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.
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