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Materials Needed

  • You’ll need about 20-40 small wooden shapes per child. I found some small wooden stars at a craft store, although you could go with circles or squares – I just thought the stars were adorable. Another choice would be to use thick recycled cardboard squares or make some homemade recycled cardboard squares. However, my son and I made some games with both wood and cardboard, and we feel the wooden games look better and feel more sturdy. If you’re hyper crafty, with a wood-shop, feel free to make your own wooden pieces with scrap wood.
  • A few big sheets of paper (all the same) for the back of the game pieces.
  • Scrap paper, stickers, paint or markers for the design sides of the game pieces. If you use stickers, make sure you have two of each.
  • Pencil, paint brush for the glue, scissors and a piece of smoothing (not breaking) sandpaper.
  • If you’re making square pieces, the process will go more quickly if you use a paper trimmer.

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Making the Back-sides of the Game Pieces

All the back-sides of your game pieces need to match, so choose paper you have enough of to go around. If using simple square wood shapes or another uniform shape, trace one piece onto your paper, cut it out, then simply cut the rest of your squares to match. If using star shapes or another obscure shape, be sure to trace each star separately, as wooden pieces vary in size.  To make sure the paper and shapes line up, mark a little arrow on your wooden star and on the back of your paper so you know how the paper fits onto the wood.

Glue Your Paper On

Using a paint brush, coat each piece of wood one at a time with the water based glue/sealer, then press the corresponding piece of paper on firmly. This is a great job for a child helper. Water-based glue doesn’t bubble up much, but be careful in any case, as you don’t want a bunch of game pieces with air bubbles.

Consider Your Design Options

Once you have a nice stack of matching game pieces, it’s time to consider what designs you’d like to use on the backs. You need two of each design you choose. You can use stickers, although to make it look nicer, place the stickers on paper, then glue the paper onto the wood. You could also use matching scrap paper or even paint or draw designs on the game pieces. After choosing matching designs, repeat the gluing process on the opposite sides of all the game pieces.

Choose Age Appropriate Designs

Because these games were made for young toddlers, my son and I picked easily recognizable designs, such as fruit, insects and shapes. Younger children may not recognize that scrap paper matches, so stickers work best for the youngest kids. Choosing a nice variety of shapes is also useful as an educational tool, allowing young children to learn about different colors and shapes and to practice item recognition, say like a bumble bee or cow. In fact you could even make a set that focuses on numbers, letters or a specific theme, such as Christmas, Easter or birthday. Because this water based glue is totally clear, you could also use small family photos and make a family-minded memory game.

Finishing Touches

  • After gluing your backs and fronts on, coat your wood pieces, front and back with two or three more coats of sealer. While this adds time to your project, it results in game pieces that are more durable and can’t easily be peeled by little hands, plus it looks nice and shiny too.
  • You or your child helper should sand any rough edges with a bit of sandpaper.
  • Place the finished game in a little reusable fabric drawstring bag or small recycled box. Be sure to add game instructions, which you can easily type up on your computer then print out on labels.

All Images ©Jennifer Chait