Make: A Modern DIY Cardboard Shape Puzzle

Geometric shapes – the loves of my life! While playing around with some basic shapes this week, I stumbled upon the idea for this hip (and incredibly simple!) DIY cardboard shape puzzle.

Wooden board puzzles are such a wonderful learning toy, but in all honesty, I feel like they often don’t get enough use. I tend to think they fit into a class of items I call “unitaskers” – a toy (or any kind of item) with only one purpose or very limited use. As swoon-worthy, beautifully-built, or durable as these wooden toys are, it always seems the interest wanes fairly quickly, and the puzzles are often left sitting on the shelf after only a couple playing sessions.

CLICK TO MAKE A CARDBOARD SHAPE PUZZLE ALONG WITH US!

When playing around with my shapes this week, I realized that I had all the basics for a board puzzle sitting right in front of me. Better yet, most of the materials were recycled and recyclable. This cardboard puzzle DIY was quick and easy, and it looks so darn cute when finished! So grab some cardboard, save your juice bottlecaps and say goodbye to limited-use toy purchase guilt! Watch the DIY, then read on for the full material list, link to our printable shape pack, and more details!

Interested in more shape activities? This kinetic paper shape art is a perfect way for kids who are a bit older to experiment with simple shapes in motion! And artists of all ages will enjoy our scrap paper quick collages that encourage exploration of basic shapes and composition.

To make your own DIY cardboard shape puzzle you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains a few Woodpeckers Crafts and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • 2 Pieces of cardboard (ours were 11″ x 12″ and one side was white – for contrast)
  • Recycled Juice Bottlecaps (or something similar to use for knobs)
  • X-Acto knife or utility blade
  • Scissors
  • Craft glue or a glue gun (I like using this low-temp kind with kids)

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

These shapes are so simple that you don’t necessarily need our template – you can use cookie-cutters or other household items to trace your geometric shapes. However, if you’re like me and enjoy everything perfectly-sized and want a little extra challenge and interest, then our printable templates will definitely make the process easier (ps…the pack also includes shapes cards in 3 different styles for memory games, flashcards or other learning tools!)

Our printable pack of geometric shapes has 5 patterned, colorful and modern variations on classic simple shapes for endless learning uses, games and more.

DIY Cardboard Shape Puzzle Instructions:

  1. Print our patterned shape templates or draw your own

    Print out the desired pages of our PDF shape template printable and cut out all the shapes. We used 2 copies – one for each side of our puzzle pieces, but you don’t have to put it together exactly as we did.

    Use recycled materials to DIY your own super hip cardboard shape puzzle! A perfect learning toy for toddlers.

  2. Trace shapes on to cardboard

    Using a pencil or marker, trace around all your shapes. I took with our shapes facing pattern-side up so you could see I used the printable cut shapes for tracing, but I’d recommend placing them pattern-side down. This will keep you from getting ink or marks on the “nice” side. 🙂

    Use recycled materials to DIY your own super hip cardboard shape puzzle! A perfect learning toy for toddlers.

  3. Carefully cut the shapes out of the cardboard

    Using an X-Acto knife or utility blade carefully (and slowly!) cut along
    the traced marks. You’ll be using both the shapes AND the board with the cutouts, so you don’t want to overshoot your lines or use scissors to cut pieces away. This is the most tedious part of the process, but once you’re done it’s smooth sailing! I found it was easiest to make all my cuts on the back, then flip the board over and go over all the lines before pushing out the pieces – just to make sure I didn’t tear away any bits when pushing out the pieces.

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  4. Smooth edges of shapes


    The fit of the pieces will be extremely snug, so if you’d like to make it a little easier for your toddler, I recommend pushing the sides of the cutout shapes a bit with your finger, stripping a little extra away with an X-Acto knife, or using a small piece of sandpaper to make the cutouts just a tiny bit wider.

    Use recycled materials to DIY your own super hip cardboard shape puzzle! A perfect learning toy for toddlers.

  5. Glue the cutout board on to a solid piece of cardboard the same size

    Using craft glue or a hot glue gun, glue your cutout board onto your second (same-sized) solid piece of cardboard. Voila – you have your board!  Set aside to let dry completely.

    Use recycled materials to DIY your own super hip cardboard shape puzzle! A perfect learning toy for toddlers.

  6. Glue patterned paper front on to each shape puzzle pieces

    Glue the patterned shapes onto your cardboard puzzle pieces (fronts only, or front and back as we did). We just used a glue stick and it worked great, but if you’d like a little extra protection from small hands (and mouths!) you can add a layer of mod podge over each one.

    Use recycled materials to DIY your own super hip cardboard shape puzzle! A perfect learning toy for toddlers.

  7. Add plastic bottle cap knobs to each puzzle piece

    To finish off your puzzle pieces, add some knobs! This will make it much easier to grab the pieces out of the board. Grab your bottlecaps, and using craft glue or a glue gun, glue a “knob” to the top and middle of each puzzle piece. I tried both and have to say, the glue gun worked better as far as durability (and is dry within seconds – can’t beat that!)

    Use recycled materials to DIY your own super hip cardboard shape puzzle! A perfect learning toy for toddlers.

  8. Try it out!

    Before passing this on to your little one, be sure to put in all of the puzzle pieces to make sure they fit properly – nothing’s more frustrating than puzzle pieces that don’t fit into place! If any feel too tight, you can shave away a bit of the cardboard using an X-Acto knife so they easily pop into place.

    Use recycled materials to DIY your own super hip cardboard shape puzzle! A perfect learning toy for toddlers.

I am thrilled with the way our DIY cardboard shape puzzle turned out! I also love that we were able to recycle a few things in the process, didn’t have to buy a “unitasking” toy, and will be able to recycle almost all of this once the interest has waned.

Ways to use your DIY puzzle for learning and play

  • INTRODUCE PATTERN OR COLOR MATCHING. We left the cutout shapes on our board cardboard to keep it simple, but you can fill them in with soli colors that match the puzzle pieces, or print a second set of patterned shapes and glue them into the cutouts. Practice saying and repeating the names of the colors with your kids as they match up the puzzle pieces to the cutout shape.
  • USE FOR SHAPE RECOGNITION. Use your puzzle as a prompt, asking your toddler to put in the circle puzzle piece, then the star, etc. Begin by pointing to each shape on the board and saying the name, then ask your kiddo to find the matching shape in their puzzle pieces. You can even write the names of each shape in the cutout. While little ones might not be able to read the shape name on their own, it provides valuable visual word recognition and vocabulary reinforcement.
  • ADD NUMBERS. For number practice, randomly number the cutout spaces from one to nine. Starting at one, ask your child to find the number on the board, then find the corresponding shape among their puzzle pieces, giving guidance and direction as needed.
  • PRACTICE FINE MOTOR SKILLS. Put your puzzle pieces to the side to turn your cutout shape board into a fine motor skill activity. Use colored rice (we have a DIY for that!) along with a spoon, small scoop, or similar to fill the shapes. Use a marker to color the shape cutouts and make it a color-matching game as well.
  • MAKE IT A HIDE-AND-SEEK GAME. Use your puzzle pieces for a shape or color hunting and matching game via Scholastic. This is a wonderful alternative to sitting at a table or on a rug and working that you can use to get multiple kids involved and on their feet actively searching.

Love a good upcycled toy DIY? Be sure to check out the DIY modern dollhouse we made from scrap wood, this awesome DIY writeable kids tablet, and our collection of cool cardboard crafts.

Use recycled materials to DIY your own super hip cardboard shape puzzle! A perfect learning toy for toddlers.

*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon or Woodpecker Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click-through to make a purchase, we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

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Amanda E.
With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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