Looking for a play workbench for a 2-5 year old?
I have two kids who are almost through this stage, and being a woodwork teacher I have kept a special eye on the play tool benches that we have had.
Here’s a quick list of what I think is important:
Kids workbenches – the musts
- A bench
- Easy to pack away and keep together
- Easy to clean
- Durable materials
- A vice
- Plastic tools (yes some kits have metal tools)
Here is our experience
My daughter isn’t really interested in tools, but my son is mad for them. (I guess we are the stereotype here. )
My son likes playing with tools and does some pretend play with them.
In the shower and sometimes around the house he will pretend to saw things and hit things…
But most of all he really he likes to help his sister (she is 2 years older.)
Sometimes when they are playing together he will want to ‘make’ things for her. You can see in this picture they were making food together so he made the workbench into a table.
We’ve have had two toy workbenches and this one (pictured) been quite good
The plastic workbench
This one is 100% plastic. It is easy to set up, m 4 year old does it himself (with plastic bolts and nuts that are included). And the best part for Mum and Dad, it all goes back into the suitcase container that it came in
Being plastic it is easy to clean and quite robust
If I was buying one for a friend, I’d probably go with this one. (I can’t find this exact one on Amazon but here is the closest I could find)
The wooden workbench
The other workbench is made from wood. Nan bought it for us (which is good because wood is more expensive)
It’s made of wood. The wooden tools (including nuts and bolts, bench dogs and ‘building materials’) are a nice touch and give Jr. something he/she can pretend play with.
The bench is also very sturdy and my youngsters could use steel (proper) tools on here if they wanted. The plastic one still works great but isn’t as sturdy.
Other than price, there was a few issues with this one, however. Firstly I had to construct it. It has screws that need a cordless drill to put in (so he can’t build it himself when he wants, which rules out some of that pretend play that he likes to do.)
Secondly, the blue parts you can see are MDF. When i went to put a screw in one of these it must have done something and chewed out the MDF leg. To fix it, I had to brace it with some left over timber underneath. It’s wood so it can be fixed, but MDF isn’t ideal.
I couldn’t find the exact wooden bench I had on Amazon, here is the closest I could find.
I thought originally wood would be much better but it’s really horses for courses.
The problem with workbenches…
Both the play workbenches for kids do exactly what is advertised. They come with tools, the bench itself, some bolts and some stripes of either wood or plastic that has holes in it…
But even with this stuff kids don’t have much to actually do on there.
There isn’t anything they can make or assemble/disassemble, apart from the bench itself (depending on which one you buy.)
Maybe I am being too picky but I haven’t found anything that’s really good for 4 year olds (which is the perfect age for these kids workbenches in my opinion.)
Kids who get these want to get in and help dad (typically). But they are usually disappointed when the workbench doesn’t actually do much.
There are some that offer more than others. This one for instance (which is like one that my son plays with) offers some parts where he can practice using the hammer and the spanner.
But it isn’t fixing things or building things really.
It’s a bit of a shame. Many woodworking kits that get sold at hardware stores and places like Amazon require an adult.
Building stuff 4 year olds can do semi-unsupervised
I haven’t much stuff suitable around building for 4 year-olds to do semi-unsupervised (other than Duplo).
There are also some toys that you can buy that do get assembled.
Something like this car which comes with a battery powered drill. The different parts get screwed in or out depending.
And here is something made of wood that gets screwed together. It’s a simpler design and a little more expensive being made of wood.
(If you know of anything else please let me know and I will put it here.)
What kids want out of their benches
In my experience when it comes to building, kids love nothing more than getting the hammer/mallet out.
I guess it’s easy to follow and understand for kids (and who doesn’t get some satisfaction out of whacking stuff and joining pieces together?)
With this in mind, I have started making some prototype bits kits that just require a mallet and involve using wooden dowel to hold the parts together.
Here is the profile of this car, if printed in A4 it will be 1:1 scale. The dowels are 6mm or 1/4 inch.
If you have a workshop you can make something like this up. The holes are for wooden dowel which holds the car together.
Kids also love helping. Making something that actually helps and parents use. This is a tougher nut to crack and I am not there yet!
Other Ideas for your workbench
Here are some ideas for you if your child is not getting the most out of their play workbench
- Scrap wood
- Plastic bottles, paper plates and masking tape
Top play workbenches
Here are the ones that peaked my interest and a quick rationale as to why.
1. ToyChoi’s Pretend Play Series Standard Workbench
This one is easy to store away or take on holidays, the bench and backing board make a briefcase that holds the rest of the pieces in. The price is quite reasonable. Get it here.
2. ROBUD Tool Bench Set
Made of wood and plenty of pieces to keep junior occupied. The tools are good for pretend play and the bench itself looks quite sturdy and durable. A little pricey but some are happy to pay for a wood bench. Get it here.
3. Step2 Big Builders Pro Workshop
This workbench includes stuff that junior can make. I can see a birdhouse in the picture as well as some trays full of different shaped pieces. The most expensive that I have seen it is available here.
4. Liberty Imports Toy Tool Workbench for Kids Pretend Play
Very good value and still has a good range of tools. Junior will be able to put this together on their own which is another drawcard and will extend the life of the toy. Worth a look, you can see it here.
5. Master Workbench by Hape
The best looking play bench in my opinion. It’s sturdy and i’m sure mine will last multiple kids. Watch out on the installation, there is some info in the reviews. Check it out here.
Thanks for reading.