How to Build an Old Western Town Set for a Kids' After-School Program

Written by nicole thelin
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How to Build an Old Western Town Set for a Kids' After-School Program
Old western buildings were very simply assembled, and can be represented with a collection of cardboard boxes. (Old Western town image by Pascal 87 from

Bring the adventure, mystery and romance of the Wild West to any indoor or outdoor after-school program with a few basic supplies. Cardboard is king of the rough-and-tumble town. Cardboard boxes can be taped together to resemble the adjacent storefronts that trademark old western towns. While very young children may enjoy a smaller set created from average-size freight boxes, larger boxes can be obtained from a furniture, appliance, motorcycle or other retailer of abnormally large items. Excess cardboard can be used for accents, such as cacti, signs and other cut-outs.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Several large cardboard boxes (from a furniture or appliance store)
  • Box cutter
  • Duct tape
  • Paint
  • Empty paper towel rolls
  • Aluminium foil
  • Brown construction paper
  • Tissue paper (yellow, orange and red)
  • Broom handle
  • Pictures of kids (optional)
  • Stuffed animals (horses, cows, etc.)
  • Accents (Cowboy boots, horseshoes, bandannas, rope, etc.)

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  1. 1

    Set several large cardboard boxes of unequal size next to each other. These will serve as the storefront of the downtown and will be the main area of the set. Cut windows and doors in each box with a box cutter. Make saloon-style doors by cutting the shape of a capital I from the cardboard and then cutting away a rectangle from the top and bottom so that the swinging portion of the door does not fill the entire space.

  2. 2

    Create slanted roofs for some of the buildings by taping together the excess cardboard from the windows and doors with duct tape. Duct tape all of the buildings together so that each building shares a common wall with one another.

  3. 3

    Paint each building a different colour common to the Old West time period. Consider colours like yellow, brown, white and brick red.

  4. 4

    Designate one box to be the jail. Wrap paper towel rolls with aluminium foil and duct tape them in the windows.

  5. 5

    Wrap additional paper towel rolls with brown construction paper and put them together like logs in a fire. Crumple some orange, red and yellow tissue paper to look like flames and glue them over the logs.

  6. 6

    Trace the shape of a child onto a piece of cardboard. Embellish the outline with a cowboy hat, boots and other attire. Cut out the shape and paint it. Cut a hole for the face. Tape the outline to a broom handle and insert it into a bale of hay, block of wood or push it into the ground so that it stands upright. Make a few of these and, during the program, take pictures of kids as they stick their faces through the holes.

  7. 7

    Make signs out of additional cardboard. Put an "Outhouse" sign with a crescent moon on a bathroom door. If possible, modify pictures of the participating kids and render them in black and white. Write “WANTED” across the top, and tape the posters to the buildings. Allow each child to take their own poster home after the program.

  8. 8

    Use remaining cardboard boxes and scraps to cut out cactus shapes. Prop each of them up against a building or make them freestanding by taping a spare piece of cardboard perpendicular to the backside of the cactus.

  9. 9

    Tape paper towel rolls together to form fences, gates, and even a corral populated with stuffed animal or cardboard horses. Hang rope lassos from the fences as an accent.

  10. 10

    Add extras, such as cowboy boots, wagon wheels, haystacks, horseshoes, bandannas and Old West-themed stuffed animals to the scene.

Tips and warnings

  • Solicit donations from local businesses. An appliance, furniture or motorcycle retailer may donate all of the boxes. An old western wear store or even a person in the community may have accents (like old boots) you can borrow. Plan in advance and run a drive for cardboard, including paper towel rolls. Anything that is donated reduces the cost of the event.

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