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Converting Furniture Into Toddler Art Inspiration and a Work Station

Converting Furniture Into Toddler Art Inspiration (aka a Workstation)

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I have been wondering about writing you for months about different aspects of my son’s sleep, but each time the question didn’t seem interesting enough! I would rather send you something more fun to think about. And in the end, with some patience and work, each sleeping issue is finding its way towards a more manageable form.

Therefore, my question doesn’t have anything do to with sleep. YAY! Here it goes: how should I set up my bookcase’s doors so that my toddler can draw on them? We recently moved to a new flat and we built a big bookcase with IKEA Billys. The lowest raw would need some doors, but we haven’t bought them yet. A friend suggested painting them with chalkboard paint, so that our 14-month-old could have some fun drawing on them. However, I would rather not have to deal with chalks’ dust on the floor, clothes…and in our lungs. Is there some paint, vinyl, or other material we could cover the doors with? We don’t like glass doors very much, even if the internet seems to think that that’s the only option for “letting you toddler play/draw while standing up”. Maybe we should skip the art vibe and create some busy boards directly on the doors?

So first I’m going to use your question as an excuse to make a public service announcement to all parents of babies/toddlers/young children: BOLT YOUR FURNITURE TO THE WALL. Bookshelves, dressers, TV cabinets and stands, changing tables, ALL OF IT. Kids climb and grab and hang. They use the edges of open doors like stepstools; they open drawers to climb inside or climb “up” like a ladder. If the furniture is not securely bolted to the wall, it will tip right over on them, causing severe injury or death. And it’s not just “tall” furniture — even after IKEA recalled over 29 million MALM dressers, a relatively “small” (and unanchored) three-drawer dresser toppled over and killed a 2-year-old boy. He was fatality number four, in addition to many other injuries. ANCHOR. YO. FURNITURE. PLZ.

Still like, “ok sure maybe later” or “eh our dresser/shelf/whatever is probably fine“? Watch this:

Sorry about that, OP, as there was obviously nothing in your letter to suggest that your bookshelves AREN’T properly anchored, but the combination of toddler + furniture = play/art area kind of triggered an involuntary need to slap a wake-up call into some people.

I’m going to echo your friend’s suggestion for the chalkboard paint! We’re on our second house and second chalkboard wall, and it’s really the easiest way to give your child a permanent-but-reusable spot for drawing. And the dust really isn’t a huge issue. You want to buy chalk labeled “dust-free” or “anti-dust,” and not sidewalk chalk. (Although a caveat for milk-allergic kids, those chalks contain casein and you’ll want to steer clear of them.) And “erase” your son’s doodles with Endust and a paper towel (NOT a classroom chalkboard eraser) — that’ll get the paint nice and clean rather than just spreading chalk dust around. I vacuum the baseboards of our wall at the same rate/frequency of the rest of the house, and with the proper chalk and cleaning the residue it generates really is minimal. Note that you don’t HAVE to use dust-free chalk on the chalkboard paint — you’re not going to damage it or wear it down or anything — but yeah, you probably will notice a bit more dust on the floor below with traditional or sidewalk chalk.

(If the kids have REALLY gone to town on our wall and covered every reachable inch in several layers of chalk, I skip the Endust and wash it all off with a sponge dipped in Coca Cola. Really! It’s amazingly effective and makes the chalkboard paint to look brand-new. No, it doesn’t leave any sticky residue behind and yes, it’ll probably weird you out enough to stop drinking Coke.)

There is also a dry-erase paint, Idea Paint, that can turn surfaces into dry-erase “boards”, but 1) I have never used it and cannot speak to its effectiveness or durability over time, and 2) hahahahaha yeah I would soooo not recommend handing a 14-month-old markers and expecting him to understand to only use them on this one particular area on this one particular piece of furniture. (Or that he’ll be able to tell the difference between the dry-erase markers and something that might permanently mark up the paint.) Chalk is easily removable from just about any surface or fabric (ASK ME HOW I KNOW), so that’s another reason I prefer it for a free-range/unsupervised toddler drawing area.

If you’d rather go the temporary/removable route, there are vinyl “chalkboard” decals that you can peel and stick on the doors. (Although given my own experiences with vinyl decals, you’re going to need either great patience for a slow, meticulous application or a high tolerance for air bubbles on the door surface.) These work with regular chalk and those chalk marker pens, which are completely dust-free. But those are very bad if used on porous surfaces, so again, you might not want your son running around with an art supply that could cause damage to other parts of your home.

You could also possibly find roller paper that fits into the BILLY shelves above and pull it down over the doors and secure with tape, but I feel like that would get kind of old. (Especially if he’s the kind of artist who makes one scribble on a piece of paper and declares it “done” and demands the fresh piece for his next masterpiece.) Roller paper is great for turning any ol’ table into a temporary or permanent child’s art station though, especially when paired with one of those wooden holder/dispenser stands.

Readers: Any other ideas for turning furniture into a toddler doodling area?

Photo source: Depositphotos/daffodil


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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