The “Magic Box Game” Helps Kill Time — and Convince Kids They Have Special Powers

A cardboard box and some sleight of hand are all you need for this simple time-waster.

by Alexis Barad-Cutler

Abracadabra, folks. This is a sleight-of-hand game that will have even the most skeptical of kids thinking that magic is, indeed, real. It’s one of the best activities for kids to play at home in part because it requires just a few materials and only a tiny bit of on-your-feet thinking.

The game was inspired by an empty Amazon.com box and a little trial and error. One day my son asked if he could decorate one of our boxes and, thrilled that he wanted to entertain himself for 10 minutes, I agreed. After using every available art supply, he asked me to cut a long slit on one side of the box and then proceeded to empty as many books from his bookshelf into the box. “Look! I made a library box!” When he realized that this wasn’t the most efficient storage solution, he remembered a game he had played with one of his babysitters where you wish really hard for treasure to appear inside of a box, and sometimes, it actually “works.” Behold: The Magic Box was born.

Prep Time: About 10 minutes

Entertainment Time: 20 minutes or moreEnergy Expended by Child: Minimal

What You Need:

  • A medium-sized cardboard box that’s been opened at the top
  • A box cutter or something sharp to cut into the box (Grownups only!)
  • Markers, glitter glue, stickers, feathers – whatever crafts you like.
  • Trinkets from around the house

How to Play:

Ask your child to decorate the cardboard box as desired (and let any sticky crafts dry), transforming it into a magical keeper of secrets. Then, cut a narrow flap on one of the short sides of the box. This is where you’ll insert your trinkets into the box (e.g. a figurine, an m&m candy, a note from a fortune cookie) when a kid isn’t looking. Tell your kid this is the “special peek” slot.

Announce that it is time to play The Magic Box game. Come prepared with something hidden in your hand that will fit into the slot. Then ask everyone involved to sit around the box and stack one hand each, one atop the other. Sit on the side with the slot facing you (this is key). Then instruct players to all wish very hard for the magic box to work.

Now, insert the “magic item” through the slot. So as not to get caught, distract the players by fidgeting and moving the box or playfully saying, “No peeking!” or “Wish harder!” or “No wishing out loud!” You could also just ask them to close their eyes when they wish — wishing works better, of course, when you’re without distractions.

After a few moments pass, ask players to remove their hands, and perform a drum roll. This is integral to making sure the magic is properly transferred. Once a drum roll has progressed, ask one player to take a “special peek” inside the box.

Finally, the kids open the box and gasp when they see that there is, in fact, an object inside of it. (Sometimes the Magic Box can be a real joker, you know. Once, it gave the kids a piece of toilet paper when they tried to play the game in the bathroom.)

Magic Box doesn’t work every time, and the reason you can tell your kids is: “Magic takes a lot of energy, and needs to rest.” Truthfully, asking me to be a magician more than three times a day is pressing my luck at not getting caught.

Wrap Up:

It is so much fun to delight my children with something that seems so easy to figure out, but to them, seems like “other forces” are at play. This game is an instant mood changer during moments at home when a kid is cranky or can’t seem to get over the disappointment of the moment. I love that some novice magician skills and a cardboard box can help me convince my kids that magic is real.