Baby products are often a total rip-off, aren't they? New parents must have a huge "sucker" sign on their heads, given the exorbitant prices we are charged for bits of colourful plastic and fabric.
Baby Gyms in particular are not worth the $100+ price-tag they command for what is essentially just a bunch of soft toys hanging from a padded frame. I guess some parents are desperate enough to find anything that might entertain junior for a while that they'd fork out for a commercial variant. But since we're here on Instructables, I'm guessing you wanna know how to make your own for cheap!
Here's how I made a quick and adaptable baby gym for under $10. It just took me a couple of evenings to put it together, and I already had most of the materials around the house!
This version can easily convert from a floor-model baby gym, to an over-the-crib baby mobile. And you can change the toys around as you like, if you've got a kiddo who gets bored super easily, like mine. [sigh]
And best of all, it folds up flat and uses up that mountain of toys that would otherwise be on the couch!
Step 1: Inspiration and Bill of Materials
We were fast accumulating a giant pile of plush animals, jingly creatures and rubberised chew toys from enthusiastic friends and relatives. These were lying in a giant heap on one half of the couch, cuz our baby was too little to really grasp any of them yet. What he did need, however, was a dangly baby mobile that he could stare at and bat his hands at for target practice.
I figured that I pretty much had everything I needed at home: alphabet foam mats for the base, stuffed toys and musical toys to hang up... and all I needed was a frame.
Here's what I used:
- Interlocking foam floor mats (use your existing ones)
- Baby blanket (use your existing ones)
- Rectangular electrical conduit casing ($2 for an 8-ft length)
- Bulldog clips ($2 for 4)
- Felt and/or craft foam sheets (I already had these, but let's say I used $2 worth)
- Scrap wooden blocks
- Hot glue gun
- Toys (use your existing ones)
- Ribbon (~$1 worth?)
- Snap-type O-rings ($2)
TOTAL cost: ~$9 for all the expendables.
The existing foam mats, blanket and toys are all not 'harmed' in any way by this set-up.
Step 2: Making the Frame
I looked around the hardware store looking for something that could be easily bent to form the frame of the baby gym.
This plastic conduit made perfect sense as it is bendy enough to make the gentle arc I needed, yet elastic enough to provide the necessary outward 'spring'. This 'spring' action pulls the baby blanket taut and flat, and also makes this baby gym fully adjustable to fit a range of base-sizes.
I just used the 2 halves of the rectangular electrical conduit as the frame, bolting them together in the middle with a bolt plus wing nut. It's easy to tighten the wing nut by hand, or to loosen it to keep the frame away for storage.
The conduit pieces were each cut down to about 180cm (6') each with a jigsaw, although I think a box cutter could do the trick as well. I also drilled pilot holes into the conduit and scrap wood blocks.
I attached a stainless steel bull-dog clip to each of the 4 ends of the conduit with a screw and a block of scrap wood. You need to make sure these clips have strong spring action, and that your attachments are secure, as you don't want the baby gym springing loose and collapsing on junior!
Step 3: Test Fit: the Frame Works!
I did a test fit by clamping the 4 corners of the frame to a 60 x 90cm (2'x3') baby blanket, and it works great!
The arches are stable and the spring action pulls the blanket taught and square.
It helps that the blanket has a thick-ish hem all around the edge, so that the clip has something to grip.
Step 4: Felt Me Up, Pad Me Down...
Right. I don't think babies need to be too pampered, but I guess a little padding is in order, to keep tiny fingers away from the cut-edges of the plastic, the clamps and all that.
I just used what I had on hand, which were felt and craft foam sheets in my usual monochrome palette of white, grey and black. Most people think kids need bright colours all the time, but actually new-borns are able to focus best on high contrast patterns like black and white designs! Or maybe I'm just trying to keep it classy.
Anyway I figured that after adding the colourful toys there'd be more than enough colour to feed a unicorn.
So the method was simple, just cut up the felt/foam with scissors and hot glue it in overlapping layers to cover the whole frame. Be sure to cover the 'feet' of the frame with the wood blocks and metal clips.
I did a random 'overlapping scales' pattern on one arc, and a 'stripe' pattern on the other. Nothing was measured. Just eye-balled the lot and glued them on while watching TV.
Watch your hands, though! The hot glue can burn even through felt.
Step 5: All About That BASE
This baby gym is meant to be adaptable. Use whatever you have on hand as a soft lining - yoga mats, alphabet foam tiles, whatever. Even just your wall-to-wall shag carpet (if you're still into that sorta thing).
Our foam tiles happened to fit exactly underneath the baby blanket, as the tiles were 30cm (1') square each. But there's no reason the base needs to be smaller than the blanket! In fact, once our baby starts rolling on his own, we'll have to put more foam tiles down to make a much bigger mat around the baby gym.
Step 6: Hanging Toys of Babylon
Yes, I used colour. So unlike me. But at least these ribbons were blue, to match the baby blanket!
I just made loops of ribbon, which could be looped over the frame anywhere using a lark's head knot. This is why I made the covering of the frame so textured: so that the ribbon knots would not slip down the frame. The loops are various sizes, to accommodate different sized toys.
The bottom end of the ribbon has a simple metal O-ring, so that toys with loops can be hooked onto these rings.
For toys without any loops or rings, I attached a few plastic clips which could grab onto the tail of an animal, for example. Make sure the clips are threaded through the ribbon, so that they can't fall off and get swallowed.
Step 7: Baby Gym: Floor Style
Here's the finished gym, on the floor. Baby loves it and has been batting away at toys, especially the ones that jingle or rattle. The adjustable ribbon loops allow us to make sure none of the hard toys can hit his head. We can also mix the toys around to keep him occupied.
Step 8: Baby Gym: Cot Style
The gym fits perfectly over our Graco cot as well! The legs clip directly to the 4 corners of the cot, and the whole structure is pretty sturdy. Baby loves it cuz he now has some distraction in bed... and we love it cuz we don't have to entertain him 24/7 like before. Finally, time for a nap! At least until he starts screaming for attention in another 10 minutes...
In terms of safety, everything hard is covered up, and if any one clip should accidentally detach from the blanket or crib, the spring of the plastic means that that particular leg would spring up and away from the baby, not collapse onto him. The spring force is also quite minimal, as the plastic has pretty much conformed to this arc shape over time.
Hope this helps! Do post pictures in the comments if you make one :)
Step 9: BEYOND MY COMFORT ZONE
I'm entering this into the "Beyond Your Comfort Zone" contest, so I might as well use this space to muse on how becoming a new parent has pushed me into brand new territory.
The change from enjoying our freedom as a couple to being full-time caretakers of a tiny grub physically tiring, but oh so amazing. Sure now we stay in most nights and juggle multiple night feeds (I do my fair share of bottle feeding), but to watch the kiddo grow and learn and discover the universe around him is so rewarding. Even from a couple of weeks old the instinct to observe, mimic and learn is built into every baby. Just last night at 100 days old he sat on my lap and started 'playing' the piano with both hands. He did this in imitation of me, but also with such concentration that it was obvious how his brain was trying to process the cause-and-effect of hitting these objects and hearing a sound. Hit, listen, repeat. This process has reconfirmed my long-held convictions that kids should be raised to explore and play and harness their innate creative instincts - not to be told that there is only one right answer to a test paper. But I suppose I'm preaching to the choir within the instructables community :)
As a maker and designer, the obvious change is in my design sensibility. From austere monochrome minimalism with hard edges, I'm now pushed to think child-friendly, child-safe, visual-stimuli, etc. Yet I do want to strike a balance between child-friendliness and sophisticated design. Whatever I make has to be something aesthetically pleasing enough that I want it in my house!
(See this other baby instructable I did recently: https://www.instructables.com/id/BABY-TREE-3D-Print...
This is a long journey I'm just starting on - and I'm sure there'll be many more instructables to come. Hopefully the kiddo will share my enthusiasm for invention and design as we create an entire childhood as a family!
(If you like this, please vote for the new daddy!)