11 Best Busy Boards for Toddlers & Babies in 2023 [ + HOW TO CHOOSE ONE!]

toddler busy boards

Wondering how to encourage independent play while helping your baby develop essential skills? Busy Boards for toddlers are a great solution and an excellent educational toy!

Busy boards are a great sensory activity for babies and learning activity for toddlers through preschool. They work montessori inspired practical life skills, fine motor skills, and so much more. There are so many benefits of busy boards including independent play, self esteem, and concentration. Plus, they can make a fantastic way to pass the time as a car activity during those fussier toddler years!

Discover our favorite busy boards for toddlers and babies based on experience below and learn how to choose the best busy board for your child!

11 Best Busy Boards For Toddlers + Babies

Before we jump into the best busy boards for babies and toddlers just a quick note: All the busy boards on this list should be utilized under parent supervision. While most of the boards have all the materials fully attached to the board, pieces may still be small and could always come off posing a choking hazard. Which is why most sellers do not recommend their busy board for children under 3 years old. Safety is always important, so please keep that in mind while using with your kids!

Best Montessori Busy Board: Mont Pleasant Montessori Screwdriver Board

Little talked about fact: MOST busy boards that have “montessori” in the title are actually NOT montessori at all! Learn about montessori busy boards here.

People tend to assume because something is wooden, that makes it montessori, but that isn't the case. Montessori focuses on teaching a single skill at a time. So most busy boards that overcrowd a wooden plank with tons of things are actually the opposite of what Dr. Montessori intended and is a great educational tool.

This screwdriver busy board works on practical life skills, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills. The beech wood board with rounded edges is beautiful. And there's a compartment for kids to organize the loose screws they are removing until they are ready to re-install. We would urge parents to hold off until the late toddler years or early preschool years to use this though.

While some could argue this busy board isn't montessori since it's teaching a few different “turns” – it's simple enough that I give it the stamp of approval. There is another montessori board option below that's more in line with the classic montessori materials!

Pros
  • Real life screwdrivers and screws
  • Not overstimulating
  • Practical life skills
Cons
  • Lots of loose parts that can get lost or be choking hazards.

Best Preschool Learning Boards: YIISUN Busy Board Early Learning (practical life montessori skills)

A great runner up for the most montessori busy board – and also a great preschool learning board!

These are a cost effective take on the classic Montessori dressing frames. Toddlers and preschoolers WANT independence and they WANT to learn to get dressed. These early learning busy boards teach them just how to do that by isolating one skill they will faced while putting on their clothes. The large size makes them easy busy boards for 2 year old hands to begin working on the skill.

This makes a great travel busy board option as well thanks to the soft material, lack of loose pieces, and compact size that can fit in most backpacks or tote purses.

Pros
  • Montessori busy board
  • Great for travel
  • Practical life skills learning sensory board
Cons
  • 6 pieces; could be easy to lose – but each piece is a stand alone so it's not the end of the world.
  • Large size may not be the most realistic experience of what preschoolers will face while dressing

Best Latch Busy Board: Melissa & Doug Latches Busy Board

We've had this wooden latch busy board from Melissa & Doug since my daughter was an 8 month old baby and it's stood the test of time through toddler years!

latching board melissa

While babies won't be able to do the latches themselves, you can unlatch the doors and let them play independently by opening and closing the different styles. As they get older and have watched you unlatch the busy board multiple times, you'll be shocked and impressed by what they can accomplish!

Pros
  • Kids love the animal pictures behind the doors
  • Sturdy/durable – our board has been handed down now for over 3 kids!
Cons
  • Heavy and large for small kids
  • Some latches are better suited for older kids

Best Plastic Busy Board: Vtech latches and doors busy board

While this is probably our least favorite busy board on the list due to overwhelming sensory experience, parents and kids do love it so we included it. This board probably has the most “entertaining” features from a voice learning mode that introduces the family and pets and counts from 1-5, to the music mode, and of course latches and keys. It does require 2 AA batteries.

Pros
  • Works multiple skills
  • Chunky latches better for babies and young toddlers
Cons
  • Music/sound features may annoy parents
  • So many features may overstimulate kids
  • Requires batteries
  • NOT Montessori

Most Affordable Wooden Busy Board [+ Multi-Purpose!]: Melissa and Doug Doorbell House

There are a few cheaper options on this list, but this is the most affordable wooden busy board option both in price and when you factor in it's multi-purpose uses!

My daughter started playing with this item around 20 months and has always been OBSESSED it! It's a really well made too. The house provides a great imaginative play experience with the dolls. They keys are numbered and match up to open the numbered doors. Each door/key is different and is a great fine motor and hand eye coordination activity.

You do need 2 AAA Batteries to get the doorbells to work. Each one makes a different noise, without being too “electronic-y” and annoying. I found my daughter liked the doorbells as a reset when she'd get frustrated on the door. There's a lanyard on the top handle that they keys can attach to, so you don't lose them. As kids get older, it also serves as a harder challenge in trying to navigate the keys into the doors with a smaller range of motion.

While it's not an official dollhouse your child will be able to open and play with (each door opens to it's own tiny compartment), it's a great alternative to the previously mentioned lock box. Pair this with the latch board we mentioned earlier and the two items provide a more cost effective alternative while getting all of the benefits.

Pros
  • Compact size + all pieces being attached make it great for travel
  • Provides lock box experience for kids to hide/put things in
  • Comes with 4 wooden dolls
Cons
  • Locks and keys not suitable for babies and may be harder for younger toddler hands.

Best Montessori Lock Box Busy Board: MICKYU Montessori Lock Box Learning Toy

A wooden lock box busy board is a fantastic option for babies and toddlers! My daughter has had one from her Lovevery Play Kit since a little after her first birthday and it's been one of our favorite sensory learning toys!

First, toddlers will love practicing all the different locks. Second, I'm convinced the key to keeping babies and toddlers engaged is simply finding different containers for them to put stuff in, and a lock box busy board provides that exact experience! They can hide other toys, balls, and so much more. It's really a toy that grows with them! My daughter also LOVES the handle feature, which allows her to carry it around like a little purse or lunch box. We typically pack ours for travel as well, since there are no loose parts to worry about.

NOTEWORTHY: Montessori inspired lock boxes like this for toddlers are designed with the latches being quite loose so that young children can do them. This has held true for both the reviews on this and ours from Lovevery. It's not a defect, it's how it's intended.

Pros
  • Made from renewable tree wood and non toxic materials
  • Montessori inspired
  • Works well for travel
Cons
  • Small lock with keys could pose choking hazard; but are not necessary so parents can easily remove/not use that until child is 3 years old
  • Kids may close door on fingers

Best Car Travel Busy Board: YSAGi Toddler Busy Board

This toddler busy board was a great addition for airplane or car travel for us!

It's made with wool and cotton for a soft design. All the pieces are attached, so parents don't need to worry about losing them in the back of the car or on a plane.

This busy board works a slew of practical life skills as well! From shoe laces, to snap pockets, to buckles, velcro, zippers, and buttons! It's sure to enhance your child's hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills!

Lastly, it's perfect for long road trips. The busy board base is made of felt so it's a safe way to travel as a lap toy in case of card accidents. The folder closes with a cloth button and it provides a safe place to practice every day skills without using household items. You could also personalize this with a child's name using iron on letters.

Pros
  • Soft and compact for travel
  • 14 practical life skills
Cons
  • Some tasks may be frustrating for babies
  • Remove yellow plastic tips from laces which pose the greatest choking hazard risk

Best Busy Board House: BusyhouseCo

Looking for one of the best busy houses? This wooden one is so high quality! No sharp edges or chemical smell. Just good clean fun!

This is the best busy board house we've found. It's quite large and provides a slew of different sensory learning experiences. One side tackles the practical life skill of getting dressed. Another side focuses on latches and keys. Another has a clock and some fine motor mazes. And the last side has gears, switches, and plugs your little one will love. Even the roof has activities for your toddler to do! One panel is a chalkboard, and the other is a gear puzzle maze.

NOTE: Does ship free and quick, but assembly is required. It also comes in a ton of colors:

Pros
  • Most comprehensive busyboard on the list with 6 different busy boards included
  • Well made and durable
  • Comes in multiple colors
Cons
  • Assembly required
  • Large size, may not be easy to move around house

Best Handmade DIY Busy Board From Etsy: Linera Handmade

This handmade wooden busyboard from Etsy works a ton of fine motor skills for toddlers while also giving them some practical life skills too making it a montessori friendly busy board options!

Of course you can always DIY your own busy board and use this as inspo if you are handy using loose items from the dollar store or hardware store.

We love it because it uses household objects your baby or toddler will experience in their lifetime. From latches to zippers to light switch button. And all the pieces are attached to the busy board, so no need to worry about losing an item!

They also have a ton of other options with different styles/add ons for you to get a really customized experience. From mini travel sized busy boards to busy board cubes with locks attached. There's literally every option you could imagine! These Etsy sensory toy options are amazing for kids or adults in need of occupational therapy too!

Pros
  • Sensory experience
  • Wood
  • Practical Life skills
  • Full customizable options
Cons
  • Pricier than some
  • Not really montessori

Best Wall Busy Board: BumbleBeeSmart

If you're looking for a large scale wall busy board for your home the next option may be more budget friendly.

We added this to the list because A) it's amazing and B) it's one of the best motor skill activity centers for classrooms, churches, indoor gyms, or any other large gathering place.

You can purchase just one panel, or the complete set of five for a big size that accomdates multiple kids. It provides sensory and tactile experiences for babies, and more complex challenges like getting dressed, latches, and switches for toddlers. The panels come ready to hang as well!

One feature we loved on this board was the sand timer. This is a great tool to have in your home regardless of the sensory board as it provides a visual queue for kids. For instance, “we are going to take a nap when the sand empties completely!”

Pros
  • Great for babies to toddlers to preschoolers
  • Large enough for multiple kids
  • Custom handmade busy board options available from seller
Cons
  • Price

Runner Up: Learning Advantage Wall Busy Board

If you're looking for a more cost-effective wall busy board then this one is great! It's easy to clean, no mess for parents to clean up, and comes with pre-drilled holes and attachments screw for easy mounting.

It has 5 panels, and measures in at about 5 ft 8 inches long, making it a great option for multiple kids.

The sensory experiences provided may be better suited for babies or younger toddlers. Though we do like the clock feature with military time under it. Also comes with a built in type of fidget spinner which can be great for kids on the spectrum.

It comes in a few different styles, but we loved the airplane one:

Pros
  • Good for home or public group settings
  • Good for multiple kids
  • Works fine motor skills
Cons
  • Not working “practical life skills” in the same way as other on the list, which could make it more short lived
  • Not montessori

FAQS about Sensory Busy Boards For Babies + Toddlers

What is a busy board and why do I need one?

A busy board is an activity board that typically works fine motor skills in a baby or toddler; though they can be used in preschool too. It's a great way for children to engage while learning through sensory experiences and giving parents or caretakers a minute.

What is the best age for a busy board? 

Busy boards are great for babies 1 year old and up. Though It largely depends on the busy board.

Some busy boards on this list are better suited for 3 year olds and up or the preschool crowd. In general though, under the supervision of an adult, most busy boards are great to introduce at 18 months in our experience.

Benefits of busy boards:

  • Improves hand-eye coordination
  • Fine motor skill refinement
  • Sensory learning from colors, shapes, textures numbers, and more
  • Improves concentration and memory
  • Foundational in developing the imagination
  • Encourages independent play
  • Gives parents a moment
  • Boost self esteem and confidence in the child
  • Encourages practical life skills
  • Fosters independence and responsibility
  • Encourages problem solving
  • Low to no mess for parents
  • Depending on the board, can be very calming for child, especially those with autism

Are busy boards good for babies?

Yes, busy boards can be great for babies by providing a sensory learning experience. But not all busy boards are well suited for babies.

Are busy boards good for autistic children?

Yes, autistic children tend to love fidget toys and sensory toys to focus and soothe their nervous system.

The key is choosing a type of board with different textures and different activities that isn't too challenging for a special needs child so they don't get further overwhelmed or frustrated.

When should I use a busy board?

Busy boards are perfect children's toys for long journeys in the car or on a plane. They are a great item to pack as they typically are one piece so things don't get dropped or lost. Tiny hands can easily stay busy working on activity cubes or soft/smaller busy boards.

Can I make my own DIY busy board?

Absolutely! You can go to the local hardware store and pick up a piece of wood backing, or even use a piece of cardboard or poster board from the dollar store to make your own.

You can then customize what fun activities will go on it that support the development of fine motor skills for your child specifically.

Fun everyday items we like on a DIY busy board include: gear wheels, switch buttons, zipper snaps, colorful wooden pieces and yarn pieces, buttons, poking ends of the pipe cleaners through the cardboard or button for an added experience,

What should I consider before buying a busy board?

Your child's age and skill level. Busy boards can be costly, so you don't want a learning board for toddlers that's too easy they grow bored of it quickly.

On the flip side, for babies you don't want something they could hurt themselves with.

Overall these are the things we look for when choosing a busy board:

  • How durable is this? You'll want something high quality that lasts.
  • Are there any loose pieces? We don't want choking hazards or something that we can lose.
  • What skills is this working? Consider things like practical life, hand eye coordination, fine motor skills, etc.
  • Is this too overstimulating? Just like we as adults tense up when walking up to a desk with a million things on it, children also can feel overwhelmed by busy boards with too much sensory input happening.

How to Choose Sensory Busy Board For Babies: 

  • Is it easy?
  • Is it soft?
  • What are potential choking hazards?
  • Where can my child get hurt?

For instance, instead of latches and locks that babies could squish their fingers in or have a hard time with, look for something similar with color and texture like the ribbons on this play gym.

Our tip: don't be afraid to get something a little more advanced that you need to store away until your child is ready versus getting something to easy that your child outgrows quickly. Just observe your child.

How To Choose Sensory Busy Board For Toddlers:

  • How is this fostering independence or responsibility? Two key montessori concepts!
  • Can we use this as a carseat toy or for travel? Are there any loose pieces?
  • How does my child's current dexterity level compare to the demands of the learning board for toddlers?

What are the different types of busy boards? 

In terms of style of activity learning boards there are generally three: cube/box, wall mount, and lap busy boards.

Are busy boards Montessori?

No, most busy boards marketed as “montessori” are not in fact montessori… With that said, there are no actual montessori toys, just montessori materials developed by Dr. Montessori herself.

So it really it depends on who you ask and there is no right or wrong answer. As I explained in my post on What Is Montessori, the name was never trademarked, so it's kind of like the wild west.

Busy boards are considered montessori if they provide a rich, hands on, stimulating learning experience that engages a single sense at a time.

So a busy board with a music box AND latches would not be considered montessori. But lock box could be.

What is the difference between a busy board and Montessori sensory boards?

A busy board can have any object on it whereas a montessori sensory board focuses on a more targeted tactile, visual, or skill.

Final Thoughts:

Busy boards are great for sensory play, fine motor skills, and practical life. Plus they give parents a little reprieve while toddlers play independently.

While we love all the options on this list for different reasons, we strongly encourage parents to get a busy board that's travel friendly like this one or this one to engage little hands and minds in a car seat.

For at home use, Melissa & Doug make some of our favorite affordable options like the lock box house and latch busy board.

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Looking for busy board ideas that will actually keep your baby or toddler engaged? Sharing how to choose the best busy board based on our experience with busy boards for 1 year old to 2 year old to 3 years old!
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