Keeping the little ones occupied is an important part of maintaining mommy’s sanity. Small children can be a lot of work, as any mother knows. But that curiosity, where children get into everything, is an important part of growing up. Children learn by playing and especially by playing with things that teach them skills which they will need later in life.
Play develops a child’s brain in a number of ever-changing ways as they grow. Babies are learning how to use and control their bodies, leading them to the point of walking and talking. As they play, they are building small and large motor skills, both of which are essentials for them to learn how to do other, more complicated things, as they grow older. It has been shown that children who do not learn these skills as toddlers, have trouble with academics when they enter school.
Small motor skills are critical for toddlers and are harder to learn than large motor skills. The ability to manipulate things with the fingers is a skill that takes an incredible amount of practice. Much of this comes through the use of educational toys; but those toys are actually mimicking things from real life. They can learn the same skills by using day-to-day objects, as they can though those toys.
One common category of toys is toddler activity boards. These can take many shapes, but at its heart it is a number of things for toddlers to manipulate with their fingers. Sometimes, these are attached to other things, like a steering wheel attached to a child’s car seat or toys built into a toddler’s walker; but that’s not the only forms they take. There are also “busy boards” with a variety of things for toddler’s little fingers to do.
You can buy commercially made versions of these busy boards; but they run upwards of $100. Or, you can make your own. Many of the bright colored plastic devices found on these boards mimic things that we find every day, such as the hardware used in any home.
Materials to Make a Toddler Activity Board
A toddler activity board can be any size and shape, just as long as there is room to mount things on it. At its most basic level, it’s a rectangular piece of plywood. But it can also be cut into different shapes, an old cabinet door can be used, or you could make it a long strip and mount it to the wall.
The material needs to be thick enough so that screws can be run into it, without them coming out the other side. That dictates a minimum thickness of about ½”. So, any piece of plywood or MDF (medium-density fiberboard), ½” to ¾” thick should work. You’ll want to use material with a smooth finish, such as a sanded plywood, cabinet grade plywood or a project board. Take the edges into consideration as well. Plywood with a lot of layers tends to form smoother edges, than plywood that only has 3 or 5 layers.
You should paint your toddler activity board, in order to make cleaning easier and to help prevent the risk of splinters. I’d recommend an oil-based high-gloss enamel or an epoxy paint. Both provide a slick, durable surface that’s easy to clean.
You’re also going to need something to put on the board. This can be a wide variety of things. Odds and ends of hardware are good for this, like doorknobs, latches and hinges. Check the list of ideas I’ve included later in this article.
How to Make a Toddler Activity Board
Any toddler activity board has to start out with the board. Depending on the design you want, you need to cut a piece of plywood or MDF to size. If you are making it wall-mounted, double check to see that it fits the area where you are going to mount it. If you are making it free-standing, I’d recommend something about two feet square.
Any free-standing toddler activity board should be made with some sort of feet, rather than just leaning it against the wall. Small children do a lot of crazy things and there is always the possibility of them knocking it down and hurting themselves. A simple stand, like the one shown below, can also be made out of plywood. Attach it with countersunk screws.
The corners and edges of the activity board should be rounded to eliminate sharp edges and corners that a small child can hurt themselves on. Be sure to sand all surfaces smooth, paying special attention to the edges of the plywood, so as to remove any splinters.
Paint the board, before attaching the hardware. It would be a good idea to use a good sealing primer, before painting, so as to ensure that the paint will dry well and not soak into the exposed wood. Epoxy paint is a two-part curing paint, so if you use it, you will only want to mix enough for one coat at a time.
The various activities to be mounted on the board can then be mounted to it, usually with the screws supplied with the hardware. Always check to ensure that there are no metal burrs or sharp edges sticking up from the screw head and that there are no screw points sticking through the back of the activity board.
Ideas for Putting on a Toddler Activity Board
You can literally mount anything on a toddler activity board. The only restriction is that you want to take care to ensure that there are not sharp edges they can cut their fingers on or pinch points they can get their little fingers caught in. Any pieces which are intended to come loose should be attached with a piece of light chain or cord, so that they don’t become lost.
- ⦁ Door knob – half a door knob, without a lock. It should turn freely after mounting
- ⦁ Slide bolt – typical latch for gates and cabinets
- ⦁ Hinge – alone for swimming open and closed or attached to a door. If done with a door, it can be combined with a latch for the door
- ⦁ Wood beads strung on a piece of dowel rod to push back and forth or spin. This requires making a mount for both ends
- ⦁ Caster or wheel, mounted so that the wheel is exposed to turn
- ⦁ Calculator
- ⦁ Wall-mounted phone
- ⦁ Push-on lights
- ⦁ Door stop – the spring type “booing” when you bend and release it
- ⦁ Eye bolt with snap link or carabineer to take on and off
- ⦁ Light switch (and switch plate)
- ⦁ Knot to tie
- ⦁ Mirror to look in
- ⦁ Magnifying glass
- ⦁ Eye bolt with padlock to remove (be sure to chain both the lock and key to the board
- ⦁ Dimmer switch (both slide and rotary types will work)
- ⦁ Hook and eye fastener
- ⦁ Cord wrapped around two pulleys
- ⦁ Deadbolt to open and close
- ⦁ Wheel – mount it so that it can be turned
- ⦁ Shower curtain rings, mounted to a metal handle, to slide back and forth
- ⦁ TV remote control
- ⦁ Buttons to push
- ⦁ Extend a slinky and attach both ends to the board with P-clamps
- ⦁ Tape measure with an automatic return
- ⦁ Piece of plastic pipe on a toilet paper holder to spin
- ⦁ “C” made out of plastic pipe, where they can talk into it and hear themselves
- ⦁ Door knocker
- ⦁ Clock face, where they can move the hands
- ⦁ Mount anything that can be turned
- ⦁ Cut small doors into the board, putting pictures inside them. Use different types of latches that they have to open to view the pictures
- ⦁ An old computer keyboard that they can push buttons on
- ⦁ Countertop call bell (like you’d find in old stores, to call for service “ding”)
- ⦁ Run a piece of clear plastic tubing to act as a slide and provide marbles to roll down it. Be sure to include a catch basin for the marbles
- ⦁ Magnetic figures on a thin piece of sheet steel
- ⦁ Different textured materials to feel
As you can see, the ideas are virtually endless. Just apply your imagination, as you look around your home. You don’t necessarily need to buy new things for the activity board, but rather, appropriate whatever you’ve got sitting around your shop, that’s not being used.