Our Family Unit

October9th

37 Comments

I am so excited to finally be able to show you the activity table Kyle and I made for Kade, and eventually Fritz, to enjoy.  This thing has been almost a year in the making.  We came up with the idea last Christmas and drew out some plans on a napkin, literally.  Then over the  next few months the plans were refined over and over again and eventually Kyle built it in Google SketchUp.

To put it mildly, he works long hours; so the building happened little by little over many many nights and free moments on Sundays.  My major contribution to the project was coming up with things I wanted to incorporate, thinking that the more it resembled a Swiss Army knife the better it would be.  The longer it took to build, the longer the “features I can’t live without” list became:

  • Kid’s picnic table
  • Not overtly “toy-ish”, something that looked like nice furniture
  • Portability
  • Big enough for two kids (at least)
  • Cheap
  • Durable
  • School Desk
  • Chalkboard
  • Magnetic
  • Art station with easels
  • Toy Storage
  • Train table
  • Place for open-ended creativity (I’ll explain that one later, as Kyle raised his eyebrows like I was making stuff up at this point)

Lucky for me, I married a genius…a mostly patient genius, and I got everything I wanted.

When it’s all folded up and put together, it looks like this.  A beautiful kid’s size table that can seat four.  We made it out of Birch wood, the cheapest of the hard woods, so that it would stand up to car crashes, Lego spaceship landings and craft projects but not break the bank.  Then we stained it to match our other furniture.  Originally I thought about getting wooden chairs, but after seeing the price of a nice child size wooden chair and comparing it to IKEA’s chairs, we opted for the cute green ones you see here.  This ended up being the best decision anyway, because Kade likes to turn them on their backs, stand between their legs and pull them around the house.  When asked what he was doing, he said he was “taking them to Marmie’s house”.  She lives in Colorado, so the chairs are in for a long haul.

Speaking of long hauls, the portability factor was huge.  I wanted something that I could easily move from room to room so that Kade and Fritz could follow me wherever I was.  I’m a big believer that small kids learn independence through proximity.  By moving the table to the same vicinity as me, they can learn to play alone contently while I work/cook/clean/put-my-feet-up-and-read-a-magazine.  Not only does this concept allow me to get things done around the house, but I don’t feel trapped as if I’ve had to give up my own hobbies and interests to entertain children all day.  Kyle made it narrow enough that it can easily slide through any doorway and although we toyed with the idea of wheels, we ended up just putting felt strips on the bottom since our house has mostly wood floors.

Kyle and I are planning on homeschooling our kids.  My mom homeschooled me and my 2 brothers and sister and so it doesn’t seem like a completely foreign or new concept… it seems normal.  Being homeschooled in the 80′s and 90′s, I’ll be the first to crack jokes about jean skirts, bobby socks with tennis shoes and 14 children.  Even now, when I say we’re going to homeschool, I still have to assure people that I never experienced that, nor will I force my own kids to.  With the number of homeschool families growing each year, it’s amazing the tools, curriculum and experiences that are available and I could go off on a tangent about how giddy I get when thinking about preschool.  But this is not a post about homeschooling…so back to the table, I wanted a desk.  I wanted a place for matching games and practicing penmanship and learning numbers.  I realize many people use their kitchen table for this kind of thing, but our dining room table is “bar-height”and I’m just not quite comfortable with letting Kade sit at it by himself.  Plus, I liked the idea of him having somewhere to “go” to do schoolwork.

One side of the tabletop we stained, but the other side we made into a magnetic chalkboard (see top photo).  He loves the chalkboard aspect and we also got him a set of Melissa & Doug Magnetic Letters & Numbers.  This is where that “open-ended creativity” comes into play too.  We had discussed painting a generic gameboard on one side or a checker board, but I wanted Kade & Fritz to be able to use their imagination and create their own games.  This way, we can create a million gameboards and never be limited by what’s expected.

Obviously, an activity table should be a place where activities can take place.  One of Kade’s favorite pastimes is still coloring and all things art.  Kyle built the tabletop so that the “lids” can be slid in and be flush with the edges (as seen above) or turned over so that a lip is created so that crayons and markers and chalk won’t roll off continually.

Sometimes art projects require easels (finger painting, water colors, and more) so to incorporate that Kyle made grooves that the table tops can be slid down into to create easels at each end.  After all, you don’t want two kids fighting over easel space.  :)

Another idea for the “open-ended creativity” was a felt board.  When we went home last Christmas, one of the things Kade loved playing with was a set of sorting tiles.  I’m not exactly sure what to call them, but they were little plastic shapes in different colors and sizes.  I thought it was a GREAT learning tool that could be used for teaching colors, shapes and the logic of sorting by different methods, not to mention the creativity factor.  And I almost bought a set for home, but then came up with the idea to use a felt instead.  So I made a felt “slip-cover” for one of the easel ends and then spent a day cutting shapes out of felt to come up with this.

After the shapes and also watching how much time he spent playing with Mr. Potato Head, I decided I could take the felt a step further and came up with this.

I cut out four different face shapes, and then started adding hairpieces, eyes, ears, noses, mouths, types of facial hair and accessories like hats and glasses.  Altogether, there’s over 100 pieces, both for humans and animals.  I’m working on putting the patterns into a PDF template to download, so be watching for that if you’re interested.

A critical feature was STORAGE.  I’m amazed at how many toys can be accumulated in such a short period of time.  I needed something that could neatly organize the variety of games, learning tools, felt pieces; not to mention the mass quantities of blocks, trains and Legos.  The table holds a combination of 8 different bins, we used the Trofast ones from IKEA (yes, we measured these first when planning it all in SketchUp).

The only thing remaining to be finalized is how we want to finish the train table portion on the inside.  Kade loves his trains, trucks and cars and we want to figure out a way to make the best for us train table.  We’ve toyed with various layouts, size scales, and paint options and haven’t discovered that perfect one yet.  But, as we know from experience, great ideas take time to develop so we’re not in a rush.  In the meantime, both Kade and I are thoroughly enjoying the fruits of dad’s labor.

If you’d like to download the Google SketchUp plans to build your own Child’s Activity Table, here’s the file.  Kyle mentioned that if you’re not up for doing it yourself that he’d be willing to make one for someone else since he already has the experience and tools.   If the second option interests you send me an email for further details.  Enjoy! And if you end up making one let us know, we’d love to see a picture.

37 Comments

  • Comment by helen — October 10, 2010 @ 12:46 PM

    Thanks for posting and sharing this!! What a great table for Kade! I am going to need to build one for my little soon-to-be 2 year old daughter :)

  • Comment by carol — October 10, 2010 @ 11:37 PM

    Wow–it is incredible! Such teamwork!

  • Comment by Megan — October 11, 2010 @ 11:20 AM

    once again I am amazed at the creativity and absolute genius of my family – I meanwhile have difficulty folding the napkins the correct way at school :)

  • Trackback by Homeschool Ninja — October 12, 2010 @ 1:59 AM

    ABeka Homeschool Preschool Curriculum…

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  • Comment by Erica @ Acire Adventures — October 27, 2010 @ 3:44 PM

    This is AMAZING! I want one, too!

    You clearly do have a patient genius of a husband, and it’s great that you even thought to ask for so much out of a table. I would never have expected a piece to do so much. :)

  • Comment by Amy — October 27, 2010 @ 5:51 PM

    That is perfect!

    What program do I need to use to open the file with the plans? I am curious to see how complicated it is.

  • Comment by Kyle — October 28, 2010 @ 9:51 PM

    The program to open the file is Google Sketchup (It is free) and can be found here: http://sketchup.google.com/

  • Comment by Meg — October 30, 2010 @ 9:00 PM

    Beautiful table! Thank you for the Google file; is there a parts list that goes along with it? I’d love my husband to make one for our kids as well. Great job! & congratulations on the new baby :)

    thank you

  • Pingback by Daybook: November 1st — November 1, 2010 @ 7:59 AM

    [...] love this fantastic DIY Childs Activity Table at Our Family Unit. I really like the idea of designing something for your specific needs and [...]

  • Comment by Minnie — November 5, 2010 @ 12:59 PM

    What a great idea! I’ve downloaded the sketch-up plans and bookmarked your blog. I’m going to ask my brother-in-law to build this for me when we start announcing our first pregnancy! :)

  • Comment by Lacey — November 7, 2010 @ 10:55 AM

    Do you have a cut list for this project? Thanks!

  • Comment by Lucretia — November 7, 2010 @ 1:25 PM

    No, I don’t have a cut list, but SketchUp offers a ruler tool that would help with that. Happy Building!

  • Comment by Jim — November 11, 2010 @ 5:08 AM

    Good Morning! I picked up some Trofast tubs over the weekend and installed SketchUp this morning. One question, how did he join the boards at various points? Biscuits? Dowels? KD bolts? Also, how is the little door that opens to allow the tops to be slid in and out attached? Hinges and a magnetic closure? How far from the ends of the long sides did he make the grooves for easel mode and how wide were they? I didn’t see that feature in the SketchUp model. For those who are interested, I just made a cut list from the SketchUp model. It is as follows:

    3/4″ plywood: 1 end @ 27-1/2×20, 1 end @ 27-1/2×18-1/2, 1 end door @ 27-1/2×1-1/2, 2 long sides @ 4×35, 1 cross member @ 7-1/2×35, 4 tub slides @ 7-1/2 x 27-1/2 (note that the long sides, cross-member, and drawer slides have some other shaping to them which will require a router or dado blade for your table saw)

    1/2″ plywood: 2 tops @ 17-1/2×26, 2 alternate tops @ 17-1/2×26-1/2, 1 base @ 26-1/2×35

  • Comment by Jim — November 11, 2010 @ 5:24 AM

    Additionally, it looks like the whole thing can be made from one sheet of 3/4″ birch plywood and one sheet of 1/2″ birch plywood.

  • Comment by ben — November 20, 2010 @ 8:38 AM

    First, fantastic! I built my daughter a kitchen last Christmas and would love to follow up with something like this. Any chance you could post or email me a picture looking down from above with the two table tops in the open position?

  • Comment by Alan Hanley — December 6, 2010 @ 10:18 AM

    This table is great. Please shed a little light on the side “door” that allows the “lids” to be slid into place in the lower position creating a lip to prevent crayons and such from rolling off.

  • Comment by Alan Hanley — December 6, 2010 @ 11:31 AM

    Are there 2 sets of 2 tops or just two tops that slide into two different slots?

  • Comment by Jim — December 7, 2010 @ 2:11 AM

    Alan,
    There is one set of two tops. Each top is made from two pieces of 1/2″ plywood screwed together. One of the two screwed together is 1/2″ wider than the other, creating a 1/4″ tab on each side that interfaces with the slots in the table. When the wider piece is on top, the table top is recessed 1/2″. If you slide out the top and flip it, the narrower piece is on top and is flush with the sides of the table. The door is a hinged 2-1/2″ wide piece of plywood, the same width as the table. I finished putting mine together last week. I will post pictures shortly.

  • Comment by Lucretia — December 10, 2010 @ 9:09 AM

    Jim,

    Thanks for posting your specifics – can’t wait to see pictures of your table! Just in time for Christmas too! I know it will be a hit as Kade has not let a day go by without playing with his.

    Alan,

    Jim is correct about the set of two tops on our table. Kyle actually glued them together rather than screwed, but same concept. And our “door” that allows the lids to slide out can be removed from the table completely. There are three dowels inside the removable piece that slide into holes on the table edge to hold it in place, but obviously hinges are a great idea too.

    I’m sorry I haven’t been able to post additional pictures yet. I’m guess I’m still adjusting to life with a newborn. Happy Building!

  • Comment by Juli — April 20, 2011 @ 11:01 PM

    WOW!!! What an amazing activity table! Not only am I impressed with the entire scope of the project, but the imagination it took to pull it all together and make it beautiful as well. Everything is so well organized and thought out. There’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. If you had not described what it took to make this beautiful table I would have assumed it was professionally made and cost hundreds of dollars. Kade is a very lucky child! Keep up the great work! By the way, good luck with the home schooling… It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that.

  • Comment by Beth — April 22, 2011 @ 4:07 PM

    This is absolutely the most wonderful design. Designs like this should be patented! You’d make a fortune. I often have “a list” of requirements for items and you can just never find an item with it all. Well done on fantastic creative space fir your child it’s a credit to both your skilled minds

  • Comment by Nate — June 6, 2011 @ 11:34 AM

    Made one for my sons birthday. Turned out absolutely amazing!!! He loves it so much.

    Thank you for the ideas!!

  • Comment by Andrea — October 23, 2011 @ 8:38 PM

    I’m hoping to recreate this table… I mean I’m hoping my husband and father in law can recreate this table over Thanksgiving. Do you have a more detailed description of “how to” instructions? My husband is fairly novice at DIY woodwork but this project, with his father by his side, would be a great Christmas present for our 16mo son. I did email you… Just covering my bases.
    Thanks!

  • Comment by Sarah Scarpelli — November 15, 2011 @ 2:43 PM

    Hi! Beautiful and functional activity table. I love it, want to do it. I am wondering about how much this project would cost to do? Average cost?
    Thanks!!!

  • Comment by Lucretia — November 16, 2011 @ 8:55 AM

    Thanks so much and so glad you love the table. All in (chairs, bins, wood, stains, magnetic paint, etc) supplies cost between $250-300. You could do it for a bit less if you used cheaper wood. Ours is built like a tank and Kyle says if he redid it, he wouldn’t make it so heavy duty. Good luck with the building process! and please send pics of the finished product. I’d love to see it. ~ Lucretia

  • Comment by Jim — November 16, 2011 @ 9:24 AM

    Sarah,
    I think it had about $175 into mine. I used A-A plywood for the whole thing, filled the voids and screw holes with drywall mud, and painted the whole thing in three shades of green (except for the places where the tops slide in and out).

    Lucretia,
    Do you still have the photos of the one I built? Can you post them? It might help inspire others to build this knowing that there is more than one in the world!

    Jim

  • Comment by Brett — November 28, 2011 @ 6:32 AM

    Thanks so much for the website and great design. Would there be by chance a cut list available? I am a flop with sketch up and having difficulty using the program. Any comments will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Brett

  • Comment by Lucretia — November 29, 2011 @ 9:18 AM

    I know so many people have requested a cut list, I’m sorry I don’t have one off hand to send out. But I will do my best to nail down my husband this week and see if he can give some more specifics. I’ll try to get an update posted done this week, which will include pictures of tables from other DIYers who’ve taken on the challenge of Google SketchUp and won! :)

  • Comment by Jim — November 29, 2011 @ 10:09 AM

    I put up a cut list in the comments earlier, but there is a mistake. The end panel that has the door on it needs to be 1/4″ shorter and the door panel needs to be 1/4″ taller, allowing the tops to slide in and out. Also, since my 3/4″ plywood wasn’t actually 3/4″ (1/32nd to 1/16 thinner), the Trofast tubs fit a little too loosely. One keeps falling out of its guides. So if you’re using thinner than advertised plywood, you’ll have to make the whole works a little bit shorter in order for the tubs to stay put, or make the grooves shallower to give the tubs less side-to-side wiggle room.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I added an Ikea butcher paper roller to one end for easy dispensing and use of paper.

  • Comment by Lynda Pirtle — December 4, 2011 @ 2:44 PM

    This is gorgeous!! Would you sell one in white? LOL! I can’t find anything out there like this and my father is the only wood worker…..who no longer lives in Arizona!

  • Comment by Andrea Kolb — March 5, 2012 @ 10:42 AM

    You had mentioned that your husband may be able to build one if our family is not has able with a construction project… I could not link to your email, but I would be interested. Is this still an option? If so what is the cost. Please email me and let me know.
    Thanks
    Andrea

  • Comment by Lisa — February 8, 2013 @ 12:18 PM

    I know it has been awhile since this post, but is there any chance you or a follower has built this and has plan specifics? I would love some insight as to instructions on the build and would gladly buy any elaborated plans for this because it’s a great table! Also, any chance you would consider sharing this on http://www.ana-white.com? This is an ingenious table and I can think of dozens of people that would want to build a similar one!

    Thanks so much!

  • Comment by Emily — April 15, 2013 @ 9:31 AM

    @Lisa – My husband & I started building our version of this table a year ago, and then got crazy-busy. Now we’re finishing it! Once we do, I’ll put a post on my blog, and link to it here and on AnaWhite.com

  • Comment by Sherry — November 29, 2013 @ 8:47 PM

    Are there photos of constuction details? Where is a picture of Jim’s finished table posted? Someone else’s site? Jim…do you still read this thread, do you have more details for construction? Or Kyle?

  • Comment by Matt — December 15, 2013 @ 8:24 PM

    What did you use to join the sides to the rails? Did you use biscuits? screws? plain glue?

    Thanks,
    Matt

  • Comment by Lucretia — December 17, 2013 @ 9:21 PM

    Hi Matt, Kyle used Kreg pocket hole screws, but he says that biscuits would work too. Personally, my knowledge of biscuits doesn’t go beyond honey or gravy, but if you have more questions, Kyle would be happy to help out. :)

  • Comment by Jim — December 18, 2013 @ 1:55 AM

    Matt, Since I painted mine, I used screws and filled in depressions with drywall mud. I’m happy to report that my table has had nearly daily use for over three years and is still in excellent condition!

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