Road play mat.
If your boy is like mine, he loves anything to do with cars, trucks, tractors, and trains. If it's got wheels, he loves it! So when my little guy's third birthday came up, I knew that a road play mat would make THE perfect gift.
If you want one of these cools mats, you've got two options; you could easily purchase one for about $36... OR... spend about $100 in materials, devote countless hours of man labour, pour out a few buckets of sweat, and seriously test your crafting patience by making one! Haha! Guess which option I thought was smarter!!! Very labour-intensive indeed, but well worth my efforts. Check it out...
The primary reason why I opted to go with the more difficult option of making one of these mats myself, is because I wanted to add a 3D element that the store-bought mats don't offer. I built a two-level parking garage with two ramps, which I suspected would be the main attraction.
In addition, I included a few key buildings, such as a fire station, a police station, a hospital, and a school, where some of my guy's favourite vehicles - the fire truck, a police car, an ambulance, and a school bus - could be parked. I wanted to keep these structures simple, so I used ready-made wooden houses that I found at my local dollar store and painted them in the appropriate colour. I then added a logo and/or named the building using wooden letters that I also picked up at the dollar store.
Every car has to be washed regularly, so I couldn't leave out a car wash! To make one, I reconstructed a small wooden crate/box; I glued together the ends of the crate to yield a box of desired size. I cut out openings on either end for the cars to drive in and out. Inside the box, I simply attached some strings of blue yarn to represent the water. Turned out pretty good, if I can say so myself!
Other features I thought would be fun include are a round-about...
...and a lake, which adds some colour and is great to have when the imagination takes you to play car crashes, as it often does for my little dude. Who doesn't like to play sinking cars?
As for my prediction about the parking garage - I was right on the money! My little guy spends hours happily driving all his cars up, parking, and then driving down, going for a spin around town. This is definitely the main attraction!
I placed all the 3D structures along one side so that they would be out of the way when playing right in the middle of the mat. I didn't want my guy to feel restricted in his movements or having to bump into the different buildings when driving around, as I know that would cause nothing but frustration. So, out of the way, all lined up along one edge was the best place for these to go!
My little dude will play with anything that has wheels, but he especially enjoys the simple wooden cars and trucks. He's managed to stock up quite a collection of these already, thus I planned the measurements for this play mat to fit these wooden cars. The entire mat is built on a 4' square, 1/8"-thin hard board. Whether it's laid on the floor or placed on a table, even across some chairs or stools, the base is sturdy enough to support the 3D structures on top of it. Although it can't be rolled up or folded, it can easily be stashed sideways against a wall or placed under a bed for storage.
Since I anticipated that a lot of play would be done on top of the mat, I took great care in ensuring that EVERY single piece of felt, from the tiny white rectangles, to the roads, to the decorative bushes and trees, was securely glued down along its corners and edges. I'm pretty confident these pieces will never lift off and the entire mat probably is a good few pounds heavier because of all the hot glue I used!
Although this project turned out to be a little more labour-intensive (I will NEVER cut tiny white rectangles ever again!!!) than I originally anticipated, I'm super happy with the way it turned out. It's only been a few days since I've gifted it and it's already received way more attention than the average toy in our home. I can see that he enjoys it a lot and that just validates all my efforts. I really doubt that he'd spend so much time playing on plain, store-bought road mat, as the multi-level parking garage, the car wash, and the other buildings is what takes this toy to -literally- another dimension and engages him.
Enjoy my little *big* birthday boy!