What is a toddler learning tower?
If you have a toddler, you may consider buying a learning tower, also known as a standing tower, kids kitchen helper, or Montessori stool. It’s basically a step stool that is tall enough for your child to comfortably reach counter height.
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The tower has rails around the top so your child won’t fall. You can see one here for comparison. Kids just love to help in the kitchen and this is a safe way to get them right up where the action is. Best of all, the towers are adjustable in height, so it can accommodate your child as they grow. You could just use a stool, but I’ve seen enough kids fall off stools enough times and I love the safety the standing tower provides. However, these learning towers can be rather pricey, which is why Beau did what he does best. Created one himself from scrap wood lying around the shed.
Here he is today to tell you exactly how he did it.
Why start a diy project?
Most of the time the answer is simple, there is a need. Then the next question is how to start a project. You can go to the internet and find plans for most anything and tutorials on how to do the project, or you can design something yourself, or you can do a combination of both.
Years ago I made one of these standing towers for my grandson, but because I never kept notes I didn’t remember any of the measurements. I really don’t know what happened to the original one, so I will start from square one again. I did look on the internet, but with all plans what I found didn’t quite explain all I wanted to know. So these plans are my adaptions of a toddler kitchen tower.
First, decide on dimensions for the toddler tower.
You need to figure out the dimensions of the standing tower first. Our kitchen counter tops (like most) are 36 inch tall. So the first thing to decide was the height of the tot stool. I decided on the same height as the counter tops. The overall height is 36 inches. The width was estimated to give enough room for a child to maneuver but not slip out of easily. I went with 18 inches. So our learning tower will be 18″ X 18″ X 36″.
Next, decide on what material to use for the toddler standing tower.
First idea on most projects is to decide on the wood you are going to use. I know it is far ahead, but decide if it will have a natural coat on it or be painted. If it will be painted, then you can use less expensive wood and most especially good wood that you have on hand (or re-purposed wood) instead of buying from the store. Make sure when you are making anything the wood is straight without a lot of knots. Unfortunately most inexpensive wood has knots in it. Because knots add to a weakness in the board, cut strategically to reduce where the knots are placed. You don’t want them in places that may be have a lot of stress. For example the legs. For the legs, I purchased a 2X4X8. Because it was going to be painted, I used all white pine (inexpensive). For 90% of the rest of the project, I used spare wood that I had lying around. The wood’s previous life was a wooded valance over glass doors. Here it is.
So to be specific in the directions below, when I say 1 X 4 cut, it isn’t a manufactured 1 X 4 that measures 3⁄4 X 3 1/2,” it is a 1 X 4” that measures 3⁄4 X 4”. The same with the 1 X 2’s (except for the step stopper and pieces under the movable step they are manufactured 1X2’s). You can interchange sizes as needed.
Let’s put this tower together.
I started with the legs. I used the 2x4x8 so I would have 36” from the floor exactly. Of course you could use a 2x4x6, but because of the saw’s kerf, it maybe a touch short. I cut two exact 36” cuts. I then used a table saw and cut them in half. Because when you cut they may not be totally square, I cut each board again to make them a 1½ square. I now had 4 – 1 ½ X 1 ½ X 36” legs. I routed them on all sides including the top edge but not the very bottom. If you do not have a router, then make sure you sand or rasp all edges to keep the splinters at bay.
I then wanted to attach the upper sides and platform supports. I made the sides and platform supports by cutting apart the afore mentioned window valance. (From here on out most all wood is from the re-purposed wood valance). To make the unit an 18” width I cut the side boards and platform support boards 15” so they would fit inside the legs. Putting both the side boards and platform supports inside the legs is just a personal preference. You could put them on the outside of the legs much easier. In fact I did this with the middle brace and lower brace. If you put them on the outsides, add 3 inches for the width of the legs.
I wanted mine offset inside the legs. To get an even offset I laid two legs flat on a surface then put an upper side in-between them. I raised the side piece with a ¼” scrap piece of lauan (thin plywood) for the offset. I marked where they are going on the legs. I repeated with the other side. This would be the front and back of the unit. The other two sides have platform supports attached to them. So, I then laid two legs down to mark one of the platform sides and placed the side board and the platform supports on the lauan. I then marked where they were going and did the same with the other side.
To decide on the height of the platforms and where to put the support boards, I knew that the platform going on the supports was ¾” thick and the platform support boards are 2” wide. I wanted at least most of the child to be below the 36” height of the tower. So I made three different heights to accommodate the different age of children and their heights. I figured a good height above the platform was about 20”. I put the supports (measuring from the bottom) at 5 ¾” add 2 ¾” (platform and support) equaling a platform height of 8 ½” and measurement of 27 ½” to the top of the unit. So a typical 5 or 6 year old with a height of 48” would have about 20” over the top of the unit and a bit more than half below. I then gave an 1 ½” space to put the platform in between the supports figure. The next support was attached at 10” from the bottom and 23 ¼” space for the child from the top. The last support was at 14” from the bottom. This left 19 ¼” from the top. Because this is for the youngest ages, please always watch children on the unit. They will have supports on all sides and a middle brace at the top of the highest platform but children have a tendency to slip through gaps.
After marking the legs on two sides, I decided to countersink the screws. You can buy bits that will countersink holes or do what I did and just use 2 different bits. The small bit for the screw and a 3/8” bit for the dowel to go in to fill the hole. I temporarily screwed the unit together starting with the sides that had the support boards on them. After they are screwed together, lay them flat on each other making sure they are exactly aligned. Do this before adding glue because it will be a lot easier correcting any mistakes. I took it apart, put glue on the boards, and then screwed them together. It is easier starting with the sides that have the support boards on them and again using the scrap lauan for the spacing. I used the lauan for spacing on the other two sides to try to make a uniform ¼” space offset. After the top of the unit was together, I stood it up to ensure it was level.
At this point, add the bottom and middle brace to the front or the side facing the counter. These I decided to put all the way on the outside not inset. They are attached opposite of where you are going to leave the opening for the child to get through (the back). And naturally both on the same side. The bottom brace is 5” from the bottom and the middle brace is is 16 ¾” from the bottom. The bottom’s height was not as critical just make sure it is even on both legs. The middle brace is being used for both a brace and foot block for the upper platform. If you have the top platform support at 14” and add the 2 ¾” then the top of the platform is at 16 ¾”. That is the same height as the bottom of the middle brace. I could have gone a little lower but not much higher. You don’t want it so high above the top platform that a child could get their toe between the platform and the brace or to low that it would not be a good foot blocker.
So at this point it is a good time to cut the dowels and glue them in the holes. After putting in the dowels, I put some wood putty on each hole to make it less noticeable. I only used dowels on the offset boards from here on I just used screws that you could see. This had more to do with time limits than aesthetics.
Next we need a platform for the kids to stand on. This was is basically a flat surface tied together with three boards on the bottom for strength and to stop the movement of the platform. I cut 7 1×2 boards 17 ½” long. The unit was 18” wide so they would be able to overhang the platform supports but not jut out beyond the platform. I spaced them flat on a surface. I made 3 braces to hold them together 1X2X14 ¾”. The middle one is easy put it in the middle. The other two need to be spaced so when the platform goes on it doesn’t have much movement. I used ¾” from the side and 1” from the other side. This was enough to go in easily yet not have much sideways movement. I checked to make sure that they would be able to fit between the supports for the middle and bottom section. I then took each board off one at a time (including the under frame) sanded, glued and reattached with screws. I haven’t mentioned screws before, however I assume if you are making this you realize if you have ¾” + ¾” boards put together you only should use a 1 ¼” screw up to 1 ½” screw. Attach these from the bottom. The glue actually holds most furniture together and the screws are just backup.
Here’s the top and bottom views of the platform.
At this point you’re done. You could paint the standing tower and call it a day.
Make a step for the younger ones to get on the toddler tower.
Turn the whole unit over to make the step. Take a 1X2X15”, attach it to the bottom of the lowest platform support. This is going to be the top guide for the step to slide under. The platform supports are vertical (in-line with the unit.) The guide will be horizontal to give more surface area to keep the step in place.
Next, I used a 1X8X15” for the step and a 1X4 ¾ X15” for the riser. (remember I was using scrap wood that I cut down not store bought 1×4 board which is only 1x 3 ½”or 1×8 that is actually 1X7 ½” so those measurements were exact). The riser was set in 1 inch from the front of the step. Do not glue at this point, just use screws to hold the riser to the step. With the unit still on its top, put the step in and make sure it slides into the unit smoothly. It will have some wiggle left and right but we will take care of that later. Also make sure the height of the riser + the step width (which should be ¾” wide) will sit on the floor and be even with your unit. You may have to adjust the riser height taller or shorter to make sure the step sits flat. The way to get close is to turn the unit over, put the step on the 15 inch guides you installed. It should sit flat. Check to make sure that the step+riser is equal to the bottom of the unit.
Next, add support below the tower step.
If you were to just attach the bottom guides for the step, it would be too tight. So with the unit turned over, I added a piece of luan onto the steps top guide. It can’t be the same width as the top guide or the step would not slide smoothly in and out. I cut a piece of scrap luan 1 ¼ X 15” wide and attached it to the top guide. It should run the same length as the top guide. Remember to drill first or these boards will split.
Now you need to make bottom guides and middle guides. First, I attached a 1×2 board to the back of the unit’s front legs (part that the kids get in) all the way across both legs below the step. With the unit upside down, it will sit on top of the luan spacer and the top guide. I made it 17 3/8”. This was attached to the front to make this area stronger. You could just run the middle and bottom guides the same length as the top guide. I chose to add this board across and cut the middle and bottom guides cut shorter.
For the middle guides, I then cut two 1X2’s down to make two 1x ¼ X 14 ¼”‘ guides to stop the step from moving left and right. They should go on top of the luan spacers and be flush with the luan. These boards are there to keep the step moving straight back with not much lateral movement.
Finally use two 1X2X 14 ¼” for the bottom guide. Turn it over and check it again if it moves easily. If it works great! Take your guides apart, glue and re-screw them together. This also is the time to make sure the step sits flat when sliding in and out. If it does great!! Take it out and glue the riser to the step. If it doesn’t adjust the riser by sanding or if it is to short you may have to make a new one.
At this point the step can come all the way out but should go in and out easily without much of a lateral movement side to side. Because I didn’t want to have the step coming out of the unit I pushed the step all the way in, then turned back over. (you’re looking at the bottom of the unit). While the unit is upside down, take a 1X2X12 attach it to the top back of the step. I did it from below the step to not show the screws on top. Remember a 1X2 board is 1 ½” wide. So I put about ¾ “ on the step and ¾” off the step. I wanted to give the maximum amount of step available when it was pulled out at the same time stopping it from being pulled out altogether. Again, drill holes first when using small pieces. This will make the stop so the step won’t come all the way out. (There are several different ways you can make this stop. I could have put everything under instead of on top or could have just added a 1X2 to the very back that stopped when it hit the bottom guide. Looking back, that might have been the easiest to do. Hindsight is 20×20.) Choose your way and remember to glue and screw.
Finally turn the unit right side up and attach the 1X1 to the front of the top step guides. I didn’t screw this but just glued it on.
Finally, personalize the toddler learning tower.
Lastly, I attached a combo chalkboard/whiteboard to one side 11X17” and made a tray to hold the chalk. The tray was made with a 1X 3 ¼X 17” bottom and a 1X2X17 for the back. I made the front out of old chair molding 2 ¼ X 17 front and 2 ¼” X 3 7/8” sides. Again, all this was made with spare wood. Adjust your measurements on the wood you have available.
So are you ready to try this learning tower? I’d love to hear your comments about it below.
LEARN WHY A LEARNING TOWER IS AWESOME FOR FAMILIES WITH TODDLERS!
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