One of the key features of Active Learning is that materials are presented in such a way that the learner is able to independently explore and manipulate them. This encourages the learner to reach out and interact with objects, finding out about their properties, while also developing motor skills, and building cognitive concepts, such as cause and effect. Wooden boards and trays can be made in a variety of ways that are interesting and accessible to different levels of fine motor skills and exploration strategies.

Elastic Board

To make an elastic board you will need the following supplies:    Elastic board

  1. Birch plywood – size can vary, but item shown below is 21x13
  2. Birch trim 1x1
  3. 1/8” elastic – minimal width, use larger widths for children that have increased strength
  4. plastic tubing - optional
  5. loop turner – optional - available at JoAnn Fabric – for pulling elastic through tubing
  6. drill – to put holes in wood or items to be placed on boards
  7. Items to be attached to board
  8. router – optional to soften edges of board
  9. sander or sandpaper
  10. polyurethane

Elastic board Cut plywood to appropriate length.  Cut one inch trim to outline the plywood. Assemble board with wood glue and wood nails as desired. Allow to dry completely. Sand and polyurethane board. Allow to dry and apply second coat as needed. Drill holes in sides of board.

Attach elastic to the end of the board. String or tie items to length of elastic. Once enough items have been tied or strung to the elastic – attach other end of elastic to opposite side of the board.

Caution must be used to determine appropriate items to be attached to the board. Do not use any items that pose a choking hazard, that are easily broken, or that have sharp edges. The builder is responsible for the safety of the child using the equipment.

The items placed on a board are determined by the developmental level of the child or children to play with the board. Evaluate items for sensory characteristics – visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and taste. Evaluate an item for the skill needed to manipulate it – pushing, batting, grasping, pulling, scratching, taking apart, putting together, etc. Ensure that items can be compared to others of size, weight, shape, etc.

A board that requires skills that are too developmental high or too low for a child will not promote active learning, and may result in limited or stereotypical activity or no activity at all.

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Lilli Nielsen, 1992, LilliWorks: Space and Self
Lilli Nielsen, 1989, LilliWorks: Spatial Relations in Congenitally Blind Infants
Lilli Nielsen, 1993, LilliWorks: Early Learning – Step by Step
Lilli Nielsen, 1998, LilliWorks: The FIELA Curriculum – 730 Learning Environments


Bell Board  Bellboard

The pegboard on the right has bells and castenettes attached with elastic, which enables the learner to manipulate and explore the items, while they remain in a fixed location.

Door Stop Board

doorstop board compressed



This board is made with door stoppers that can be purchased at any hardware store. They are easy for the child to move and they make a great sound!


rocking board compressed

Rocking Board

This board is made by attaching a dowel rod underneath the tray.  A collection of dowel rods or other objects such as ping pong balls can be placed in the tray which the child activates easily by pushing down on one end.



trays collage