If you want to put together a really fun and meaningful activity for youth, you need to do a Cardboard Arcade. This kid’s activity has so many benefits. It is perfect for helping kids use their thinking skills in creativity, teamwork, leadership, bonding, sharing and even some engineering. It’s not only super fun, but something that can be done with any size of group and any age. It can be done as a classroom activity, for youth church groups (like a primary activity, young men or young women mutual night) or even as a homeschool activity with other homeschoolers. If you want ideas on how to create your own Caine’s Arcade, keep reading to see how we planned such a fun event.
Every year we do a Pinewood Derby event with our church primary boys, but this past year I wanted to try something different. I love traditions, but the Pinewood Derby isn’t my favorite. It takes a lot of work to set up; there’s a lot of spectating and not much interaction; plus the same kids win year after year…or should I say their dad’s win. It’s not always fair or fun for all the participants. I wanted to change things up, but still do an activity that represented what the Pinewood Derby was all about. So when I came across the sweetest video about a boy named Caine, who created a cardboard box arcade, I knew that was what I was looking for.
For some history, the Pinewood Derby was created by Boy Scouts Cubmaster Donald Murphy in 1953. Murphy said “I wanted to devise a wholesome constructive activity that would foster a closer father-son relationship and promote craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition.” If you haven’t heard about it or participated in one, essentially members of a boy scout group each receive a wooden car kit purchased from the Boy Scouts of America store. They are to take the kit home, build a race car with their dads (adding weights and painting it), and then race them in the event.
In all the years my children have participated, the events have been fun but not necessarily living up to what Mr. Murphy had created it to be. Some dads don’t help at all and those kids never win. Then other dads take over and build the entire thing themselves. And those kids always win! Then there’s setting up the entire track system and scoreboard, which takes some time to set up and you have to store it all until the next year. If you love the Pinewood Derby and have fond memories building with your dad, don’t come after me; it’s still a fun event. I just wanted something that was a little more creative and inclusive to children who don’t have a father to help them engineer an aerodynamic race car. So Caine’s Arcade, or the Cardboard Arcade, was the perfect option!
We asked the boys if a DIY cardboard arcade was something they wanted to do and they all overwhelmingly screamed “YES!” Our group of 7-11 year olds meet twice a month for one hour each time. This is a program our church does all year and is called primary activities. We’d use the next few activities to plan and make our DIY homemade cardboard box games.
We told them they’d have to come up with the idea and the rules. How many points will they give? How many tickets? Is it a throwing game, and if so, how far back do the players need to stand? We told them that they are completely in charge of their game. We also discussed that they would not be playing the games because they would be the “workers”. They needed to invite all the youth in our church ward (younger primary kids and older ym/yw), family members, and friends to come to our event. They won’t have time to play each other’s games because they will be too busy as “workers.” They were so excited.
We also talked about the prize table. Each of them needed to go through their toys and knick knacks at home. Whatever they didn’t want (with permission from their parents) will be brought and put on the prize table. We then handed them a printout with a bunch of game ideas so they could go home and start creating with their family (game ideas and activity outline included in our Caine’s Arcade bundle). They could create something with their dad, mom, a brother or sister, a grandparent, cousin, friend, or even by themselves. It’s their decision. And at the next activity, they can bring what they’ve started on and keep working on it for the entire activity. By the third activity, everything needed to be finished because that’s when we would have the event.
When I tell you this was one of the best activities we’ve ever done, I’m not even exaggerating. The kids loved every second of it and did such an amazing job! We had two brothers who built an awesome pinball machine and an amazing labyrinth style maze game. One boy is sports obsessed so he created a football target game. We had a Lego Plinko game, Ski-Ball, Nerf Shoot-Out, Wall Ball (this was one of my favorites because it’s quite challenging) and then my kids made a Gator Chomp, Barbie Dreamhouse, and a World Cup Soccer Shoot-Out.
Some kids worked more on their games than others, but they all turned out amazing. As a side note, my little four year old came up with her “Barbie’s Dreamhouse” game all by herself. We practiced the rules over and over again so she could tell each customer how to play. She practiced her counting so she’d be able to count out how many tickets each player got. She ended up giving out quite a few more than she should have, but she was so proud that she was able to do it all by herself. It was the sweetest thing ever to see her act like a mini adult. She literally stayed at her station the entire time and didn’t get distracted. She took her job seriously.
For decor, we kept it super simple by making three small balloon garlands to hang above each “station.” We used two large boxes we already had and turned them into a vintage Pac-Man arcade game to use as a photo prop as well. We had four large signs: the main “Caine’s Arcade” sign, the “Food” sign, the “Prize” sign, and the “Crafts” sign. We created the signs to look like the kids painted on cardboard just like Caine did in the movie. We didn’t have the boys make the signs because it would have taken up another one of our activities and I know they would have made a huge mess with the paint so I figured it was best to just digitally make the signs. All of the Caine’s Arcade printables are available as a pack in our Etsy shop if you want easy cardboard arcade decor for your event.
We started the night off with a prayer, a brief introduction of what the boys had been doing the past month to prepare for this activity, and then the YouTube video explaining all about Caine’s Arcade. After the movie, the boys quickly ran to their stations and we got started with the games.
At the food table, we kept it simple and did nachos and popcorn. We bought nacho cheese, chips, and popcorn at Sam’s Club. We kept the cheese warm in an Instant Pot. For the nachos, we used these paper food trays. The popcorn was placed in a plastic bag with a twist tie. All the parents were asked to bring a dessert to share. We had small blank tent cards available for them to write what they brought. You can find those in our Caine’s Arcade bundle along with the water bottle labels we used for the drinks.
We made a craft table that had DIY Shrinky Dinks charms going on the entire time. We added this because we didn’t want the kids to get too overwhelmed with too many “customers” standing in their lines. This was a huge hit. Since arcades seem to be an 80’s & 90’s thing, we kept with that theme and used these printables with 80’s & 90’s themed toys and cartoons to let the kids trace if they chose not to draw their own art.
To do shrinky dinks, definitely use the Ruff’n Ready version of the shrinky dink paper. It’s frosted so the colored pencils stick better. The image is drawn or traced on the shiny side with Sharpie markers. We like the Ultra Fine markers because the lines are much smaller and when you shrink the image, the bigger lines can be too much.
After the image is on the shiny side, you flip it over and color with colored pencils. You could use markers but we prefer colored pencils. We had an adult at this station the entire time and they shrunk the Shrinky Dinks using this crafting heat gun. If you have a mini toaster oven available, it’s better. We opted for the heat gun because with the supervision of adults, kids love shrinking their own creations.
A few tips if you choose to do a Shrinky Dink craft station: cut out the Shrinky Dinks into circles or squares before the event. That way kids don’t waste the sheet. If you give them a sheet, they’re going to want to start tracing right in the middle. So just be aware and cut out smaller pieces beforehand. If you cut out squares, they will need to either have rounded edges, or the kids can cut around the image after they’ve traced and colored it. You don’t want a sharp edge! Make sure to punch a hole where you want the key ring to go before you melt the Shrinky Dinks. You will not be able to add a hole later. And last tip, use an oven mitt to flatten out the Shrinky Dink if you’re using the heat gun. It will twist and turn and shrink at different times, but keep going until it has shrunk completely and then quickly tap it flat. You’ll only have a few seconds to flatten it after the heat gun is stopped, so be quick. After about 20-30 seconds, it’s hard enough and cool enough for the child to pick up.
The prize table was so fun! The boys were told that they needed to hand out tickets to their customers. The boys came early to set up their games and set up the prize table. We let them decide what item was worth what amount of tickets. They wrote down how many tickets on each sign and divided the toys into groups under those signs. After all the games were played, the boys quickly ran behind the ticket table to start taking tickets and handing out toys. The boys took this part so seriously. If I had an arcade, they’d all be hired! 🙂
While everyone was busy getting prizes, I made a quick announcement to come and vote for their favorite game. The winner took home a cardboard trophy my kids made using cardboard, a glue gun, gold spray paint and gold jewels.
Caine’s Arcade was such a success that in our planning meeting at the beginning of the year, the boys all begged to do it again. I’m hoping it will turn into our new tradition to replace the Pinewood Derby. I’m especially excited to see what the boys come up with this year, now that they get the idea a lot better and know what it’s all about. I can picture each year just getting better and better with their games.
Hope you got some inspiration and ideas on how to create your own Caine’s Arcade or Cardboard Arcade with your own group of kids, homeschool group, or your students. We’ve compiled everything you’d need to easily plan your own Caine’s Arcade in a bundle pack, download it here.
Niki + Stacey