What I love about little kids is that they’re so free of gender prejudices. My own big passion for hardware junk started when I was barely four (probably earlier, but that’s what I remember). I can recall it very clearly: my mom was an engineer at the shipyard. One day she couldn’t find anyone to babysit, so she took me with her. A little girlie me in my bright pink jacket was walking along the giant cargo ships with my mouth wide open. All around me there were big metal things, like anchors, and sheets of metal, and cable rolls, and anchor chains. And a heap of loose chain links, each size of the palm of a hand of a grown-up man. And huge metal beams piled neatly. And even half-of-the-ship-huge-as-hell-right-above-me. As we were leaving the shipyard territory, security guy noticed I was crouching down to the ground because of something really heavy in my little pink pocket. Yup, I sneaked a 2-kilo cast iron cargo ship chain link.
Like a little cutie pie in a pink jacket, I was.
That’s why I was more than encouraged when I got a request to make a busy-board for a girl, for little Maya. I do believe that the busy-boards are for all kids, definitely not just boys.
This Princess busy-board was made for the sweetest 1-year-old birthday girl, who loves - surprise - princesses and a certain British piglet. (And, just maybe, cast iron chain links.)
All in all, the girl busy-board didn’t take me much more planning than any other. I did get some inspiration for the design from a certain British piglet cartoon. A couple of elements here are slightly more pink than I would usually do, but that’s it.
If you’re up to making a busy-board, you’re gonna need:
- A board cut to your desired size. That one was 40x60 cm or 16x24 inches. You can also upcycle any suitable piece of wood you have lying around. It’s good as long as it’s rounded and sanded nicely and has no splinters or whatsoever sticking out of it.
- Power drill. Along with a set of various drilling bits.
- A jigsaw. Very handy to cut out the little doors and do minor cuts you’ll need in the process.
- A clamp or two. It’s always helpful to have few clamps around when woodworking.
- Acrylic paints. They’re the simplest & safest for indoor use toy.
- Painter’s tape.
- X-Acto knife.
- Brushes, or, preferably, paint rollers. They will give more even texture.
- Sound elements. (bells, ringers, beepers)
- Texture elements. (ropes, buttons, springs)
- Motor skills elements. (doors, locks, handles, wheels, pulls, switches etc.)
- Scrap pieces of wood.
- Screws. А handful of small screws (small enough not to pierce your board all way through). And some screws of various kinds and sizes, - you’ll need to pick them basing on each element.
- Safety gloves & glasses.
- A couple of bigger anchor bolts to mount the board to the wall.
On the elements. Safety first! Second, while choosing those, you’re mostly supposed to just have fun and go creative. If you know that your child has a particular love for buttons or loud sounds (they all do), then go for it. You probably would want to include things with various perception characteristics. Think sound, texture, movement, reflections, dynamics etc., everything that will work well to stimulate your little one thoroughly.
For that board, I pulled together a pile of wheels, rolls, bells, locks, and colorful Vietnamese ropes of ultimately pleasant woven texture. Also, a bicycle bell (not recommended, though - hard to attach, and there are too many details inside in case it breaks). But that one was pretty solid and so adorably polka-dotted, I had to give it a go.
- Pencil your design onto wood. Paint, step by step. Let dry thoroughly every time you replace the painter tape.
- Arrange the elements. Take your time. As you got your busy-board layout drafted, take a (lousy) photo of it and try to come up with another one. Eventually, you’ll feel which design will work best for your toddler. By the way, you can do it together with the kid on that stage. Eyeball, discuss and have some fun planning.
- Attach the elements. Go one at a time. Some will be easy, others - not that easy. This step may get kinda tricky, so don’t be discouraged when it does. It’s perfectly normal.
- Add smaller details. Think pictures behind the peekaboo doors, a piece of rope here and there, few large carbines etc.
- Get your beta-tester to double-check all systems.
- Mount to the wall in your preferred spot.
There are some common guidelines I learned from my experience. You might find these helpful:
- babies got the power. What I mean is try to avoid details that are not 100% securely attached. What may seem a fine wire fixture to you, will be forcefully unbent by 1-year-old in a breath;
- think out of the box. Some details are much more fun and functional when placed on the edges of the board, enabling the usage of some extra space;
- throw-through tubes openings better be pointed towards player’s side, they prefer it that way (cause anything toddler throws will go flying right into the middle of the room, and that’s hilarious, in their opinion);
- the metal ball rollers are so much more fun when there are more than one, and placed next to each other;
- when placing rotating wheels close, make sure they don’t block each other;
- when making a looped rope, you’ll need to go knot-less - consider sewing the ends together. And vice versa, when you need ropes to stay secure, make the knots so they'd be self-tightening;
Advice: Go for massive customization. Do whatever your kid (or you!) is particularly fond of. If you’re crazy about that chevron patterns or b/w, go for it! I’m sure it’ll look cool. If your kid loves banging kitchen pans, attach an old kitchen pan somewhere - why not? Colors, animals, characters, shapes, family members portraits… Add a little personal touch to take your busy board a step further than just screwing some hardware on some wood.
Here you are totally empowered to decide what you’re making. A developmental DIY toy that can be just played and then tossed away, OR the impressive one-of-a-kind playroom gear, that you’ll be proud of for at least few years. Do it your way. Whatever you choose, it’ll be perfectly good.
Girlie girl’s Princess Busy-board - done. Check! Next time, I will go all in and create a full-scale bad-ass girl busy-board. Think Mad Max Furiosa bad-ass. As soon as I can get my hands on a truck driving wheel.