Busy boards: DIY or buy?
Our short answer: why not do both!
If you’re on social media, you’ll almost certainly have seen pictures of beautifully hand-made busy boards – often with ‘easy’ instructions. If you don’t happen to have power tools, graphic design skills and a very well-stocked hardware store nearby, you might be wondering: are home-made busy boards really better than the bought version? And the answer is, of course, it depends. At La-la-llama, we developed our line of busy boards out of the ones we made – or wished we could make – for our own kids. Our products have been thoroughly tested both for safety and playability. That said, simple home-made busy boards can be a great way to help toddlers explore or learn a new skill – and you don’t even need power tools.
What are busy boards?
Busy boards, fidget boards, Montessori boards, activity boards, sensory boards… there are lots of names for similar things. Essentially, what we’re talking about are boards with toys, activities and/or learning opportunities generally intended for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Whether made at home or designed by an expert, each board will follow its own ethos, offering a particular range of activities. Some boards focus on helping children learn a new skill, such as getting dressed, while others simply aim to amuse. La-la-llama activity boards are designed to support fine motor skills, dexterity and logical thinking.
Is it worth the time and effort to DIY?
A half-finished activity board that’s left in the shed is no use to anyone, so before you start a craft project it’s worth asking: do I really want to do this? Do I have the skills? How much will it cost? Will I need to buy new tools or hardware? If you feel at all reluctant or will have to shell out, it may be worth spending the money on a quality ready-made Montessori board instead. Busy boards that are offered for sale as toys have to meet safety standards. This can be particularly helpful if you’re looking for an activity board for a baby. Between about 6-12 months babies start to become interested in looking behind doors and flaps, twisting or pulling knobs and exploring textures so a busy board is a great gift at this stage.
Making your own activity board
While many beautiful options shown on social media require a full workshop, you can make a busy board or activity board out of almost anything and attach items to it however you feel is suitable. For example, if you don’t own a drill, you could purchase a piece of peg board as they are a grid of pre-drilled holes. You could then use bolts, strong string or shoe laces, wire ties or other appropriate fastenings to attach the items to the board. For a lightweight (and less durable) sensory board, you could glue pieces of fabric, textured paper, tinfoil and plastic to a piece of thick cardboard.
Choosing your activities
A home-made busy board can be very personal, and the more specific it is to your child’s interests, the longer it will hold their attention. Babies and young toddlers don’t have hobbies or interests in the way adults do, but they will often develop a fascination for a particular type of activity, such as opening doors, turning knobs or flicking switches. By creating a whole board full of this type of activity, you may be able to keep your little explorer away from the light switch, remote control and cupboards. Of course, if you’re using real-world pieces you’ll need to make sure they are safe for the age and stage your child is at – for example, are any beads on thread your child can’t break? Are there sharp edges? If there are batteries, have they been fully secured?
Learn a skill
Anyone learning a new skill needs practice, ideally in a calm environment. This makes activity boards perfect for practicing skills like getting dressed (buttons, zips, velcro, shoelaces...) and opening or closing a bag or lunch box (clips, snaps, screw tops…) as your child can practice for as long as they like without making you late getting out the door.
We picked some great ideas on how to make a busy board yourself, please check the links below to get some inspiration or step-by-step instructions:
Great fun – and portable too!
Whether you buy one or make your own and whatever you call them, activity boards are a great choice for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. As well as entertaining little kids, Montessori boards encourage skill development. With everything attached to the board, there’s no mess to pick up or parts to lose, making this an ideal choice for a restaurant visit or plane ride. At La-la-llama we’re constantly thinking about how to make our busy boards better, so we love seeing the creative home-made versions other parents come up with!