Our little one may be happily playing independently but the second I go to make dinner she demands to be held and refuses to be put down, making cooking impossible. To help keep her occupied but still involved I've been eyeing a learning tower / kitchen helper on Amazon for months now, but at $200 it just wasn't in our budget. My sister-in-law had made a learning tower from a plan by Ana White and suggested I try to make one too. I was unsure at first, I've never made anything more complicated than a birdhouse, but I decided to give it a go! Read on for my lessons learned and know that you can totally make one too. | This post contains affiliate links |
- Note: the plans that I worked from were from Ana White and can be found here -
The first step to making the learning tower was buying the lumber.. which is easier said than done when you just have a little car! Nevertheless, Miss M and I made the nearly hour-long trek out to Lowe's to pick up lumber, paint, and screws. One thing I really liked about the Ana White plan was that it had both a shopping list and a "cut list" so you knew exactly how much of each kind of wood to buy and then how to cut it up. I made a mistake at Lowe's though and ended up buying 6-foot boards instead of 8-foot.. I don't know if I read the sign too quickly or what, but it made me come up short for the project. Thankfully we had some extra wood in the garage and I was able to fudge it.
For our learning tower, I made some modifications - some were planned and some kind of happened as the project went on (partly due to the wood shortage). For example, I decided against doing the arches on the top - as lovely as they were, we don't have a jigsaw so I had to nix it. I also did the base of the tower a little differently and I didn't do the tip resistors (at least not yet), my sister-in-law omitted the tip resistors and has had no problems. Our little one is pretty good with the tower (knock on wood), but for peace of mind I think we will do something to help prevent it ever tipping - most likely adding some scrap wood to make a lip that will fit under the edge of our counter. Another thing I did differently was make the front and back top railing wider, the reasoning for this was two-fold - for one thing, it gave me more room to screw in the the top railings without the screws running into each other. Another was that the wider wood makes it impossible for our little one to open the kitchen drawers in front of her (so key).
One criticism of Ana White's plan is that while it gives you a great outline of what to make and how to go about it, it definitely doesn't spell everything out - and for this detail-oriented person that drove me nuts! For example, it doesn't detail how many screws you should use when attaching each piece or how to position the screws when you join sides together (this was a huge issue so they didn't run into each other). Another big problem was that the plan had quite a few typos and some of the steps would stop mid-sentence missing the full explanation of what to do.
I highly suggest cutting all the wood, labeling it, laying it out and really thinking through how it's going together. My biggest challenge by far was figuring out a good way to hold the pieces together while I pre-drilled and screwed them together. The wood the plan calls for is pretty thin (another downside of the plan), so that limited the ways I felt I could hold it without damaging it. I tried using vices and clamps to help hold everything together but they always seemed to be in the way so I ended up holding it in place anyway I could, even with my foot if necessary (awkward).
I also had to improvise on how to center the front and back side pieces against the wider side of the legs. It turned out that a picture book we had was the perfect thickness and became a great spacer.
To space the boards for the platform I placed some extra screws between them as spacers. Once it was all attached together, I just pulled the screw spacers out.
For paint, I used a high-gloss black enamel paint by Val-Spar and gave it two coats (though I probably should have done 1-2 more). I really recommend using high-gloss paint or stain so it can be wiped down easily after every use.
I wanted to add some personalization or decoration to the learning tower, but also wanted to keep it simple so that it would blend into the kitchen better. I decided against personalizing the tower since we're hoping to have more kids and I wanted to keep it "neutral" - so I settled for stenciling "ABC" on one of sides for a little decoration, using the Martha Stewart Monogram Serif Stencil Set.
Our little one loves her new learning tower and now feels like she can "help" when I'm making dinner. This tower also makes arts and crafts a lot easier (here she's playing with some homemade playdough).
Safety Notice: It goes without saying, but always supervise your little one while they're using the learning tower and make sure there is nothing dangerous within reach (hot plates, knives/other sharp objects, stove, off-limit foods, etc).
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Update: After I posted this article, our little one fell out of the tower and while I was right there too.. she was sitting on the platform and leaned back, falling out of one of the open sides (the tower did not tip). I felt SO AWFUL. She hit her head on the floor and we took her to the doctor as a precaution - she was totally fine, thank God. But it's making us re-think the design some. We definitely want to add a chalkboard to at least one of the open sides to enclose it a bit more and incorporate some kind of tip resistors (either feet similar to the ones the plan suggested or some kind of lip that will fit under the edge of the counter).