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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Cardboard Cake

By Barbara Rucci & Betsy McKenna

Editor's Note: In the following excerpt from the book Art Workshop for Children, author Barbara Ricci detail the projects she teaches students in her art workshops.

Making a cake is joyful, no matter the age. In this workshop, the children work together to stack, frost, and decorate their big cake. Singing "Happy Birthday" at the end is a must!


  • Cardboard boxes in different sizes
  • Tempera paint
  • Jars
  • Brushes
  • Pompoms
  • Glue
  • Colored paper


Cover your table with paper. Gather some boxes in different sizes, or let the children choose their own boxes if you happen to have a large selection. Mix the paints, or have the children mix their own paints. I painted over the black tape that wrapped the boxes, but you don't have to. Set out pompoms, glue, and colored paper.


On this day in art class, I prepared the boxes for the children before they arrived. The boxes came in the mail the day before and they had a perfect size gradation. But in the future, I will most likely bring the children to my storage room and have them pick out their own boxes.

After gluing the boxes together and painting the cake, the children take time to roll the colored paper candles. I showed the children how to roll tightly instead of loosely. Sometimes the bottoms need to be cut off in order for them to stand straight.


Imagine a group of children devouring a cake lickety-split. Well, that's what happened during this workshop, only in reverse. The children moved so swiftly building this cake that I hardly had time to photograph! Paint was literally flying across the table because they were frosting their cake with so much energy. I didn't even think of candles until one child had the idea of rolling paper. I had taught this technique in a previous session weeks earlier, so she found the drawer with the colored paper, shared her knowledge with her friends, and they all rolled candles together and glued them on top. Last of all were the pompom candies. They slowed down a little during this part, as they all were being careful to line them up evenly around the cake. I was captivated by their teamwork and dedication to each other in making sure that everyone played an equal part. This creative collaboration ignited a spark in these children. And what a delicious cake!


  • Make an upside-down cake with the smallest box on the bottom. This would be a wonderful experiment about balance.
  • Use really big boxes--big enough for a child to fit in--and make the cake into a playhouse.
  • As a non-messy alternative, make homemade play dough and let your children stick play dough all over the cake instead of painting. They can stick pompoms and real candles into the play dough. This would be a wonderful sensory experience.

Excerpted with permission from Art Workshop for Children by Barbara Rucci and Betsy McKenna © 2016 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. Text © 2016 Barbara Rucci Photography © 2016 Barbara Rucci

Barbara Rucci is a professional graphic designer, art teacher, blogger, and mom to three creative thinkers. Find her at

Betsy McKenna is an educational consultant and leadership coach. Find her at