Katie here. Today you’ll find me over at Simple Mom, talking about why you should let your kids get dirty. The following post was written by repurposing contributor Eren Hays San Pedro of This Vintage Chica.

When I was in college, I used to make “study boards” for my roommates and friends.  They were simple pieces of wood – painted and decorated specifically for the recipient.  They were padded on the backside with batting and fabric to make them more comfortable on your lap.  We used them for everything!  I have been thinking about making my boys a study board (aka lap desk) for years.

This summer our family is taking a road trip to Portland, Maine.

That’s three boys.

In the car.

Give or take a few hours for meals and the required oh so frequent bathroom breaks, it should take us somewhere around 14 hours.

One way.

As parents, we are always on the lookout for anything to make long car rides more pleasant.

My husband and I were brainstorming ideas for things to take when he said, “Man, I wish they each had little lap desks to use in the car.”

Our youngest is just learning to write his letters and one of our older boys is fascinated with drawing cartoons right now. So a lap desk for each child would be a a great thing to have on the trip. While my husband went online to look for lap desks to purchase, I went to the hardware store for supplies to make them, like I used to do in college.

Here’s an easy way to make personalized lap desks for your little travelers.

Photo by Eren Hays San Pedro


  • A piece of wood, about 12 x 18 inches.  Plywood works well, but so do pre-cut balsa wood pieces from craft stores.
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint
  • Scissors
  • Old Magazines, stickers, scrapbook paper, etc.
  • Modge Podge, Elmer’s Glue or any glue that will dry clear
  • Polyeurethane Spray
  • Fabric
  • Iron
  • Cotton batting
  • Coordinating ribbon, rope or ric-rack to wrap the perimeter of your board
  • Glue gun


Using the sandpaper, sand the edges and corners of your piece of wood.Paint the wood the desired color and let it dry completely.While the paint is drying, cut out pictures and words from magazines that you will use on your desk.  It works best if you pick a theme. The pictures in the photos above are all centered around things we find in our backyard – butterflies, birds, grass, soccer balls, etc.  But you could use the beach, favorite things, words that describe your child, etc.After the paint is dry, arrange the magazine cut outs as you want them on your painted board.  Don’t forget to add a name!Use modge podge, or slightly thinned out glue to attach your magazine pictures to your board.  Put a thin layer of glue over the entire board, magazines and all.  The glue will dry clear, but will keep your images looking bright.After the glue is completely dry, seal it with two coats of polyeurethane spray.After the board is dry, measure your fabric.  You want a piece of fabric that is 4 inches longer than the length of your board and 4 inches wider than your board.  For example, if your board is 12 x 18 inches, your fabric should be 16 x 22 inches.Fold the fabric over an inch from the edge and iron it to make a nice straight crease. Do this on each of the edges.  Don’t worry about the corners, we’ll mess with them later.Lay your fabric down, right side facing down and then lay your board down, face up, in the center of fabric.Line one of the creases up next to one of the sides of the wooden board.  Using the staple gun, staple the fabric to the board.Next, place a few handfuls of batting under your board.  This will make it easier to staple the rest of the fabric.Continue to staple the fabric to each of the sides leaving a corner unfinished to provide a hole to add the rest of the batting.For the corners, make 90 degree folds and bury the corner under one of the clean edges.Use the glue gun to attach a length of ribbon around the edge of the board to hide the exposed staples.

These great little lap desks don’t just get used in the car either. Ours get toted around everywhere – the tree house, their beds, the big armchairs in the living room.  And one last little fun discovery made by our 5 year old: turn them around to the padded side and you have a travel pillow.

Other ideas:

  • Glue a thin wooden dowel on the bottom edge of your desk to keep pencils and crayons from rolling off.
  • If you (or someone you know) is handy with a jigsaw, you can cut a handle out of the top of the board for easy carrying.  Or sew a handle out of fabric and attach it to the board as you are attaching the fabric.
  • My friend Jessica of Balancing Everything has a great lap desk tutorial with  handy-dandy, downloadable instructions here.

Oh, and if you live in Portland or have visited Portland before, what were your favorite sites?  I’m taking suggestions on places we should go while we are there.  I’ve got my travel planner ready!  I’m all ears.