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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

DIY Magnetic Travel Activity Tray

I'm going to show you a travel activity tray that I whipped up in the days before our recent road trip.  This one is (obviously) geared toward preschooler boys, but you could take the same concept and adjust it for girls.

I was rushing this one, and a few bits are not quite up to my usual standards, but it still turned out good and was a successful boredom buster on our road trip.

What I used:
11" by 17" metal cookie sheet, with sides
metal, hinged book rings (3)
3 sheets of craft felt
velcro tabs
duct tape
clear contact paper
circle craft magnets (1/2" diameter by 1/4" thick)
scrapbook paper & computer print-outs

What I did was make several layers of play mats that my Little Man could use cars, trains, and dinos on.  They fit into the cookie sheet, and toys with magnets glued to them can be used on top.  

To keep everything together, I had the Hubs drill three holes in the vertical edge of the tray - these had to be filed smooth after drilling to get rid of sharp edges that might scratch little hands.  I used metal, hinged book rings to attach the layers of activity mats.  I added a strip of duct tape on the backsides of the punched holes, to help  prevent the holes from tearing through as the pages were turned.
The different activity layers can then be flipped up and over the front like pages.  The operation of this requires some adjustment each time the pages are turned, but it keeps everything together 
and offers a variety of play surfaces.  

The bottom layer is attached right onto the pan itself, with a covering of clear contact paper.  *A note on this - the contact paper and the nonstick surface of the pan acted like they weren't going to hold well long term.  A few coats of Mod Podge may have been the better choice, but I didn't have a lot of time to get this done before we hit the road.

I tried to remedy this by edging each end with duct tape, 
the whole side of the cookie sheet, which both helped hold 
down the bottom page right onto the pan, and also 
attached the side storage pockets that I made out of felt.

For the pockets, I used three sheets of craft felt.  
I cut one in half, and for each side pocket, sewed the half piece
onto the bottom of a full piece - down the half edge, across the short end, 
and back up the opposite half edge.  Then I turned them right side out.
I top stitched a straight line up the center to create two pockets on each end.
I trimmed about 1 1/2" off the length of the full piece, but could have done more - he had a hard time reaching down into the pockets.

*A note on this - I was winging this whole thing and didn't think about
closures till after the pockets were sewn.  I attempted to use stick-on
velcro tabs, but they kept pulling off the felt during our test run.  By that
time, the pockets were sewn and attached to the tray and I was not able
to sew velcro on with the sewing machine...I ended up stapling them.
yup.  Kind of an eyesore, but it worked.  If you make one of these, you
will want to play around with placement of the velcro and sew it on
while you are able to fit it into your sewing machine...
or yours will look redneck like mine ; )

As you can see above, I used duct tape to attach the felt pockets to each end of the tray.  I duct taped both from and back, making a few snips at the corners so that the piece could both hang down over the edge during use, and flip up onto the tray for storage.  I wasn't sure if this would hold up, but in my rush to complete this project, it was all I could think of for attaching them.  And actually, duct tape is pretty darn strong and it ended up working.

Ideally, I would have added some feature for strapping these pockets closed on top of the tray, so that it could be stored vertically in the pocket on the backside of the driver's seat.  Instead, my storage pockets laid loosely on top of the tray, and we kept it flat on the floor below Little Man's feet.

During our trip, Little Man could lay this on his lap,
with the pockets hanging down the sides.  He could reach
in and grab cars, trains, construction vehicles, and dinos
and use them on the different laminated pages.  The flipped
pages just hung down over the front as he turned them.

Here is a closer look at our activity pages...
The bottom one, that was attached right on the cookie sheet with clear contact paper, is hand-pieced out of patterned scrapbook papers.
 I hot glued magnets to the bottoms of 5 mini dinos.  

The next one up is a construction scene that I created by editing and piecing together a black and white printable coloring page.  I then printed it enlarged onto three sheets of paper that I trimmed and pieced together.  I used a fine point sharpie to fill in the missing lines and then colored it and laminated it with clear contact paper.  Little Man and I chose three matchbox construction vehicles from his stash to hot glue double magnets to.

Ha!  No wait, here it is...
The next one has train tracks and a station.  This was originally a printable maze, and I edited it with My Memories to make the track continuous.  I used a few clipart items to add the bridge, trees, signal, and station, and then drew in the river in Windows Paint.  I printed it enlarged to 2x3 pages (I think), and then trimmed the edges and pieced it together.  We chose an engine and one train car from our wooden track set and hot glued magnets to the bottoms.
The top two pages are city street and race track scenes.  
Believe it or not, I made these by saving high resolution product photos of play rugs, then printing them enlarged and piecing them together.  All of these pages I then cropped to fit into the 11 x 17 cookie sheet.  This just meant cutting off an inch or so on one or two sides.  Nothing major was lost.  We chose four matchbox vehicles - a truck, a taxi, and a few race cars, and all could be used on both road mats.
The key (and challenge) was finding high resolution pics to use.  Those are the only ones that can be printed large-scale without being all pixelated.

This project turned out to be a hit.
Little Man was super excited to use it and take it along
in the car on our extensive road trip.  It was easy to 
pull it out for him, too, for some distraction.

Want to make one?
Here are some of the printables I used...
You can see this post for info on how to print 
larger scale on your home computer.  If you DO make one of these,
as-is, or an improved version, I would looove to see some photos of it!
Please share them with me! 

Train Tracks

Construction Scene -
Left & Right sides to piece together.
Extend some lines with a thin marker to fill in empty spaces

Race Track
This one I had to crop a good chunk off to fit on my cookie sheet,
but still had plenty of track to drive magnetic cars on.

I can't seem to find the same high resolution photo that I used for the town streets one, but I did come across several others through an ebay shop that would also make fun play mats for this type of magnetic activity tray.  These pics are hard to track down, so I'm putting the ones I have found in this post.  I may be coming back to them myself one day!

City Streets

Country Roads

Town Roads

Farm Scene - 1
This would be so cute with a tractor and some farm animals!
Farm Scene - 2
I can see this being entertaining with one of 
those tubes of mini plastic animals!

Oooh!  Space!
How about with little plastic astronauts and a rocket?

And Pirates!
With some mini plastic boats and a tube of ocean critters.


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