Introduction: Montessori-Inspired Soft Busy Board
When we enrolled our kids in a Montessori preschool, we were amazed at how much the other kids could do....and horrified at how little ours knew how to do to start. It's school, right? PREschool. But the other kids could tie their own shoes, fasten their own coats, zip their own backpacks, button their own jeans, and ours constantly needed those kids' help. We needed to catch up and learn how to dress ourselves (and help others!)...fast!
Instead of digging out and lugging around bins of clothes and shoes for them to practice, I simply sewed all the items they needed to learn to be more self-sufficient onto a large piece of felt. This travels better, and soon, instead of picking on each other in the car, any given waiting room, or even at the dinner table while waiting for dinner, our kids were unrolling their busy "boards" and, well, busy -- tying, zipping, buttoning, and so on.
Other parents wanted the same things for their kids, so they started asking me to make them. I had an Etsy shop already, so I put them up to sell to see if still others would want something similar. The idea took off -- it's our best-selling item (I can't make them fast enough!) and now not just parents are in love with them. Schools have started asking for several at a time. Nannies and daycares got into the action. I also started selling almost as many "adult" versions (same thing, just not so brightly colored) for dementia patients, special needs communities, physical therapists, etc. that I think they're starting to really catch on!
Making one is really very simple, just very time-consuming, and it can be expensive too -- finding and buying all the components involved to make just one "board" is tough. That's why I'm posting the instructions here in case you're interested in the process, and I'm posting a kit with all the components (you can even choose your felt colors!) in my Etsy store for less than half the cost of a completed "board" (which is also in my shop if you decide after seeing this that making one just isn't for you but helping people learn or practice dressing is for you!)
Our kids have quickly caught up to their peers and can dress themselves (and anyone else who needs help) lightning fast. If you're into sewing, even just a little bit, give this project a try -- the ends certainly justify the means!
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Step 1: Materials Needed
- Felt in two contrasting colors -
- One 12x16 inch piece
- One felt “square” (usually about 9x12 inches)
Step 2: Cutting
Cut the component pieces from the felt square (***This part is already completed in my kit)
- 3 – One inch pieces
- 2 – Two inch pieces
- 8 – 2.5 inch x one inch pieces
Step 3: Sew the Snaps
Hand sew snaps using 2.5 inch felt pieces (***in my kit, they ship already assembled, so separate first, then sew)
Make sure the flatter-bottomed pointy snap is facing up when you sew it and the fatter half is pointed down. This way, your sewn snap will actually snap together like the one in the last picture.
Step 4: Sew the Hook and Eye
This is another needle-and-thread piece of the project. I like to stitch 3-4 times around each "bubble" of the hook and the eye with a few stitches between the bubbles for added support.
Step 5: Sew the 4-Hole Button
Again, with needle and thread, sew an 'X' pattern about 3-4 times into the holes of the flat button.
Step 6: Mark Button Sizes for Button Holes
Using chalk, pins, or a washable marker, mark the size of each button onto two more 2.5 inch felt pieces. I like to give an extra little bit of room to accommodate learners (tighter button holes are harder to button and unbutton).
Step 7: Make Button Holes
Sew button holes using button foot on sewing machine or using button hole settings on machine. Each machine is different, so you'll have to do whatever your machine requires.
Then cut out inside the rectangles (don't clip any of the threads -- better to leave a tiny felt border than clip any threads!) for true button holes.
You can button up your 4-hole button now!
Step 8: Attach the Jeans Button
Push the jeans button pin through the felt in the spot where you want the jeans button. I like to hold the jeans button onto the felt while I match up the pin on the back, then I push the pin through the felt in that spot.
The official directions say to hammer the jeans button onto the pin, but that ALWAYS bends the pin. The best luck I've had is when I use slip joint pliers (or any set of pliers big enough to grab the jeans button while resting on the pin) and SQUISH the button onto the pin. If your pliers have teeth on them that can scratch the jeans button, you'll want to cover the teeth with a rag or duct tape before attempting this feat.
To me, this is the HARDEST step in the whole process! Once you've got a jeans button attached and threaded through its button hole, it's all downhill from here!
Step 9: Sew on the Leather Buckles
Using white thread, hand sew ends of leather belt to two short felt pieces by stitching on top of the white thread stitches already on the belt. Use the holes made by their stitching to make your life easier!
I usually complete this part with my sewing machine since I've had PLENTY of time to figure out the exact stitch length (a 7 on my machine, but that probably will not apply to your machine). If you have the patience, the machine does make the process faster.
Step 10: Sew the Velcro
With your sewing machine, satin stitch around the edge of each Velcro piece (***in my kit, the Velcro is pre-assembled – separate then sew)
Step 11: Add the Grommets
Using the 2 inch wide felt pieces, measure 1.5 inches from top/bottom edge and 1.5 inches in between what will be the 5 grommet holes. (*This piece is already completed in my kit to spare you the extra cost of a grommet tool)
Cut out for each grommet down the center (the 1 inch mark) of each 2-inch wide felt strip. To do this, I like to place a spare grommet over my marks then cut around just the base of it (if you cut to the size of the grommet top, it will slip through, so be careful to undercut instead of make your cuts too big!)
Using the grommet tool that usually comes with packages of grommets, assemble 5 grommets per side down the center of the two inch wide felt pieces.
Step 12: Sew the Zipper
Pin one side of the zipper to one of the 1 inch wide felt pieces.
Machine sew with a straight stitch. I find it helpful to sew with the zipper closed most of the way, then open the zipper when you get to the top to complete sewing one side. Sew the other zipper side the same way.
For a more finished look, I like to use a small felt scrap to fill in the area between the two long pieces of felt. Just zig zag stitch it in place.
Step 13: Sew the Plastic Buckles
Using the remaining 1 inch felt piece, feed one end through end of plastic buckle, loop back around, then sew together using satin stitch. Repeat for the other end of the buckle.
Step 14: Pin, Pin, Pin!
Pin all components to the 12x16 backing felt just like the diagram or photo above.
Step 15: (Optional) Trimming
You may want to take this opportunity to shorten any long component pieces (usually the snap and the hook & eye pieces need to be trimmed to the size of the assembled button pieces) to create a more uniform appearance.
Step 16: Sew the Grommet Pieces
Satin stitch around top, outside edge, and bottom edge of each grommet piece. Leave the inner edges unstitched to allow for lacing.
Step 17: Sew the Zipper Piece
Satin stitch around zipper piece. I like to go over the satin stitches on the top edges of the white zipper to give a more finished appearance.
Step 18: Sew the Component Pieces
Satin stitch around outer edges of all other component pieces, and straight stitch an “X” shape inside the satin stitched outer edges.
I usually begin at the top, satin stitch down then across the side of the component piece. Leaving needle down, I then switch to straight stitches to make a diagonal up to the top where I started, then straight stitch down to the unfinished bottom and backstitch. Then I begin in the other bottom corner, straight stitching diagonally to the unfinished top. Leaving needle down, I then switch back to satin stitching the top edge.
The diagram in blue helps to show the process. When you're finished, each component piece should be secured with an "X in a box" on each end like in the middle photo.
You can complete the inner part of the board in any order, but I save the plastic buckle for last as it's the most bulky and hard to maneuver around when sewing. To complete securing the plastic buckle to the "board", satin stitch a longer top and bottom edge of the plastic buckle component piece to better keep it in place. Join with longer diagonals. The steps should be the same as above simply with longer lines, as you can see in the last photo.
Step 19: Lace It Up
See those empty grommets? Lace the shoelace through the grommet pieces and tie a bow at the top.
Step 20: Admire Your Work!
Congratulations on a job well done! Now to find someone to practice their clothing closures!