engine and cars and tie them together with yarn to link up your train.
      8. Make the elephant. If you're using the eBook, print out the animal page, cut out the elephant shapes, and trace and cut them out of gray paper. Otherwise, draw and cut out two ears and a trunk.
      9. Cut out a large gray rectangle (about 3" x 9"), roll and glue the ends together to create the elephant's body. Fold a little tab down on the ears and trunk and glue the tab to the body.
      10. Draw wrinkles on the front of the trunk, and eyes on the facial area.
      11. Make the lion. Again, if you're using our printables you can cut and trace. Otherwise, start by cutting a similar rectangle (about 3" x 9") from yellow paper. Roll into a tube and glue.
      12. Cut out a circle of brown paper and a circle of orange paper. Then cut out an inner circle from each piece, and cut fringe on the outer edge of the circle to create a mane.
      13. Cut a yellow tail, and a small orange tuft for the end of the tail. Glue all pieces together as you see below.
      14. Draw a face on your lion.

    Notes

    There's so much to love about this DIY idea.

    It encourages creativity in putting it together. No two trains will look alike, and that's because you and your child get to decide how your train should look and work.

    It is a great project for teaching the value of reusing materials. And also wonderful for working with younger kids on fine motor skills as you build it.

    And finally, it's a toy that functions once it's done! Hours of creative and imaginative play are possible with this little cardboard train.

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      3 thoughts on “Make a Cardboard Train Craft with Kids

      1. Great idea to use the plastic tub for the engine. Such a fun project.
        ( LOVE that lion ­čśä ! )

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