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
- Big enough for two kids (at least)
- School Desk
- 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.