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Play Tables for Kids




It's a project that will appeal to everyone in the family: Kids get a special surface (three of them, in fact) to play on, and adults can clean up faster because toys will be confined to one area, not scattered all over the house. Begin with a table that's a comfortable height for kids: The top should be about 18 inches from the ground.

Next comes the fun part -- designing and painting three playscapes. One is painted directly on the table; apply the other two on the top and bottom of a lightweight board cut to fit the table. Attach straps to the board for easy lifting, removing, or turning over by an adult. We painted a sweeping country motif for setting up train tracks, a city grid of streets and buildings befitting any driver's fantasy, and a domestic floor plan that will delight all the small dolls (and their owners) living in your house. Under-table bins make cleanup easy. We chose large boxes, but several small ones would serve as well. If you label the containers, kids can quickly find whichever set of toys they need.


  • Wooden table
  • Wooden lengths
  • Drill
  • Screws
  • Sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Pencil
  • Masking tape
  • Indoor latex paint
  • Cotton twill
  • Wood glue
  • Staple gun
  • 1/4-inch medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or plywood
  • Tape measure


  1. Step 1

    Find a straight-sided wooden table and cut down the legs if necessary to reach a suitable height. Sand and prime the wood.

  2. Step 2

    Sketch your city design with a pencil. Use masking tape to outline the shapes of the buildings (our tape covers the entire street grid). Fill in the buildings with indoor latex paint. When they're dry, remove the tape.

  3. Step 3

    The best way to make street and building edges straight is re-taping. Place masking tape so the outside edge lines up with the outer edge of the buildings. Make the corners as square as possible. Paint the streets. Wait for paint to dry completely before removing tape.

  4. Step 4

    A 3-inch edge around the table helps stop small toys from falling off and forms a frame that keeps the removable play board in place. Using screws and a drill, attach four lengths of wood to the sides of the table. Paint the table legs and edges a matching color.

  5. Step 5

    Cut four 10-inch pieces of cotton twill. Fold in half and turn ends under for reinforcement. With wood glue, attach a pair of straps to each end of the board; staple with a staple gun. Although light, the board should be lifted by an adult or by an older child with adult supervision.

  6. Step 6

    Use 1/4-inch medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or plywood. Measure carefully so it can be put in and taken out of the frame easily (if the board fits too snugly, it could stick).

  7. Step 7

    To create designs like ours, outline the edge of small plates to form the trees in the country landscape; paint the rest freehand. Stick on tape for the white lines on the streets, and apply adhesive shelf paper for the tiled kitchen and bathroom floors.

Martha Stewart Kids, Volume 12 2004



Reviews (5)

  • Postalady 26 Jan, 2009

    My Dad used an old hollow door to mount my brothers train set on,then when done playing it could slide under his bed.

  • jna 13 Jan, 2009

    My husband and I made these on 3M presentation paper (about 5.00 at office supplies stores) with multiple sheets we were able to create multiple scenes. we then covered them in clear contact paper and we roll them up when not in use. We live in a really small space so this helps keeps the clutter out. We also did them to the streets in our town. That way he learns where things are at while playing.

  • debzie 2 Aug, 2008

    I got a square shaped sturdy end table at a rummage sale I painted it green then rolled on black roads with a small 2 inch sponge roller, winding all over the table on top "underneath" and even on the legs. I then added a pond on top (easily done just draw two overlapping circles or trace a cup to make the circles and paint it blue). I bought some fish stickers and sealed it with polyurethane. Add a box of small cars. THE KIDS LOVE IT

  • MrsDiaz 7 Feb, 2008

    You can buy non-toxic acrylic paints in a HUGE variety of colors at craft stores, sold in 2 oz. bottles. Hope this helps.

  • katiebel 6 Jan, 2008

    Can you recommend a safe paint appropriate for a children's toy surface for this project, preferably one that you can purchase in smaller quantiities than 1 pint per color? Since I don't paint many things, I'd hate to waste the paint.