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DIY Project: Make a Toddler Activity Board

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When it comes to kids, you find most of the time they play with the big box the toys came in more than the toy itself. Sometimes it is just hard to come up with something you feel will keep them occupied for more than a few minutes at a time. What kids like the most is anything with buttons, doors, utensils, dad’s tools, etc. Basically, everything except the expensive toys that many folks tend to get for their kids’ birthdays.

If you have one of these kids, you may want to decide to go the DIY route and put all his/her favorite things onto a wooden activity board for them to play with. While commercially produced versions of this exist out there, they are very expensive and can run $100 or more. You can create your own for a fraction of that and customize it to what your toddler likes. Here is a Habitat Toddler Activity Board. This activity board was created by Rick Johnson, one of Habitat’s board members. Most of these items were found in the Habitat Store.

The materials, in total, cost about $20, and after just a few hours of work, he had fun activity board that his grandson loves and continues to enjoy playing with every day.

Below is the walk through of the materials and steps to create one for your child, or as a gift for new parents.


1 piece project board/plywood. The piece he used is 2′ x 3′; Rick had one around the house left over from another project, that looked like the perfect size. You could also buy plywood and cut it down to whatever size you need. Anything that’s roughly 3 or 4 square feet or less will do the trick. You can customize the size to fit the need.

Hardware. New hardware is spendy, especially when it’s just for a toddler to play with. Rick went to Habitat for Humanity’s Store. Everything there is reclaimed, generally from donations, so it’s all very affordable. You can, of course, also get new hardware.

Other Toys/Fun Stuff. What does your toddler like? Light switches, TV remotes, and random kitchen utensils, locks and doorknobs. Some stuff can be found from around the house and garage and attach them to the activity board. Be creative and let your toddler’s interests guide you here.

Screws/Attachment Devices. If you buy new, your hardware will come with screws. If you buy things used, you’ll either need screws you have around the house, the shorter the better you don’t want them to go through the back of the wood, or you’ll need to buy some. You can also use a hook and a couple velcro strips to attach random things.

Felt Pads (optional). Lean the board against the wall rather than permanently securing it somewhere, then it can be mobile for different rooms of the house. You can attach some felt pads to the back to ensure it wouldn’t scratch up the walls. If you choose to secure it to a wall or a toy box, you’ll also need screws/anchors for that purpose.

How to: Build Activity Board for Your Toddler

1. Assemble Your Hardware/Toys

In the search for hardware that your toddler would play with and enjoy, think about what they like to get into. Do they like to play with the toilet paper dispenser? Rick obviously looked for things that didn’t have sharp edges or random screws that would pop out. I recommend looking for things that have some sort of movement or hinge that your toddler would enjoy fiddling with. Some items to consider:

  • Hinges

  • Light switches, they have several different types

  • Doorknobs

  • Locks — all kinds: hasp, chain, barrel bolts

  • Door Knockers

  • Door stoppers (the spring kind that wobble)

  • Handles

  • Zippers

  • Combination locks(kids like to turn things)

  • Cartwheels

  • Gears that spin with each other

  • Much more! (for example, a piece of cloth glued on that lifts to reveal a fuzzy animal, I have seen these boards with xylophones on them. TV remotes(use Velcro to attach) you can put a sheet of metal on it and use the magnet letter or numbers that attach to the fridge). Limitless possibilities!

Use your imagination this is your time to think like a child. As you walk the aisles of whatever store you’re in, think about how it would sit on a board and how your toddler would interact with it. You can also look around the house for things. The only limit here is your imagination, shoot for the stars.

2. Clean the Hardware

Give each item a good scrub, rinse, and then lay it out to dry.

3. Plan the Layout of the Board

When you have your hardware cleaned and ready, lay it out on the board and see how it all looks/flows. If things look good, start screwing things down!

Sit back and watch them play!

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