Monday, December 14, 2015

How to Make a Town Platform out of wood, for Pretend Play

One of my son Denver's favorite books is the iSpy series where you look inside each picture to find hidden items...or you can simply enjoy making thousands of observations in each picture image. The displays created for each picture in the book series are extremely well done, to say the least. One of the subjects for an image is a town platform with cars, blocks (for buildings), people, animals, and other random objects carefully set up throughout the town. It is his favorite image to enjoy, so I had the idea to build him a platform and paint it like a town so he could play with his cars and trucks, use Legos and blocks for buildings and practice his creativity and general motor skills. It proved to be more challenging than I expected, but worth the work...he loves it!
If you get the idea to make one of these for your son or daughter, hopefully this post will help you with ideas and suggestions. This is by no means the only way to make one, it's just the way mine turned out.
What you will need:
  • Mitre Saw
  • Electric Sander (sandpaper)
  • Hammer
  • Power drill
  • Shower board
  • 8' 2X4's (3)
  • 2" nails
  • 3-4" deck screws
  • Tape measure
  • Ruler
  • Wood glue
  • Paint brushes & paint
  • Polyurethane
Step 1: The Base Frame

I tried to make several of these platforms before this one worked out. The most difficult part was finding a way to maintain a flat surface so that there is absolutely no slope, or the matchbox cars will roll off of it. I assumed that I could just make it from one sheet of flat plywood, but finding a perfectly flat piece of plywood at Lowe's, or Home Depot (one that wasn't warped) was impossible. A piece of flooring grade plywood would work, but it was too expensive for my budget. I planned to build a base from 2X4's and then nail a piece of shower board to the top. The shower board is the white smooth board material with a dark backing. It's somewhere around $12 for a large piece at Lowe's.
Below is a list of steps that I took to make the base frame.
  • Cut the 2X4's into 4 pieces at 3 foot length each. This will become the base. I always used my electric sander to sand the rough edges of every cut and every piece of wood so that everything is smooth and sanded. I don't want any splinters, but I also don't want a pull in my carpet if we use it to play in the living room. Screw the cut pieces together using the deck screws to make a square frame base. I used 2 screws per board.
  • Measure and cut 2 pieces of 2X4 to size to fit within the base to act as reinforcement. Those 2 pieces will be a little less than 3 feet long each. (They run east-west in my picture below). Screw those into place using the deck screws.
  • Measure and cut pieces of 2X4 to fit between the base and the reinforcing boards. (The 8 short pieces pictured). Screw each into place.
  • Cut the showerboard to size to fit the top of the base. I used a piece of sandpaper to smooth out the cut edge.
  • Lay the showerboard onto the base with the dark side facing up (white side down). I assumed that the dark side would be easier to paint.
  • Pre-drill holes that you will use to nail the showerboard to the base. Don't pre-drill holes that are too deep, only through the showerboard is sufficient. Use the 2" nails to nail the shower board to the base. Use nails only around the perimeter and be careful not to create any slopes, you want it as flat as possible. Use sand paper to smooth over any roughness at each nail hole.
  • This completes the base construction.
 Pre-drill holes for the nails and then nail the shower board to the base with the dark side facing up.
Step 2: Painting the environment
I modeled the design used in the iSpy book, which includes a few streets at the edge of a town, a river, 2 bridges, streets running out of town, a pond and some paved surface and grassy areas. You should feel free to create any environmental design you wish.
  • Begin by first pencil sketching the roads, water and any features. Be sure to label them so you don't forget what color they will be. For the roads, use a ruler to make sure the road is always 4 inches in width. That is a good width for 2 matchbox cars to pass each other on the road.
  • There is no need to use Kilz on the surface, however I do recommend multiple coats of paint for each color. I used Valspar for the black and green, and acrylic paints for the gray sidewalk and blue water surfaces.
  • I painted the roads first, the paved surfaces and sidewalks next, then the water and grassy areas last. Plan for any bridges that you may want because you will need to measure and draw where the sidewalks will end.
  • If your little one is home while you work, I suggest letting him play nearby with sidewalk chalk. That way he/she isn't in the way and you can keep an eye on them.
  • It's up to you if you want to paint yellow lines in the road. I found it unnecessary. I painted lines on one road going out of town to see if I would like it.
  • I also suggest that you do take your time and do a good job painting, but don't be so upset if lines aren't absolutely perfect, after all, it's charming being hand painted and looks good in the end anyway. You're kid won't be critical of your lines!
Step 3: Finishing touches and set up
  • For the bridges, I used Lincoln Log pieces with flat bottoms. I used epoxy to affix them to the surface, which turned out to be the right choice because my 9 month old likes to play with us and she like to try to pry those up. The epoxy holds, not sure if Elmer's would. 
  • I considered affixing other permanent things to the surface, like trees and such, but refrained because I liked the option of setting up different environments every time.
The pictures below show some of the "towns," and set-up's that we have played with. We like to use Legos to build the buildings, Lego characters for people, Dora and other characters like Super Mario, Batman and Chase from Paw Patrol usually "stop in." We use trees and look-out towers from an army-man set and animals and other objects for props to have fun with.
To finish this post, I'd like to share some of my observations, experiences and ways that we use this "toy" so that you can too enjoy with your son, or daughter.
  • My 9 month old little girl loves to sit/crawl around and on the platform while Denver and I play with it. It's a great way to have them playing together with the same toy and gets them sharing toys and space together. Just be careful and aware of the sharp edges so that your little one doesn't fall onto them.
  • When Adeline (my 9 month old) is playing, we call her Godzilla, since she tends to destroy parts of the set up. So Denver and I have fun flying a helicopter around town announcing an emergency, people should take cover. We drive the fire trucks and police cars around town saving people and animals after her destruction. Construction vehicles usually are called in to rebuild.
  • The platform is great for general motor skills and dexterity. I've observed denver improve on his lateral movement and skill in moving around the base. It also gets me moving around as well! I do not allow him onto the platform, I don't want to create a "bow" in the surface but I also think it's good for him to practice his spacial and kinesthetic mobility.
  • It's also a great toy for imagination play.
  • We have built a variety of buildings and utilize them to tell stories. Have your child create and then tell a story using a "set-up." Denver once built a bank and created a story where a bank robber broke into the bank, stole the gold and tried to flee the town. But a hero was watching from a nearby building and thwarted the plan by setting up a roadblock on a bridge out of town. The robber was stopped when he tried to turn around and renter town....the police were there! Pretty good for a 3-year old I'd say.
Ok well there you go. I realize that one of these platforms could be built much easier, this is just the story of how mine came out. Thought I'd share for you moms and dads out there who love to do DIY projects.