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A busy board is essentially an activity board full of interactive parts that provides young kids with plenty of sensory stimulation.
They might include buttons and cogs to press and turn, zips to unzip, rattles to shake or letters and numbers to learn. They're usually bright and engaging and provide plenty of opportunity for exploration and experimentation.
They're also excellent toys for learning, and there are a number of developmental benefits to be gleaned from the use of these kinds of activity toys. Some interactive movable parts provide the opportunity for toddlers to develop their gross and fine motor skills. Others allow kids to exercise their problem-solving abilities, or to enhance hand-eye coordination. Some simply provide the visual or auditory stimulation that is so key for cognitive development at this age.
Busy boards make popular Montessori toys, as they adhere to several key Montessori philosophies: they're simple to use, are often made of wood, encourage children to learn through exploring and promote independent play. Different sensory boards can be used for different ages. Some are suitable for children as young as a year old; a three or four-year-old child will be more suited to others.
We've gathered together a range of the best busy boards on the market so you can find the best for your family. Take a look below.
Kidadl's Top Pick
Whilst all the busy boards on our list come highly recommended, this Manhattan Toy was, for us, the ultimate activity board.
1. Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Centre
This epic toddler busy board from Manhattan Toy had to be our top pick. It's not so much as a board as a full centre, but all the more engaging for this, and the upright structure means more than one child can play with it at the same time - great if you have a large family of young children. A really comprehensive activity board, this little tree boasts bead runs, springy flaps, gliders, spinning dials and much more besides, all of which will help aid cognitive development and enhance fine motor skills. We love the cute tree design, which is the perfect height for little people and will look great in the nursery or play room. Suitable for children as young as 1, your kids are sure to get a lot of use out of it and the solid wood construction makes it extra durable. A superb educational toy that looks great.
- Price: £110
- Age: 12 months+
Best Sensory Board That's Also A Walker
2. Tildo Activity Walker
Sourcing good, educational toys can get time consuming and expensive, and 2-in-1 products are a great way to make more efficient, wallet-friendly purchases. This adorable wooden activity board doubles as a walker, making it such a useful product for toddlers learning to take their first steps. Super stimulating and beautifully-designed, the board on the front of the walker features a mini abacus, spinning mirror, flippable blocks and a cage rattle amongst other things, and each is so engaging and prettily-painted that you won't mind it sitting in the corner of your living room (we're such fans of the bright red frame and flowered wheels!). The storage tray at the back is a great place to stock extra toys, or for your little one to bring teddy along for the ride. A wonderful, multi-functional toddler busy board.
- Price: £50
- Age: 12 months+
Best Basic Sensory Board
3. Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Board
Melissa & Doug are a reliable producer of good-quality educational toys and you'll see their name crop up a few times on this list. This basic skills board is your classic sensory board, with six individual activities to be completed that all centre around a similar theme: getting dressed! Your little one can practise doing up a zip, buckling a belt, tying up laces and many other activities, enhancing their fine motor skills as they go; a really useful tool for kids learning to dress themselves. The bright teddy bear design is nice and eye-catching, sure to appeal to young kids, and brings all the little interactive parts together in a more cohesive way than traditional boards. Small enough that it can be held on the knee, this toddler busy board is nice and portable, too.
- Price: £15
- Age: 3 years+
Best Activity Cube
4. Le Toy Van Petit Activity Cube
This award-winning wooden activity cube is a lovely alternative to the traditional sensory board. Kids will love turning it over to reveal the delights of each new side, and with six to discover, there's no end of fun to be had. Featuring a miniature xylophone, spinning flower cogs, doors to open and wheels to spin, it's got tons of opportunity for learning and development and it looks beautiful (not an essential feature, of course, but it certainly helps!). It's nice and compact and easy to transport - great for sensory play on the go - and is super sturdy and well made. Constructed from wood and decorated with non-toxic paint it's a really sustainable purchase, too, and one that will certainly last for longer than fabric or plastic equivalents. A less traditional toddler busy board, but a great one nonetheless.
- Price: £29.95
- Age: 2 years+
Best Themed Sensory Board
5. Melissa & Doug Latches Board
There are several sensory boards out there that concentrate on one specific theme or activity, and this one focuses primarily on latches. Each little coloured door has a different fastening for your child to figure out before they can open them up and see what's inside: a hook, chain and sliding lock to name a few. The hide-and-seek element adds an extra incentive to complete this activity board, and the latches are much more fiddly than other activities featured on similar sensory boards, providing kids with more of a challenge and further opportunity to enhance dexterity and fine motor skills. The fun, colourful animals waiting to greet them when they succeed are great for naming and counting - a bonus added learning opportunity.
- Price: £20
- Age: 3 years+
Best Busy Board For Collaborative Play
6. Janod Multi-Activity Looping Toy
French toymaker Janod produce tons of great Montessori toys; this large wooden cube makes a wonderful educational toy that's great for collaborative play. Featuring eight interactive activities across five busy sides (including a shape sorter and looping game), it's got tons going on to encourage problem-solving, boost motor skills and aid sensory development, and the whimsical illustrations are lovely too. It's a bit on the pricy side, but it's a bigger, more comprehensive toy than most individual activity boards, and is more easily accessed by multiple children; a baby and a three-year-old can quite happily play side by side here, making this one of the best sensory toys to encourage sharing and side-along learning.
- Price: £59.50
- Age: 18 months-3 years
Best Busy Board For Design
7. Melissa & Doug First Play Jungle Activity Board
Melissa & Doug make lots of great sensory toys, but this activity board table has a bit more going for it than your run-of-the-mill activity boards. Featuring a colourful jungle design and four bright table legs, it's the perfect little station for your child to sit themselves at and work on improving their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The snake roller, crocodile glider, monkey flipper, butterfly flapper and sliding tropical bird beads are sure to provide hours of absorbing play, and the strong wooden construction is nice and sturdy. Able to be used by children as young as a year old, this sensory board is bright and engaging without being too overwhelming. A really well-designed learning toy and a great baby busy board.
- Price: £29.99
- Age: 12 months+
Best Wall Busy Board
8. Eitech GmbH Viga Toys - Wall Toy Elephant
This toddlers' busy board would make such a lovely addition to the playroom wall; the elephant design is so much fun and the musical toys along its wooden body provide excellent auditory stimulation. Featuring a wooden sound board, spinning musical wheel and miniature xylophone, there are enough musical pieces for more than one child to play together and create their own multi-stimulatory little soundscape! It's a beautifully well-made wall toy, and the company does three other sensory boards in different animal designs - a crocodile, a bear and a hippo - if you want to complete the set.
- Price: £53.49
- Age: 12 months+
Best Fabric Busy Board
9. Obeda Fire Engine Busy Board
This cute little toddlers' busy board is entirely soft, making it lightweight, easy to wrap up and transport and suitable for use with younger toddlers (under adult supervision). The bright fire engine design makes it doubly appealing to little ones, and the zip, laces, popper and toy fastenings are perfect for teaching them important life skills such as how to do up a coat and tie shoelaces. Dressing skills aside, the fiddly activities included are a great means of improving dexterity and fine-tuning children's motor skills, and the fire engine shape may even encourage imaginative play - bonus!
- Price: £14.95
- Age: 3 years+
Best Busy Board For Simplicity
10. Legler Motor-Activity Board
This wooden toy board is nice and simple, perfect for kids in their first stages of development. It's only a small square, much better able to be held by tiny hands than some of the chunkier boards included here, and features just one activity, so children are less likely to feel overwhelmed. Kids will get a lot out of simply moving the coloured pins back and forth, but there's much more strategy involved here than with traditional sensory boards. Kids can slide the pins along the geometric tracks to collect a colour together in each corner, promoting strategic thinking as well as colour and shape recognition. The wood is nice and sturdy and for such a well-made toy it's not a bad price either.
- Price: £15.99
- Age: 3 years+
Best Busy Board For Collecting
11. Le Toy Van Wooden Petilou Activity Tiles
Le Toy Van make so many lovely sensory toys for toddlers and these wooden toy tiles are no exception. They don't come cheap but they make great collectables, and the hexagonal tile format means you can arrange them geometrically however you like. We think they'd look lovely on your child's bedroom or playroom wall, but you could also spread them out on the rug or table at play time. The fact that they come separately makes each individual tile much more portable, too; great for slipping in the day bag for a little sensory distraction when out and about. The 'spin the cogs tile' is our favourite and would make a great starter tile, but there are a host of others to choose from, including a rotating cloud rain maker, a miniature mirror, sliding woodland creatures and match-the-shape puzzle. Each of these Montessori toys engages a different skill or sense and works well both on its own or as part of the set. We love the pretty muted colours and natural wood design, and the fact that Le Toy Van's toys are made primarily from responsibly-sourced, sustainable rubberwood.
- Price: £19.95
- Age: 18 months+
Kidadl Best Buys selects the top parent-recommended products across the web for families of all ages. If you liked our pick of the best sensory boards then why not take a look at our favourite musical instruments for babies? Or check out our guide to the best mud kitchens for messy play!
At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents.
We try our very best, but cannot guarantee perfection. We will always aim to give you accurate information at the date of publication - however, information does change, so it’s important you do your own research, double-check and make the decision that is right for your family.
Kidadl provides inspiration to entertain and educate your children. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.
Kidadl cannot accept liability for the execution of these ideas, and parental supervision is advised at all times, as safety is paramount. Anyone using the information provided by Kidadl does so at their own risk and we can not accept liability if things go wrong.
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