26 August 2007

DIY Learning Tower to encourage pint-sized kitchen help? Talk amongst yourselves.

Chair/Step StoolIn the comments of the kid-friendly kitchens post, Marta asked:

Anyone have a hack for improvising one of those Learning Tower things? They cost a lot.

Step StoolI agree -- a lovely product, but the price is prohibitive. When I was a kid, we just used one of those stepstool/chair thingies. In my grandma's house, the stool looked like the yellow one pictured here, and it doubled (tripled!) as my default high-chair seat at all family gatherings, and regular step stool for high cabinets. You can also get a more Home Depot-ish ladder type if the goal is a stable surface for standing.

Anyone else have ideas?

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My grandma had the same type of chair, used as a highchair/stepstool.

We use the step-ladder (pictured) in blue for our 2-year-old. It is perfect for washing hands and helping mommy bake!

We have two $10 ikea stools (wooden) that my son stands or sits on at our kitchen island. Curiously. I couldn't find them on the ikea website. But they are very sturdy with a great height and could probably be modified to have some sort of handles or guide bars on the side.

I just used a kitchen chair pulled up to the counter. I was always right next to him, so even if he had started to fall (which he never did) I would have caught him. Before the chair, I would sometimes bring things down to the floor so he could 'help' me.

We actually invested in a Learning Tower because my in-laws and partner panicked when she started climbing a step stool like the blue one above at 15 months. They are on the over-protective side and thought it just couldn't be safe and would be better to just confiscate the stool. To appease everyone we got the learning tower, and although it was pricey (and takes up a lot of kitchen real estate) we still use it every day, and our daughter is four now. The ironic thing is, it is now just as popular as a makeshift gymnastic apparatus (but don't tell my in-laws that).

I say, do whatever works to get them helping and give them independence.

I also use a stepladder so my 2-year old son can help me at the stove with stirring or seasoning. Otherwise, I bring things down to the floor and put trays/sheet pans down to contain everything for easy cleanup.

I *love* the Learning Tower. Yes, it's an expensive piece, but my 3 year old has used it daily since we bought it (about a year and a half ago). He's not the best at balancing, and this made it safe for him to help with jobs (cooking, art, dishes, etc) on our high counters. My cat also loves it and pretty much has to be booted off in order for my son to use his tower. It's a win-win, I figure that thing is in use 23 hours of the day :) Pricey, but I would buy it again in a heartbeat for ease, safety, and daily use.

I have a folding plastic stepladder that I got at Target. I got one with wider steps and very sturdy nonslip grips both on the floor side and the step side.

We don't have a ton of counter space so when the boys help in the kitchen, I try to bring as much as I can to the kitchen table for them to work at their own level. I'd love a Learning Tower, but I don't have the finances or space!

We use a kitchen chair, preferably one with arms to keep my little one from absentmindedly stepping off. We have a dog, so I never considered having my kids work with food on the floor, but I do move tasks to the kitchen table sometimes.

I have seen the pictures of the learning tower, but why exactly are they supposed to be better than standing on a chair?

I have never seen the Learning Tower but how timely!! My son (16 months) is desperate to see what we are doing on the counter. I'm going to see if my husband thinks he can build something like this??

Count me among the silly people who actually purchased The Learning Tower. It was EXTREMELY bulky; it barely fit into our kitchen anywhere. In addition, it has these feet that stick out in all directions on all sides, and it is almost impossible not to kick those darn things and stub your toe! I mean, it was a more-than-daily occurrence. When we first bought The Learning Tower, my 2-year-old was really not stable enough NOT to have something behind her in case she fell, but even at 30 months or so, a regular old stepladder from the hardware store has become her ticket to being a Kitchen Helper!

We have a very small kitchen (galley style) so my son drags in one of our regular chairs (he insists on doing it himself) to help us cook. We bring it right up to the counter, with the seat back towards the counter, so he doesn't think he can support himself leaning backwards. He also knows (he's 2) that he only can stand on chairs in this context.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but we just pull a chair up to the counter. The chair back keeps her from falling one way and I'm on the side (although she's never fallen) Sometimes I just bring the mixing bowl down to the table and then I don't have to worry at all. There are so many more important things for me to spend my money on- sometimes I think people get over excited with "gadgets" that make life "safer and easier". While I'm sure there are many that are great, I think a lot play on our need for "stuff".

We just use the wooden Ikea step stool. It's sturdy, stable, comes with non-slip strips, and a good height. We've been using it for quite awhile and it's his "spot" when we're cooking. It's also handy for adult-use, too--not as skinny or rickety as some of the fold-away steps.

Somewhere (ParentDish, maybe?), I read a suggestion to zip tie two sturdy flat-seated chairs together. The bottom chair would be in the regular position, the other stacked on top upside down. The child could stand on the in the middle of the chair legs on the underside of the seat like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/optingout/1249664519/

even with zip ties i would think the 2 chairs together wouldnt be stable enouogh. We just pull a reg old kitchen chair in their and put the back toward the counter. sounds like a waste of money to me. I have 2 boys ages 3 and 4 and cant imagine spending that for something else for them to climb on/in/around
Steff

The product definitely appeals to me but the price is more than I could afford. And, I live in a small apartment and the tower looks very large.

My daughter is not quite two and very small for her age. Definitely not stable enough to stand on stool high enough to reach the counter. I'd like something where there was a bit of a barrier to accidentally stepping off. Hmmmm. I shall ask the family carpenter for advice.

Our three-year-old uses her Learning Tower more than any other item she owns besides her bed, her dining chair, and her play table. Some of those hacks look pretty funny but I wouldn't trust my child in them. The chair seems fine for older children but we would probably have offered our daughter a lot less freedom per increment of age than she has been able to have with the Learning Tower.

There is certainly merit to the "call me old-fashioned" just-use-a-chair perspective but I am guessing that daily involvement in cooking by toddlers and young children was not fostered in many households when we were kids. To me, the existence of the Learning Tower reflects how much our daily interactions with our kids has changed far more than it reflects our increased concerns/"over-protectiveness" about safety. I'm not saying it's better, necessarily; it's just a tool that supports that different lifestyle. And hey, what makes it so safe? Our daughter is less likely to fall down, but because of it we let her near the stove!

If I weren't an incompetent carpenter I would have rather made one myself, and there is no reason why you couldn't make it at least a bit shallower for galley kitchens, especially if you still had good support buttresses (watch your step!) - it would definitely still need to have a wide base to be stable. You could also have fairly haphazard rails made of bungees or whatever you liked as long as you removed them when you weren't supervising use to ensure you weren't creating a strangulation hazard.

We just use a chair pulled up to the counter, or we bring in his stepstool (from Target, wide and low). He's never fallen. Before he was sturdy enough to trust standing on a chair, I just sat him on the counter. I'm always right there and we've never had a problem.

I've often thought that a Learning Tower would not be difficult to make with even my rudimentary carpentry skills, though. Basically a box with a safety railing.

Learning Tower??!! IMO, this is sort of like having your kid walk around the house with a biking helmet on for safety. My youngest will NOT help at the counter until she is stable on a chair, just like my older one. And that's been good enough for hundreds of years, why the big "need" for this gizmo now? One of the smartest men I even knew told me "keep it simple, stupid."

Phil, I don't think anyone is saying you "need" it, but something like this could definitely have value.

True, I could wait until my daughter was older and able to stand safely on a chair. In the meantime, I spend a significant portion of every day preparing meals and washing dishes in my kitchen. She would love to help me and see what I'm doing, and I'd love to take advantage of that.

So no, it's not a necessity, but if there is a (safe, cost-effective)way to encourage participation at this age, why not? I am my child's only teacher and having her involved in simple daily activities is appealing.

My wife and I own the store in the Learning Tower link above. We've had a LOT of experience with this product over the years, and have gotten tons of feedback from people who have used it.

Over the years, we've seen people choose between using a step stool, a chair, a home step ladder like the ones above, and the Learning Tower. It really comes down to tolerance for safety (some think falls are learning experiences - other think a fall should never happen), the activity of the child, the attention the child pays to their balance when focused on other tasks, and their overall coordination.

We've used the Learing Tower for five years, and it was a godsend with our first child especially. He still doesn't pay any attention to where his body is, and he's seven. He fell off of the chair we used before we got the Learning Tower more than once, which ultimately prompted us to get the LT to begin with. My second child accepted it as a matter of course that there was a LT in the kitchen, and was pushing it to the counter he wanted to visit by the time he was two. It was a tool he used multiple times a day. Our third child rejected the whole notion of not being held by Mommy right from the start. She's almost two, and has really just begun to use the LT (Mommy enforced) and the Kitchen Helper prototype we set up in the kitchen a couple month ago. Our fourth is only 3 weeks old. Time will tell if he'll use it, but I suspect he will.

We have also talked to many people who have attempted to make these on their own. What we heard most often is that it cost more than they thought to make, and took a lot more time and effort. Come to think of it, that's pretty universal about ANY woodworking project! ;-) However, if you have undertaken this project on your own, please send us the pictures. As a woodworker myself, I always love to see other's handywork.

As mentioned above, a new product has come to market that deals some with the LT's size issue, and is called The Kitchen Helper. It's smaller and folds. Comparisons, reviews, glimpses of upcoming products, and opionions about safetystools themselves can be found at http://www.safetystools.com.

When it comes to these items, the variety of solutions people use is amazing. So, the bottom line is that only you can determine what method of getting your children up to counter height is best for you and your household.

We look at this item now and then, but our kitchen is tiny, and we have two preschoolers and a Kindergartener who want to help, plus a gradeschooler... it would get mighty crowded sometimes, and be too big other times.

We opted for two step stools with legs that angle outward (to reduce topple risk). The ones we found have that slot handle hole in the middle of the top, so they're easy to move out of the way one-handed, and we can put one or two together so we can accomodate more than one helper. When a stirring job (etc) requires a lower surface, we just use one of the step-stools and they stand on the floor. It's an 'eh' level hack, but it works.

I personally like the tower, but partly because it is multi-function - playhouse, tea table, puppet theater, (etc., etc.) and helper support. I'm more fond of multi-use furniture. Simple is good, but so is multi-function. :)

Dang, simulpost! A smaller one, huh... Hmm. (okay, priority is still low for now, but glad there's another option!)

Oh, how mortifying. We use the $10 wooden Ikea stepstool too....for our children to climb up onto the counter. We started letting our oldest sit up there around 2 years old and the second around 18 months. Neither has EVER fallen off (and of course they don't walk or climb around up there) but it's a great place for them to sit, scoop, and stir while we cook together (on a daily basis). At 4 our oldest makes some things on her own or with minimal help (sandwiches, pizza dough, oatmeal).
Might not recommend this for super-active kids who wouldn't stay put, though.

We use the good old "pull up a chair" method to let my son help in the kitchen. He also insists on dragging the chair to the counter himself.

We have a tiny kitchen as well, and I just can't fathom purchasing a gigantic monstrosity for such a purpose. We'd have to give up our kitchen table to fit that thing in our kitchen.

Cute idea, but I kinda think it's overkill...at least for us. :)

Our kids usually decide for themselves, though we hold veto power. They usually pull my chair over, but they have also tried an ottoman, bathroom step and highchair. The best solution is our low kitchen chairs, which work well for our low burners.

http://dragynf1ye.blogspot.com/2007/06/love-learning-tower-youll-want-to-trade.html

I show an alternative here, one that folds. I'm ok with the price because I've had it for two years and it is still in great shape and being used. (Moved four times, too!) I would probably buy the folding version were I to start over, but in the end I like the safety of having the side railings and the quality of the construction.

We use our learning tower *constantly*. I wanted one for over a year but couldn't justify the price and the space--until my MIL realized it also worked as a puppet theater. (You can rig up curtains yourself or buy the rod with curtains they sell as an accessory.) My younger son figured out it worked as a climbing apparatus, and it has slaked his need to climb over under and through everything in sight. It's so stable and sturdy that he can't knock it over, no matter how much of a monkey he is on it. He can spend over an hour clambering around it. For us, it was definitely worth it.

We have a learning tower that we use just occasionally. The thing is big, bulky and requires its own parking spot in the kitchen.

My kids like to move the tower from place to place in the kitchen to reach and get stuff or help me out. It makes a horrendous sound when slid on the kitchen tiles.

Instead, we've been using one of those rolley poley stools where the wheels lock when you stand on them. We absolutely love it b/c it wheels very smoothly. It is light, takes up small space and the wheels do lock even when my 26 lb 2 yr old stands on .

My very first giveaway, for The Learning Tower and
playhouse kit is up on my blog. It will run for the whole month of September.

Stop by and enter!

Thanks,
Naomi

http://superdumbsupervillain.blogspot.com/2007/09/giveaway-learning-tower.html

Wow, lots of smart parents here. I'm the one who asked the question in the first place, and after looking at everyone's posts I think I will first buy a folding step stool, then a house, and then a Learning Tower :). Our kitchen is so very tiny. My daughter, who is almost 2, sits happily on the counter and helps me make breakfast every morning, but her teeny bottom takes up most of the counter space!

One of the kids in my son's playgroup has a Learning Tower, and it really is very cool. What I like about it is its sturdiness, and the kids seem magnetically drawn to it somehow.

I probably won't get one because, well, I'm kind of cheap when it comes to things like that. I remember standing on a chair at the counter when I was little, and especially on my grandparents' stepstool with the collapsible steps (just like the yellow one shown in the post, but green). It's kind of a favorite memory, and the stepstool is still in my mother's kitchen, so I get to have that memory every time I visit. I doubt that the Learning Tower would be in my kitchen when my son is 40. Unless the cats REALLY like it. :-)

We've had our Learning Tower for about 18 months now and it's one of the best purchases we've made for our daughter. She's extremely active and adventurous and so I love knowing she's in something that can't tip over. It was particularly good when she was in her clingy phase and "needed" to be right next to me all the time - much easier than trying to fix meals and do dishes one-handed. She had a friend over last week and the two of them fitted in comfortably, helping me make lunch. It also gets used as a hut, a climbing frame, and to dry washing on over night!

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