A baby gym falls into the category of baby products that I didn’t really understand pre-baby. The point it now seems is to give your tiny being something to look at, paw after, practice their hand/eye coordination with, and generally use to grow their mini minds all while giving you a tiny break from staring deep into their eyes and professing your undying love. Read a baby book or website and you’ll soon feel that denying your child of such a thing is tantamount to child-abuse, or at the least, damning them to a future as a blob.
The unfortunate part, for this mama at least, is the fact that most of these “gyms” are either expensive or imposing, or both. I wanted to make a simpler version that would cost only a few dollars and that could be easily stowed while not in use. And I wanted the project to be easy. I didn’t want to haul out any power tools, or make too many trips to the hardware store, or order special parts, or find a need to curse my faulty spatial intelligence.
I decided to channel my inner Girl Scout and lash together three pieces of wood to make a tripod; a simple structure that would allow me to dangle various things in front of my child in hopes it would offer a bit of sensory development and at the same time afford me the minutes I need to scramble into the shower without also needing to entertain the neighbors with desperate strains of Edleweiss sung over the little lamb bleats Faye’s favoring these days. In case any of you find yourselves hoping for a similar solution, this is what you need:
3 straight, skinny sticks (I used 1/4 inch wooden dowels; $1.09/ea from a local hardware store)
Leather lacing, or any kind of string or rope that you prefer (I used the leftover leather from this project)
Hair elastic (or a length of cloth elastic)
Baby bauble of your choice (I used a wooden teething ring)
I decided to follow the Maria Montessori model of mobiles, and opt for a simple wooden ring on an elastic, which Faye can reach for and pull toward herself (still with a bit of help). But the real beauty is that the mobile can be switched out for whatever happens to work at a particular moment (or be more in keeping with your own taste). Sometimes James and I drape her colorful elephants on the tripod and Faye’s totally mesmerized, other times I swap in a brightly colored teether we borrowed from Cait. Eventually I’d love to string up colorful felt balls.
You can cobble this together with any number of materials. Straight willow twigs from the backyard? Go for it! A whole length of elastic instead of a rubber band? Terrific. A little plush fellow that you prefer to a wooden ring? Go for it. The point is that it’s super simple to make, affordable without sacrificing style, and it folds up to be small enough to fit just about anywhere without being offensive.
To make the tripod, start with your three dowels, lined up in a row. Tie a simple knot on one of your dowels. Interlace your leather (or other string) over and under the dowels… Loop back around several times, following the same over/under weave. When you’ve finished your loops, take the end of your lace and wind it several times, vertically between the dowels. Finish off by tying a knot back around the first dowel. To open your tripod, cross the two outer dowels over the middle dowel and spread it out.* I used two additional lengths of leather lacing to attach the wooden ring to a hair elastic. I made a loop around one end of lacing so that it could hang from the middle dowel but be easily removed or swapped out for other toys.
*The tripod is fairly sturdy on its own. We’ve been using it with Faye for several weeks without any tipping, but that doesn’t mean we might not end up adjusting or stabilizing it further as she gets stronger. As always, do what you think makes the most sense for you and your child. If you’re hoping for something equally simple but perhaps slightly more stable, the baby gyms from Studio Mishela look like terrific options.
PS. Faye is wearing a Winter Water Factory romper in this post, which was generously given to her by WWF, a Brooklyn-based company which we admire for its committment to producing high-quality, organic baby clothes in adorable prints.
More Baby Proof.
Erin, you should be a world leader for promoting sustainability and sanity in such an exquisite way. Go forth!
Ha! Sustainability and sanity…that has a nice ring, doesn't it?
I’ve just done this perfect tripod for my baby daughter Victoire. It seems to ne perfect, but i just have one question : can’t it fall down on the babies ? Thank you !!
hi there: depending on the age and mobility of the baby, it can definitely fall. i always used it while nearby!
That is absolutely fantastic. Thanks sooo much for sharing. With a tiny human on the way and money being tight this is going to be perfect. How tall/long are the 1/4" dowels you used? Thanks so much!
Thanks! So glad you think it might work for you! The dowels I used were pre-cut to 36 inches!
This is such a wonderful idea! I definitely admire your ability to make even baby gyms look minimalistic and chic-as opposed to the ones you normally see, which I agree are garish and imposing. If I ever have a little one of my own, this is definitely the baby gym I will be using.
What about the IKEA LEKA baby gym? It's very affordable, wood, and not too huge. You might even be able to find it used at a secondhand store or on Craigslist, since it's a fairly popular item.
Hi there: that one's a good option, too, but I really wanted something that we could fold up easily and tuck away when it's not in use! And, happily, this cost even less to make myself!
Erin, I always love everything you do, and this is another beautifully executed idea … except for one thing … The length of this cord frightens me. Babies gain abilities in the blink of an eye, and considering you mentioned this is something employed while you are in the shower, I worry that sweet Faye could get entangled. Please know these thoughts come from a place of love and concern and by no means criticism. Perhaps adjusting the shape of the piece so the cord can be significantly shorter would solve the problem. I apologize for butting in … I know a family that lost a child to strangulation and have been on guard as a parent ever since. Wishing you the best.
Thanks so much for your note and for your concern about the length of the cord. Faye has never used the tripod totally unattended (despite my shower quip), so gladly she hasn't been able to get into too much trouble! As she grows we might adjust how we use the tripod to make sure she can't get entangled, but for now, the ring hangs high enough that she couldn't become ensnared! (As an aside, I'm so sorry to hear of your friends. We know a family who lost a child to strangulation as well and are very much on guard.) Thanks again for writing.
Okay phew 🙂 Should have known you already had a plan in place! Adorable ideas … as usual!
Nice eco-friendly solution! Love what little Faye is wearing.
You're making this first time parenting thing seem sorta effortless and fun! I've been reading your blog for a while now and have seriously enjoyed your inspiring words. You need to write a book!
This is a great idea and you've put it together wonderfully. I would also wear a shirt in that pattern that Faye's wearing in a heartbeat.
So incredibly clever and creative. I don't like the look of baby gyms, with all the crazy colours and plastic and mirrors. This is so beautiful it would not bother me at all having this sit in the corner of the lounge room.
The idea is great, but I can't for the life of me lash 3 dowel rods together so that they stand upright. I can balance them precariously against one another but they slide and tumble with the slightest push. Advice?
Oh, darn it! Sorry you've had trouble. Are you criss-crossing the poles? We never ran into the same trouble so I'm afraid I don't have a great fix! Hope you're able to make it work!
I absolutely adore this idea- I think I’ll try it this weekend! I just had my first baby and it’s been so fun going through your old posts from when Faye was little. Thanks, Erin!
Just coming across this now in 2018. How did it hold up as your little one got stronger? I have a very strong 5 month old (also a Faye!) and I am going to try it out with her, but I’d also love to know if you ended up making any modifications down the line. Thank you!
Didn’t really make any modifications, but we didn’t really use it after 5 mos! I would say you might need something sturdier for an older infant!
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