It’s back-to-school time! With all the excitement and preparation for school-aged kids, I’ve found that the littles who are left behind often feel pretty left out, which can lead to a major case of the scowls & whines.
If you’re looking for a fun distraction that your kid is REALLY going to get into, look no further than this simple DIY wood tablet (or laptop!) toy. Kids are enthralled by the gadgets and gizmos they see adults using, and though I’m not a huge fan of screen time for toddlers,
I do think we can teach them to use tech creatively and responsibly. This little faux tablet has a “screen” that can be drawn on over and over again and can easily be converted into a laptop for pretend play (without the negative effects of an actual screen).
Bonus? This quick little project is SO great for road trips, and it’s magnetic cover allows kids to keep their drawings safe from smudges and accidental erasures until they’re ready to open it and start on some new art or “work”.
To make your own DIY Play Tablet or Laptop You’ll Need:
Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains a few Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*
- (2) pieces of wood (we cut ours to 9.5″h x 8″w x 1″d)
- (2) 1/2″ round dot magnets (craft magnets actually work better for little hands than the really powerful neodymium kind)
- Note: You can also use small magnetic snaps if you don’t want to drill!
- (2) small fully pivoting craft hinges or a long jewelry box/piano hinge
- Drill and 1/2″ spade bit or forstner bit (forstner bits are circle-shaped and create extra flat holes)
- A screwdriver
- Medium and fine-grit sandpaper
- Gorilla glue or similar
- Foam brush/paintbrushes
- Dry erase paint, dry erase adhesive sheets (like these I used) chalkboard paint, or our screen mockups (download below)
- Our free printable tablet template and screen mockup PDFs (right-click and save to download)
- Polyurethane, wood wax or earth-friendly bio poly natural finish (like this one!)
- Dry Erase Markers or Chalk
- Stickers etc. to decorate the outside
As you read through the directions, keep in mind that you can download our template and follow our exact instructions, but you can also easily modify this to work with pieces of wood that are any size! You can also resize our templates to fit your own project by trimming them to fit your specific dimensions or printing them at a smaller/larger size.
Kids Writeable DIY Play Tablet or Laptop Instructions:
- Create shallow holes in your wood for small magnets
Securely clamp your wood pieces to a flat surface. Using your drill and spade/forstner bit, make a small, shallow hole that’s the same depth and diameter as your magnet in both pieces of wood. You’ll sink your magnets into these later (these will hold our tablet/laptop closed when not in use). If you don’t have a drill handy, skip this step – you can easily go without them, or glue on a couple of thin craft magnets later.
- Sand your wood pieces
Sand the heck out of your wood pieces to make sure all the edges and surfaces are nice and smooth. If sanding gets you down, you can make this a little easier on yourself by buying a pre-sanded piece of wood (most craft woods are, and box stores and lumber yards always have a decent selection of pre-sanded plys as well).
After sanding with medium grit, I move on to fine-grain sandpaper to sand down all the sharp corners so they have nice soft, rounded edges (see the comparison above). Wipe down with a tack cloth or washcloth to get all the fine wood dust bits off.
- Trace the outline of a screen on to your
Using a pencil, lightly trace the outline of your “screen” – you can use our plans to cut out a template, or make your own!
- Paint, stain or finish the wood if desired
If you plan on finishing your wood, this is the time to do so. If you’re going to paint a screen on, make sure you cover or avoid that area, otherwise, your paints won’t adhere to the surface. Using an acrylic or foam brush, finish with 2-3 coats of polyurethane, wax or earth-friendly bio poly finish to make sure its super spill/stain proof and any chalk or dry erase marks can be easily washed off.
- Add the magnets
Apply a small dab of gorilla glue (or similar) to your magnets and sink into the holes you’ve made in the top/bottom of your laptop pieces. *Important note: make sure your magnets are facing each other so that they will be attracted when closed -not pushing apart!* Also, a little public service notice – wood glue doesn’t actually work on magnets (learned that lesson the hard way…don’t ask).
- Attach the hinges
Attach the hinges with small wood screws (our hinges came with these). Test out the placement before you screw them in to make sure your tablet will completely open and close. We attached ours to both 1-inch sides so the tablet could be opened to sit flat on the table.
- Create a screen
There are so many ways to do this, but we wanted a screen that could be cleaned off and reused, so we painted 2 coats of white chalkboard paint on ours. You can leave it a blank white screen, or paint a simple browser window on with a small brush. We’ve also included a couple of screen templates in our printable that you can print on card stock and tape to your tablet for pretend play!
If you’d rather not deal with the mess and drying of paint, you can cut adhesive dry-erase sheets down to size and just stick them right on to the wood! We actually cut a few pieces of these and found we could stick them on, pull them off, and reuse them right over our chalkboard paint.
- Decorate the outside!
Your kids can add a logo, name, stickers – anything you can think of to make it their own! We even added a little logo on the back to make ours extra legit.
- Draw, play, write and learn!
There’s so much creative and imaginative play to be had – dig right in little techies!
You wily, eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that we made some special stickers for our tablet/laptop. We wanted to give a little shout-out to some companies, websites, and apps we’ve run across or used that are great creative tech-encouragers for kids. It’s only a small sampling of what’s out there, and they’re not just for toddlers, but they’re among our favs for fostering healthy screen-time habits for kids from ages 4 to 18:
- Girls Who Code
- Kiddle – a kid-safe image browser
- PBS Kids
- The MoMA Art Lab App
- Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls on YouTube
- Montessorium’s Intro to Colors App (FYI – their entire site is worth a peek)
*A note about Amazon affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click-through to make a purchase, we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!
With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help families discover their creative potential and be inspired to make the world a better place through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community.
When not playing with ideas, designs and projects for barley & birch, Amanda enjoys working as a modern art curator and managing her own small design business.