Under the table Cubby House

What: A tablecloth made from an old sheet that converts the dining table into a cubby house.

Quick and simple. Mopping the floor first was the longest bit.

How: I had been wanting to make a tablecloth cubby house for ages. You can make them properly sewn to the right size (i.e. cubical with no baggy corners), and I imagined sewing on swatches of multicoloured fabric to make it look like an actual house with windows and doors etc. But in the end I opted for the simplest possible version. I had an old sheet that needed sides-to-middlesing but I’d never gotten round to it. A few minutes with marker pen and scissors, and the cubbyhouse tablecloth was done. I highly recommend drawing a rectangle on the top so that you know which bits of table and cloth to align.

I made this one December, just at the start of the six-week summer holidays. I thought the kids would enjoy having a quiet, enclosed space to play in every so often across the holiday season, be it together for a game or just on their own without anyone else in their face. Especially Kid 3, who would be starting kindergarten at the end of the summer and who definitely needed some practice dealing with their emotions while hiding from people. In fact what happened was that it was used a little bit at first and then not again for a while – it was hard to keep the floor under the dining table clean enough for them to want to go under, plus we kept needing to take the tablecloth off so we could do craft projects or playdough or other messy things. Making it this simply also meant it was a little vulnerable to ripping – despite the “door”, those windows were very tempting to climb out of! However, as an additional idea to keep kids busy or distracted for some random small time in a small space without a lot of outdoors options (this was heatwave season!), it was just fine.

Extras: This works quite well with the under-table chalkboard. I could also make another one of these, letting the kids be in charge – Kid 5 was quite keen on the idea of decorating it themselves with textas (in fact they did so), and Kid 7 would be quite eager to help with selecting fabrics and cutting shapes to make more solid decorations. I think I might have gotten more use out of it in the first round if I’d steered activities they could do inside the cubby, like setting up a tea party or putting colouring books in there. Kid 3 and Kid 5 weren’t quite able to generate enough ideas for things to do themselves inside a cubby.

Under-the-table chalkboard

What: A chalkboard on the underside of the (wooden) dining table.

Note the line down the middle to make it clear whose drawing space is whose. 

How: I got a $4 pot of chalkboard paint from the local two dollar shop. Any chalkboard paint from any paint store or Internet recipe will probably do. I swept under the table thoroughly (see my last blog post!) and put masking tape around the inside edges to cover up surfaces that weren’t supposed to be painted.. I could have done this much more thoroughly than I did. For some reason I thought we weren’t likely to make much mess. Please learn from my experience.

The paint went into two “meat trays”, those styrofoam things that they sometimes sell batches of fruit in. I gave the kids half a sponge each and they sponged the paint on. It took a little while. I helped with corners and tricky bits. Then we left it to dry. I did come back after the kids went to bed and do an extra layer in places where they had trouble getting the paint thick enough, but I didn’t bother with a full second layer, I didn’t think we needed perfection.

24 hours later, it was five minutes til dinner time but Kid 6 and Kid 4 needed dinner Right Now and were ready to kill each other if not distracted or sated. So I handed them a packet of chalk and told them the table was dry. That ended up earning me a full fifteen minutes to finish cooking and get food ready and on the table.

Extras: The important thing I think about this was that they had a hand in making it. It’s a space that’s there for them, and they helped make it that way. Plus it’s given me multiple holiday crafternoon distractions – the painting was one afternoon, we’ve had a few drawing afternoons since. It’s also very much about making the most of small spaces and not needing a 40-square house to contain small children. The other thing this goes well with is my “cubby” tablecloth, which turns the self-same table into a blanket fort and which I’ll post about eventually. Oh, and it goes well with sweeping. But that seems to be my job.