Updated on January 4, 2021 by Lyric Fergusson
Just when you thought parenthood was easy, toddlerhood comes along. Suddenly your easy-going, angelic baby knows how to open doors, remove credit cards from your wallet, and flip every light switch in reach. Enter the busy board! Not only does a busy board keep your toddler out of trouble, but it also develops dexterity, teaches life skills, and even encourages language development.
Best Busy Boards for Toddlers & Babies
(Best budget option — $)
Why it’s great: This busy board features buttons, laces, and snaps, all in a compact, wool felt board. I picked this as the best busy board for travel since it’s a lightweight, portable, and quiet option for toddlers on the go. Your toddler will also enjoy zipping it up and carrying it after playtime is finished. At 11×9 inches, it’s small enough to fit in most diaper bags, but it’s also a durable product that will last.
Keep in mind: This is a more challenging busy board with a simple, minimalist design, so it might be uninteresting or too challenging for younger toddlers. For that reason, it provides the most entertainment for older toddlers, ages 2 ½ and up.
Good for: Older, on-the-go toddlers who love toting a purse or handbag wherever they go.
(Best portable board — $)
Why it’s great: This one has plenty of activities to keep your child entertained. It has some easier choices for younger toddlers, like learning the alphabet, shapes, and zippers. Then it also teaches those a little more advanced how to buckle, snap, button, and tie. The whole board looks like a crocodile and folds up into a smaller green crocodile that’s easy to carry around. It has a hook on strap that allows you or your child to put it over your shoulder, making it hands free and easily portable. The bright colors and assortment of activities are sure to keep your child’s attention for hours.
Keep in mind: This is mostly made of soft felt, so it’s a little harder to clean.
Good for: Children ages 3 and up who want a busy board they can take with them wherever they go.
(Best montessori — $$)
Why it’s great: This wooden board is a bright blue and has vibrantly colored locks, ties, and other activities. It is easy to wipe clean and even comes with it’s own cloth. It’s a great size for little hands and the cute wooden characters hidden around the board are sure to catch your child’s interest. Your child will learn fine motor skills, logic and reasoning, and have a blast doing it with this board. They’ll also learn necessary skills, like tying a shoe and zipping. As an added bonus, the back of the board can be used as a whiteboard, so your child can draw and color to their heart’s content.
Keep in mind: The keys can come off and detach from the board, so there’s risk of them getting lost.
Good for: Families that want a montessori busy board to keep their child entertained while learning.
(Most eye-catching — $)
Why it’s great: This adorable busy board from Byonebye looks like a bus on one side, with the busy board on the opposite side. Toddlers love shoulder bags, so they’ll also be drawn to the shoulder strap that allows them to carry it around the house. The board features several types of brightly colored buckles, shoelaces, a Velcro strip, snap, and a zipper. If your tot prefers FIRETRUCKS try this one.
Keep in mind: There are a few pieces that might get lost, including removable wheels for the school bus and the Velcro strip, making this a good choice for supervised use.
Good for: Toddlers who love cars, buses, and all things transportation.
(Best table — $$)
Why it’s great: This is a fun table with the entire top designed as a busy board. It’s big enough that two children can play with it at the same time. This one has activities that will teach your child reasoning and cause and effect. It will help to improve their fine motor skills and allow them to play music. The wooden structure is sturdy and is chemical free and completely safe for your child to use. The vibrant paint colors will attract and keep your child’s attention. The paint is also non-toxic and won’t peel off.
Keep in mind: This is a short table and great for seated play, but it won’t work for toddlers and kids who want to try to stand and play.
Good for: Children ages 18 months and up that want a bigger, tabletop board.
(Best value – $)
Why it’s great: The Buckle Toys busy board is the smallest of the options in this list, and the best for younger toddlers who have more advanced fine motor skills. It is a foam board, with a compact and lightweight design, making it another great option for car trips. It’s a pretty basic option, with four clips, shoelaces, a snap pocket, and a zipper. The board has a handle so your toddler can easily carry it around the house, and at just 8×11 inches, it will definitely become a favorite companion.
Keep in mind: This busy board might be a bit simple for older toddlers who have already mastered buckles and snaps. Best for ages 18 months to about 3 years.
Good for: More advanced toddlers who are ready to tackle tying, snaps, and zippers.
(Best for all ages — $)
Why it’s great: This busy board is a long-standing favorite in our home. The Melissa & Doug products are popular for a reason – they are durable and kids love them. Their classic latches busy board is no exception!
This wooden play board features six different types of latches. The latches unlock a set of doors, which contain a picture of a different numbered group of animals inside, making it a great way to build those fine motor skills while also working on number recognition. This toy has a wide range of difficulty levels, making it a great option to grow with your child. Younger toddlers will love the bright colors and variety of animals, while older toddlers will love the more challenging latches
Keep in mind: Unlike some of the other boards on this list, this is not a portable option. It’s large and awkward to carry, and the latches are rather loud. Best for home use.
Good for: Toddlers of all ages who love animals!
(Most entertaining — $)
Why it’s great: The VTeach Latches and Doors Busy Board is the flashiest option on this list, with songs and sound effects to entertain the youngest toddlers, as well as the older crowd. Your toddler will love the keyhole and key, light switch, and windows that open to reveal the family pets. The board is made of plastic, and also has a carry handle so your little one can tow it around the house easily.
Keep in mind: Don’t forget the batteries! While it does come with demo batteries, you’ll need to purchase AA batteries to keep it working for long-term use. And of course, if you’re looking for a quiet distraction, you’ll want to choose a different option.
Good for: Toddlers who love sound effects and entertainment!
(Best for older toddlers — $)
Why it’s great: The HABA Town Maze Activity Board is a unique busy board that uses magnetism to keep your toddler fascinated while also building counting skills, dexterity, and color recognition. Using the magnetic wand, your toddler can guide the colored balls into their matching color of garage, while navigating roadblocks and a roundabout. The color matching aspect of the game makes it a great option for older toddlers. There are no pieces to lose, including the wand, which easily attaches to the board in the handy storage slot.
Keep in mind: Younger toddlers might find this board too challenging, making it best for older toddlers who have a bit more focus and can understand the point of the game. However, younger toddlers will enjoy moving the balls, even if they don’t understand the color matching aspect of the board.
Good for: Older toddlers who enjoy challenging games that require focus and coordination.
(Most adorable — $$)
Why it’s great: This busy board is in the shape of an owl and even the activities are incorporated into the design. The eyes are a spinning maze and the wings have a spinner and shoe ties. Even the feet are little buttons. It is brightly colored and makes an adorable decoration, as well as a toy. Your child will learn logic and reasoning, along with improving their fine motor skills. It will teach your child locks, ties, and even has a little clock to learn how to tell time. The board is made of wood and is sturdy and easy to wipe down.
Keep in mind: This is a smaller board and may be harder to have multiple children playing at one time.
Good for: Children who love owls and want an adorable busy board.
(Best wall board — $$$)
Why it’s great: This one mounts to a wall and makes a cute decoration, as well as an activity board. The bright blue elephant design will attract your child’s attention and the musical toys will keep them playing for hours. Each activity makes a different noise which will delight your child. They’ll learn about different instruments while they strengthen their hand-eye coordination and motor skills. If your child isn’t interested in elephants, there are a few different animal options as well, with different activities attached. You could even collect them all.
Keep in mind: This one really only has three activities, so it’s not as exciting as some of the other boards.
Good for: Families that want a useful decoration for their child’s room.
FAQs about toddler busy boards
1. What’s the point of a busy board?
Obviously, one major advantage of busy boards is right there in the name – they keep your toddler busy! As anyone who has repeated “Don’t touch!” to their toddler in the middle of an antique shop can tell you, toddlers love working with their hands. A busy board is pretty much a toddler’s dream come true.
However, the advantages go beyond entertainment. Busy boards are also known as sensory boards because they provide an experience for all the senses, particularly the sense of touch. Toddlers hone their fine motor skills as they learn to button, snap, buckle, and tie, building strength in their fingers and increasing dexterity.
At this stage of development, fine motor development is also neurological development. As toddlers complete these simple everyday tasks, they also learn how to problem-solve. They begin to understand simple concepts like cause and effect, as well as object permanence. Think of it as a toddler STEM toy!
2. What is the best age for busy boards?
Busy boards can be used by a range of ages, from older babies to older toddlers age 4 or 5. While their benefits are most appropriate for kids in the 1-5 age range, even your older kids might enjoy perfecting more advanced skills, like tying and lacing. For younger toddlers, choose a board that uses simpler tools, like snaps and buckles. For older or advanced younger toddlers, shoelaces, and buttons are great additions.
3. What are some safety tips for choosing a busy board?
While busy boards are generally safe, you will want to inspect it frequently to make sure no items your child can choke on have come loose (for example, snaps, zippers, or buttons). Other than that, busy boards are a pretty safe way to keep your little one entertained.
4. What objects are good for busy boards?
Busy boards commonly include snaps, buttons, buckles, locks, zippers, shoelaces, and Velcro – basically, anything you use to attach one thing to another. Think about getting dressed – toddlers love to change their outfits multiple times a day, and love learning how to zip, button, snap and tie.
5. What should I look for in a busy board?
The primary considerations when choosing a busy board are your child’s age and ability level. If you have a younger toddler, keep in mind that small pieces can pose a choking hazard, so make sure the board is free of any items that could be choked on. The skill level is another consideration. Toddlers who haven’t mastered basic fine motor skills, like turning pages in a book or stacking two or three blocks to make a tower, will be more interested in a board that has simpler tasks, such as buckles and snaps. Skills like buttoning, tying, and lacing are more advanced.
6. Do I need to supervise my toddler’s busy board time?
As long as your busy board is free of choking hazards, there’s no need for supervision. However, keep in mind that while busy boards are a lot of fun, some tasks can be challenging and even frustrating. Take some time now and then to work with your toddler and demonstrate how to complete the tasks. This one-on-one time will encourage learning and minimize frustration.
While you’re shopping for the best busy board, think about times you find yourself wishing your toddler were entertained. If that happens on long car trips, you’ll want a board that is portable and durable. If your little one tends to interrupt you at home while you’re making dinner or working, portability might not be a priority. Choose the product that best suits your own needs.
And remember, the best busy boards aren’t just a great source of entertainment – they also provide neurological stimulation, sharpen fine motor skills, teach problem-solving, and build memory and focus. It’s a win-win!
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