Every once in a while I come across an item that makes me jump out of my seat and immediately say, “I need that.” Recently, I stumbled upon one of those items – the original Learning Tower, which in a few short days has become a very cherished and coveted item in our household.
What is a Learning Tower?
It’s a sturdy, wooden, non-tip structure with a wide framework, four-sided railings, and side support feet. Designed for up to 2 children aged 18 months through 6 years (with 4 easily adjustable platform heights) to stand at counter height, it’s a safe and versatile alternative to a traditional step-stool.
When I’m in the kitchen, one of four things are happening: Toddler is running around taking everything out of cabinets and drawers; Toddler is wanting me to carry her the entire time I am cooking or cleaning; Preschooler wants to help and pulls up a sketchy chair from where he can fall or slip; or I have to keep going into the living room to rectify a situation between the two kids. Sound familiar?
With the Learning Tower, my two kids can be contained in a safe environment right next to me, so I know exactly what they are doing. Because it is a safe and sturdy platform, I don’t worry about falls and tumbles, and my kids feel secure enough to allow the learning, exploring and imaginative play be the focus.
When I first got the tower, I had originally intended to use it for a segment entitled “Playful Chefs,” where my oldest child (age 3) would help me in all encompassing aspects of kitchen work (cooking, cleaning, wiping, washing). However, I had not realized to the capacity my children would use this very welcome piece of furniture. The Learning Tower is a helping device, learning aid, a play apparatus and imagination station all wrapped up into one.
It takes bonding with your child to a whole new level. Instead of watching your children while you get chores done, you can allow your children to watch you. Because it’s designed to be a counter height, they can work alongside you at your level. So you spend more quality time interacting and teaching your children how to perform household tasks while at the same getting these tasks accomplished. (And without using the TV as a babysitter!)
In our home we try to emulate a Montessori-minded environment. The Learning Tower seems to work seamlessly with and serves to reinforce this concept, as it is designed to foster a child’s independence (and subsequently self-confidence). My son can learn about responsibility and contribute to the family in actual productive ways. How? He can safely wash dishes, put them away in cabinets or get them down to set the table. He can get his own snacks. He can help cook and then clean the counters. He can hang his own clothes in his closet. And messy Montessori activities like pouring practice can be done in the kitchen sink, eliminating wet floors.
Let me share with you some of the many possibilities, many of which my children have already done…
Imaginative play: Jungle gym, peek-a-boo hideout, TV-watching station, spaceship, castle, fort, drive-thru window, puppet show, truck, train engine, playhouse or clubhouse, arts and crafts on a table or countertop (from play-dough to making crayon molds), water play in the sink. (This has proven to be a great toy for a “rainy” day.)
Learning and helping: Put away or get out dishes, wash dishes, wash hands, hang clothes in the closet, cleaning the kitchen, making juice (from a juicer) or smoothies, cooking and baking (we’ve made pancakes and brownies so far), help with the laundry, turning on/off lights (my toddler’s favorite activity), brush teeth, help change a diaper, or anywhere you need a step-stool.
My toddler insists on climbing everything she can, so this is a much sturdier piece of furniture in which she can practice her fierce climbing skills.
If nothing else, it’s a great way for me to keep a close eye (and keep the kids away from trouble – such as dishwashers and hot oven doors) while working! And because of its 500 pound weight limit, maybe I can use it to clean the top of the fridge. (Shh, don’t tell anyone I said that!)
The Learning Tower comes with a blue piece of fabric for imaginative play, but you can further that by purchasing attachments like the art easel or the playhouse kit. We have the art easel and love it – it’s a clever alternative to an ordinary easel. On one side, it’s a magnetic chalkboard and on the other, a magnetic whiteboard. It comes with a magnetic strip to hold paper while the childdraws/colors/paints, a sturdy tray that can be easily detached, and an optional wall mount. My toddler’s favorite feature is the magnetic aspect – she adorns both sides with all of her animal magnets. The only downside to the art easel is that she tries to climb on the tray (which I can foresee being an issue when she can successfully accomplish it).
Assembly: All of the materials, tools (Allen wrench), easy visual instructions, and even a few spare parts are included. I could have easily assembled it myself, but since our children’s safety is at risk, I passed down the responsibility to my very strong and handy husband. Setting up the tower takes about 15-20 minutes, but with the help of our two curious tots lurking about, my husband squeezed it into 45. Because safety is not a big issue with the art easel, I decided to assemble that myself. Using my own screwdriver (not included), it took me 15 minutes tops.
Available Colors: White, Black, Cherry, Natural, Apple Green, Royal Blue, Azure Blue, Red, Pink
Cons and suggestions:
- My not-quite 18 month old toddler inevitably wants to imitate everything her older brother does. However, she’s not yet so careful about sitting on the platform without trying to lean her back against one of the sides. Since there is no backing, she can take a tumble from one of two sides (one side is flush to the counter and the other is currently covered by the easel). It would be nice if it had optional, removable sides. Perhaps something that slides out of the way (wooden or something like plexiglass?) or just simply a second rail (at the midway point on each side) that can be raised or slid out of the way.
- Weighing in at 35 pounds when assembled, the Learning Tower is a bit heavy (but not unbearably so) to constantly carry around. You may need to get a second one if you have multiple floors.
- You can’t break it down, so make sure you have plenty of space to store it somewhere in your home. Maybe some of you are thinking that it would be nice if it collapsed for storage, but not me. I see that as a compromise to the integrity of its stability.
BUY! Suggested retail price of of the Learning Tower is $199.99. In my humble opinion, it’s worth every penny!
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