Fostering toddler independence, DIY-style

Edited: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using these links, I will receive a percentage of the profits. 

There are some areas in which I feel very confident in letting my twins just do their thing and figuring life out on their own. There are also some areas (ahem, meal time) when I’m slightly obsessed with making sure they take small bites and chew their food 1,000 times before swallowing. I’m working on that.

I can say, though, that I foster independence at home much more successfully when I set up certain areas of my house to be ready for whatever my twins want to do. Then the decision to let them be independent is out of my hands, because my home is already set up for this exact thing. In the past few months, I’ve made a few changes in my house that have really helped the twins make choices and be successful on their own.

First of all, Pinterest is my BFF. I know it’s so stereotypical. My husband likes to tell me that Pinterest is where your wife spends hours on the computer, only to end up serving the dinner salad in a mason jar and calling it a day. It’s kind of true. But I lack creativity. I’m great at following directions. I only save pins that I feel I can and will accomplish. So therefore, all the ideas I’m about to share came from my Pinterest searches.

DIY Toddler Art Station and Art Cart

With our nanny at our house every day, all day, I wanted the twins at age 2 to be able to do arts and crafts on their own. The kids have structured play during the day but also free play. I wanted art supplies to be at the ready for whenever we’re busy and they need to entertain themselves. As is my nature, I also wanted our art station to be as cheap as possible. So I consulted my BFF, Pinterest. Pinterest led me here, and this is what I based our art station and cart off of.

DIY Toddler Art Station

I used a piece of wood I found in our basement and Target’s $1 tin buckets we already had from the twins’ first birthday party. I already had the art supplies as well, though I continue to buy more on sale and switch them out. At the moment, the sticker bucket actually says, “stamps”. I bought the hooks at Target and my husband kindly drilled them in.

DIY Toddler Art Station

We have a small table that the twins eat breakfast and lunch at, and due to lack of space in our tiny cape, I decided that table would also serve as their art area. I found an old TV cart in my basement and I already had the plastic craft trays (affiliate link) from when we started doing Tot Trays. After a little modeling, I taught the twins that when they wanted to color (or use playdoh, stickers, etc.), they needed to grab a tray first, then a piece of paper and carry them to their table. Then they could grab the bucket of supplies they wanted and bring it to their trays.

DIY Toddler Art Station

They love it. These pictures are from the summer but the art station is used daily. At this point, they now know what color tray the other twin prefers and I frequently hear C saying, “Here’s your tray, B!” On the weekends after breakfast, she typically announces, “Let’s do playdoh now!” and runs to gather her materials. It’s been wonderful to allow them to partake in arts and crafts on their own without me needing to run around gathering supplies.

DIY Toddler Picture Schedule

Over the summer, B was struggling with transitions. He was so upset in between everything that happened – from dinner to bathtime, from getting up in the morning to breakfast. It was one meltdown after another. I hated that I was the misdirected cause of his anger. It was me saying, “It’s time to do _____” that got him so upset. Our schedules are pretty solid throughout the week. I wanted him to know what was coming next and even if he got angry, it wouldn’t be at me. So I Pinterested it, obviously. I found many examples but liked this one the best. I used mycutegraphics.com, made my own cards on Microsoft Word and printed them out. Around the same time, I paid $33 for this laminator as well as these laminating pouches (affiliate links). I knew it would get a ton of use over the years. I laminated the cards onto cardstock and slapped some velcro to the backs. I used a foam board (from Walmart – $2 or $3) and now the cards are interchangeable.

DIY Toddler Picture Schedule

I put it at the twins’ height in our hallway. They know to check the board when they aren’t sure what’s coming next but typically, most things stay the same every day.

DIY Toddler Picture Schedule

I have to say, this was helpful for fostering independence. More importantly, it cut down on B’s meltdowns. The bath card is always after the dinner card. He can’t be angry at me for my sudden bathtime announcement – he knew since he woke up in the morning that bath would follow dinner. Our nanny adjusts it as she sees fit. Right now, this is really working for us.

DIY Learning Tower

This one deserves its own post and is months in the making. Almost a year ago, my husband started making the twins’ learning towers. Learning towers are a Montessori staple, but we found it on (….Pinterest…) because we wanted the twins to be able to simply see out the window. We had a lot of scrap wood and my husband said, “I can make that”. And he did. And it took a while, and wasn’t exactly dirt cheap. That said, it was way cheaper to make one than buy one, and I love how I was able to “personalize” them with the twins’ colors, blue and purple. When they were first made (and not even painted yet), the twins were 18 months old. They’re now almost 27 months old, but these towers have already gotten a good amount of kitchen use.

DIY Learning Tower

This was one of the first times we used them. B helped Daddy make afternoon smoothies. He absolutely LOVED being at counter height.

DIY Learning Tower

C loved it too, and though we planned on them helping us cook in the kitchen, I found I could just hand either of them a pot and a spoon and they enjoyed pretending, stirring…

DIY Learning Tower

…and sampling dinner.

DIY Learning Tower

Someday I’ll do a post with the step by step, because my husband did take pictures along the way. I love their quality, and someday perhaps we will sell them. I don’t like how heavy they are. In a big house, they might have a permanent home against a counter but in our house, we have to move them to the mudroom when we aren’t using them.

In case you’re not up to sawing pieces out of wood and would rather invest in a learning tower, you can find a few great ones HERE and HERE! (affiliates!)

So these were a few changes we made that have really encouraged and fostered independence from our toddlers. I am always looking for new ideas, because I truly believe in the concept of independence. The more they can do on their own, the better! Selfishly, I also love that there’s less for me to do – more of it’s on them, saving me time and energy. I did pin many more ideas but haven’t yet tried them – you can find all of them on my Pinterest page!

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2 thoughts on “Fostering toddler independence, DIY-style

  1. randomsqueaks says:

    I’m so impressed by how B and C are so capable. I don’t think I could trust M and V to have an art station and not make a huge mess. I’m also very impressed by the learning towers. J has been talking about making a pair for M and V, and I know they’d love it. Just have to find the time somehow.

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