DIY Gifts for Toddlers

Do It Yourself Chalkboard Travel Desk

M. Ryan

We all know that toddlers often prefer the box a gift came in to the toy or gift itself. Thus, while there are many exciting and engaging toys for toddlers, you can leave those big ticket items to the overspending grandparents and focus instead on simple, do-it-yourself projects that will delight toddlers and simplify your gift giving.

This simple chalkboard travel desk is a perfect example. It offers hours of entertainment while giving you a chance to reinforce small motor skills and letter awareness or other early learning skills (depending on what type of magnets you include). It also gives you the chance to cut down on the whimpering and boredom during road trips or long car rides -- without resorting to the in-car DVD player, game console or iPad to appease your tot.

Little Guy especially loves to use his LeapFrog Fridge Words on the travel board. His big sister likes to help him spell words and then has him draw a picture to go with the word (she's a natural born teacher).

Make Your Own Doll Bed and Acessories


Within the first few months of being a parent you probably were shocked by many (many!) things. Not least of them, in my experience, was the cost and shoddy craftsmanship that marked children's toys. Sure, they often seem cute in the catalog, but too often, I have paid for something I thought would be great only to find it less than perfect on first site or in pieces within weeks when subjected to real children. Thus, the motivation for us to make our own doll furniture for our child or to rebuild some older pieces that were handed down.

My husband refinished and repaired an old doll high chair for my daughter and that led to much more. Ana White (my favorite go-to mom for DIY woodwork) had plans for a doll trundle bed and other doll furniture that isn't "easy" but will be made to last and cuter than anything you'll find at the mall.

Build a Sand and Water Table


I have a special place in my heart for messy play. In general, we are good with a backyard mud pit or mat inside where little ones are free to smash playdough, splash paint and wrap bits of whatever in glitter and glue. But I also greatly appreacite a well-made water and sand table. Our store-bought water and sand table served us well, but it had definite drawbacks. It won't last too far past the toddler/preschool stage due to the size, and the plastic material means that the kids can't safely climb in when they want (which your children will want to do).

When I saw this amazing table created by John and Gillian Haas over at The Haas Machine, I was inspired. This is the ideal messy, open-ended play environment that would delight my kids for many years and offer opportunities for us to adapt, change and add to the setting. My older son had some immediate ideas for making it even cooler so we can make a toddler friendly table for his brother that he too can play with.

Doll Big Kid Pants


I loved this easy sewing project for dolly diapers from Maggie at Smashed Peas and Carrots because my daughter was always enchanted by diapers and underwear for her dolls (I guess it made them more real and she could be like mommy who was forever changing a baby brother in her memory). Needle and thread are not my natural friends but I found these directions easy to follow.

I think the "diapers" could be called "big kid pants," by the way, since they are as cute as first underwear and a good motivation for those little ones who are potty training.

Bat Mobile


I was offered an old coupe car toy. I thought, "Who needs another hand me down?" After all, we had a collection of okay ride-ons already.Then I saw this fabulous upcycle from Courtney at Sweet Designs with instructions on turning that old car into the Bat Mobile. My superhero loving tot can now dress up like the caped crusader and zoom off to save the day.  

Busy Board


Our toy box is filled with play phones, plastic keys and "safe" toy versions of real-life gizmos. And, still, Little Guy grabs for my camera, fiddles with the door knob, loves opening and closing the latch on the kitchen cabinet. He knows. The fake stuff just isn't good enough. Bre Paulson at Bre Pea has the perfect solution -- a DIY busy board with real latches, hinges, wheels, locks and gadgets. It looked intimidating to me at first (since I don't know a screw driver from a wrench), but Bre's tutorial for the toddler-friendly busy box makes it completely clear and easy. You can't buy anything like this ready made at the toy store!

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