Inside: A comprehensive tutorial and breakdown of a DIY outdoor easel for kids.
I’m not exactly known for my DIY prowess despite what “owning a kids activity blog” might make you think. There’s a big difference between using sticky notes with toddlers or peeling apart dot stickers and crafting/do-it-yourself/general Martha Stewart like behaviors.
But I’m breaking out of my comfort zone to share our outdoor easel with you. It’s so cool: this is backyard perfection plain and simple.
RELATED: Looking for other (not DIY) outdoor toys for kids? Check out this list.
It’s actually a pretty simple Saturday project
I am well aware that this outdoor easel crosses into some very crafty territory, but good news: I had my father-in-law make it for me.
I’m still hopeless. Just a visionary and someone who can write a blog post.
Building is not my strong suit and I regularly mismeasure, miscut, and miscalculate. My father-in-law, on the other hand, was more than happy to make this very simple project for his grandchildren.
Thank you to tutorials like Made with Happy and Fantastic Fun and Learning for helping inspire our design.
What is an outdoor easel?
Outdoor easels are fantastic for kids: this gives a simple space to paint and create on. The easel is built with plexiglass so it’s double sided. This makes all sorts of options for kids.
It’s also large when you compare it to the size of a child which makes it a little more magical than a plain piece of printer paper.
There’s something special about an easel in nature – kids really gravitate to it.
How much did this DIY project cost?
I’m going to be VERY upfront on this because I hate when DIY projects are posted and I’m left to guess prices or final cost. Hate, hate, hate.
DIY projects are rarely “cheap projects.” Do you know that meme: “Why buy something for $5 when I can craft it for $50?” I feel it deeply.
In this case, making an outdoor plexiglass easel is considerably cheaper than buying one (they’re so expensive) so at least that’s a plus.
I wanted to mention this first and be upfront. No surprises or sticker shock when you add all the receipts together. Also another plug for outsourcing this project to grandparents (I kid, I kid – Papa, we love you very much).
The total price today (Summer 2022) is approximately $75 to make this (they retail for more than $200). Material costs will vary depending on where you live – it may actually be less (I live in an inflated market).
Here’s the materials list for the see-through easel
- 15 feet of 1 x 3 wood (note: our easel uses some 1 x 4, but this is not required)
- 11 feet of ¾ inch quarter round moulding
- 30 x 36 plexiglass (approximately 1/10 inch thick)
- Construction screws
- 3/8 inch sheet metal screws
- Finishing nails
How to build an outdoor easel
Disclaimer: Please remember that materials vary. Measure yours, check lengths, don’t make cuts solely based on my directions.
Here’s a general outline and order of operations for how our easel came together.
Step 1: Build the frame. Our frame is a rectangle of 37-3/4 inches by 30-1/4 inches fastened together with construction screws. See photo 1.
Step 2: Add the moulding inside the frame (this will hold the plexiglass). Cut the moulding to fit inside the frame. Our lengths were 36-1/4 inches by 29 inches. Position those approximately ¼-inch inside the frame. Nail into place using finishing nails or a nail gun (if you are so fancy). See photo 2.
Step 3: Attach the plexiglass. Using 3/8 inch sheet metal screws, attach the plexiglass to the back of the moulding. Avoid cracking the plexiglass by drilling pilot holes first and not over tightening the screws. See photo 3.
Step 4: Build the feet. Cut feet for the frame so it can stand upright. This allows for multiple children to work at once. The feet on our easel are approximately 18-inches long. See photo 4.
Bonus Step: We made it possible that the feet could twist inward so we can store this easel with ease (see what I did there?). To do that, we spaced the feet apart so they don’t overlap when turned then used a single screw in each foot, leaving them just loose enough to be able to turn. See photo 5.
What can kids do with a plexiglass easel?
A lot – and for a wide age span. Outdoor plexiglass easels stand the test of time.
Kids can paint on them, use paint sticks, create multi sided designs, draw through the glass… this is endless.
In my neighborhood, from the 18-month-old to the 8-year-old… this easel is a hit.
RELATED: Need some tips on painting to help it be more successful? Check out this blog post.
How do you clean it each time?
We have a few methods for cleaning, depending on what’s been happening on the easel.
Sometimes, the kids use squirt bottles to spray it down, sometimes it’s a hose.
For a BIG clean, I’ve found that spraying it with a window cleaner, waiting a minute, and then hosing it down is easy peasy. It’s never been a drama to clean it.
Will you try making a plexiglass easel?
Let me know in the comments if you plan to try this OR if you did, and what suggestions you’d add. Share how building this easel went at your house to help others make theirs successfully.
Susie Allison, M. Ed
Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram. A former teacher and early childhood education advocate, Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon.
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