Back in October, my mother-in-law came over and we made cookies with my two-year-old for the first time. He had a blast! He got messy, he got to stir things, he got to throw chocolate chips into the dough. He also got a sugar high, but that’s another story. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was balancing him on one of our kitchen chairs to reach the surface. Not trusting this highly energetic child to climb up safely, I would lift him in, lift him out and hover over him when his gestures became too extravagant for comfort. I found myself again longing for the Learning Tower. I didn’t have to wait too long: we got one last week and have been using it for just about everything ever since.
The Learning Tower is described by its maker, Little Partners, as a step stool with adjustable height deck. I’d describe it as part chair, part ladder, part fortress! A child from 18 months up to the time they reach 500 pounds, ahem, can use the ladders on either side to climb up into it and stand at any work surface safely, or they can climb through any of the four openings. If they fall, they are in a 15″ by 18″ confined space and so will merely bump into the wall of it instead of falling off. My husband is convinced that our son will still find a way, but as yet he has just developed monkey like agility for climbing in and out. The deck has four different height levels so you can adjust it as your child grows: Rung #1 (Top) 19½” from the floor, rung #2 16½” from the floor, rung #3 14″ from the floor, and rung #4 (Bottom) 12″ from the floor. Toby is two and we are staring him on rung 2. The Learning Tower is the creation of Carol Gamble, Little Partners President & CEO, and was born out of her daughters’ desire for independence at an early age.
I made this transition particularly hard on my son. His first morning waking up to the Learning Tower was also his first morning waking up to a Christmas tree in the living room. Once we got past the jingle bells and lights he soon forgot about the tree. The grin I got when he saw the Learning Tower in our kitchen that morning filled me with both wonder and fear for the weeks to come! He walked right over and after a few cries of “Help, Mummy!” that I patiently waited through, he climbed up and surveyed his new workspace at the kitchen counter. With a call of “Toby cooking, Mummy!” he proceeded to mix up some oatmeal and water with pretend sprinkles, while my husband and I carried on with our own kitchen chores. He was busy, helping, and loving it. Usually our kitchen is out of bounds to him as we have a woodstove, and so being in the kitchen was a novelty for him anyway. My husband lost the bet and Toby pretty much stayed voluntarily confined to the Learning Tower despite the allure of the usually-prohibited space. We are still debating the finer points of this new “play area.”
After letting him play for a while, we attached the art easel to one side of the tower. The Art Easel is a chalk board on one side and a white board on the other. It also has a metal core and comes with a magnetic strip to hold paper in place. Being two and not ready for markers, he ran straight to his toys to fish out his case of crayons, sat down and began coloring. We have chalk but I’m not sure Mummy is ready for that mess yet! Toby doesn’t usually sit still for very long. He’s very active, and so activities like coloring are things he keeps to one side to do in bits and pieces as he runs by. With the Learning Tower he actually sat with me and colored for quite some time. In fact, every day since then, coloring at the tower has been one of his must-do activities. Sometimes he stands, sometimes he sits in my lap and brings the paper lower down. It’s wonderful. When he’s done coloring, he climbs into the tower and cooks! I’ve been wanting to get him a Fridge Phonics set for quite some time now, but our fridge isn’t in the best location for play. It’s now coming his way this Christmas thanks to the art easel.
After his first coloring session, we pulled out the piece of fabric that came with the Learning Tower for “imaginative play.” Two of the things Toby loves to do is play in a blanket/chair tent, and hide – anywhere! So when we put the fabric over the tower and it became a tent, he was beside himself with joy. On several mornings this week, the tent/hiding place has been the chosen place to eat breakfast. Mummy gets to stand next to him, browse the LL Bean catalog and drink her tea listening to crunch, crunch, crunch from underneath the sheet.
For right now, hiding, helping Mummy cook and coloring seem to be the big draw for him. My husband and I have big plans until he hits that 500- pound weight limit though. We see Lego constructions on the butcher block, an introduction to board games for a boy who doesn’t like to sit, and a place for him to do arts and crafts at whatever level he happens to be at. Helping me wrap presents and make Christmas cards. Helping my husband work on projects in the garage, where he is already interested in “Daddy’s tools.” It will be the perfect platform from which to perform those early science experiments, and test out some of the skills picked up from the Geek Dad Books. Knowing my son it will always be a tent, perhaps a puppet theater at some point too. Considering he broke a glass table with a toy rocket over Thanksgiving, I suppose it won’t be long until he discovers it is the perfect shape to blast off in! The Learning Tower website has a guide that details all the different things they suggest can be done with their product at different stages of development.
So, the finished product we all lov,e but what about the details? My husband is an amateur carpenter and so is not a big fan of flat-pack construction. When this arrived in a narrow box, he looked rather dubious. He did not remain so. For online shoppers it is worth noting how well this ships. Obvious care went into the packaging of this piece of equipment, with each piece being individually wrapped, then bundled and bound in bubble wrap and then placed in a sturdy cardboard box. There was no chance of anything shifting, chipping or breaking during transport. It came with extra screws and specialized tools for construction, including an S-shaped Allen wrench for easy motion that is now in my husband’s tool kit! Unlike a lot of the flatpack products that have soured my husband against them, this product was quick and easy to assemble, the instructions being ridiculously easy to follow. Instructions are also available in a video on the Little Partners website. The icing on the cake was that the finished piece was instantly sturdy, no wobbles, no warping, just 100% sturdy and ready for our little man to climb on. As an amateur carpenter and disdain-er of the flat-pack, my husband couldn’t get over the quality of this product at every stage.
The Learning Tower is constructed from layered birch with a non-toxic natural finish and has an extremely stable base that so far has proved toddler-proof. It is worth noting that when my son decided he knew how to climb out of a pack-n-play, he encountered one taller than most. Daycare workers observed him trying to figure it out. He eventually did and stood with a foot on each side rocking back and forth until the whole thing fell over and he could crawl out. We know what a stable base is in this house! The platform is fully adjustable but as soon as any weight is placed on it, it cannot be moved. So there is no way he can stand on it and pull up to move it. Again, my husband thinks he’ll find a way!
On the downside, while we love the performance of the art easel, it is not as well constructed as the Learning Tower itself. It was packaged with the same amount of security, and was just as easy to put together, but it is not as sturdy as its mate once constructed. I will point out, though, the Learning Tower exceeded all expectations we had for ease of construction and quality. The art easel simply matches other products — the standard had just been set so high by the first piece we assembled! The Learning Tower meets safety standards for the American Society for Testing and Materials and Home Playground Equipment. Little Partners assures customers that the Learning Tower supports two children. Thank goodness, I have another boy getting here in 12 more weeks!
I received a Learning Tower and Art Easel from Little Partners for the purposes of this review.