Select Page

DIY: Kid’s Travel Lap Desk

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


  1. Using the sandpaper, sand the edges and corners of your piece of wood.
  2. Paint the wood the desired color and let it dry completely.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. After the glue is completely dry, seal it with two coats of polyeurethane spray.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Lay your fabric down, right side facing down and then lay your board down, face up, in the center of fabric.
  10. 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.
  11. Next, place a few handfuls of batting under your board.  This will make it easier to staple the rest of the fabric.
  12. 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.
  13. For the corners, make 90 degree folds and bury the corner under one of the clean edges.
  14. 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.

by Eren

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Cassie

    you absolutely MUST go to acadia national park. amazing.

    • Eren

      Acadia is SO on our list…thanks for the recommendation Cassie!

      • Creative Kristi

        I grew up 10 min. away from Acadia (on Mt. Desert Island) and now live 30 min. away…you do know that going from Portland to Acadia is about another 2+ hour drive right? 😉 good thing you have lap boards! 🙂 If you are traveling to Acadia you could stop in Bangor at the Children’s museum- it’s a fun place!
        .-= Creative Kristi’s last blog: Prepared =-.

  2. Eren

    Thanks Maryann…what a great Portland resource…hope you enjoy the lap desks. Your kids will love them!

  3. Kara Fleck

    What a great idea, Eren! I think my oldest would especially love one of these – and process of making them looks fun, too. A good excuse to get my recycling/craftyness on 🙂
    .-= Kara Fleck’s last blog: Living History Museums: Going Beyond Textbooks =-.

    • Eren

      My little one had a ball doing his part in this. I know your kiddo would too Kara!

  4. Sara

    I just have to gush over the design. Ice cream clouds! I love it!
    .-= Sara’s last blog: Blackberries =-.

    • Eren

      I know Sara…those clouds are too much!

  5. Lisa Clarke

    Eren, I love this idea! I have an old lap desk that is looking so beat up, and has been used by just about everyone in this house. I never really thought about making one for everyone before. Thanks for the tutorial!

  6. Rachel

    I’ve been to Portland twice. My husband and I stopped there on our honeymoon, and I liked it so much I went back with my sister a few years later. My sister and I were there a few years a go and we went on one of those harbor cruises with a real sailing ship. So much fun.

    Standard Baking Co has great cinnamon buns. Somewhere–I think it’s Leroux Kitchen–has the coolest truffles shaped like animals. We were there in fall 08 and there were little donkeys and elephants.

    We tried to go to a minor league baseball game, but it was sold out. (A Red Sox pitcher had just been demoted back to the minors.) Anyway, they take baseball seriously there, so if you want to see a baseball game, buy tickets more than an hour in advance.

  7. Nina

    great idea.

    my son has one from toys r us that is all padded and it is great for running cars around on and such in the car and can be taken on a plane. it folds up and has a long strap for easy carrying. I think homemade is much nicer and so great personalized, I just never thought to do that and we used to ahve a long commute so this was perfect.

    if I made one it would probably be small enough to fit into a backpack, then it would be easier traveling and for his lap, that’s the biggest issue with his now its very large and he feels smothered by it sometimes. didn’t they use to have lap trays with a bean filling on the back? I kinda recall that…that was very comfortable on the lap so if I made one I’d probably do that too even though it makes it heavier. and try to figure out how to put a drink holder on the side like that tray above.

    that dowel idea to keep pencils from rolling is great.

  8. Leanne

    This is a great idea Eren. I love that they are personalised for each child. We might even make this a school holiday project, to be ready for our next road trip.
    .-= Leanne’s last blog: Planning a family holiday =-.

  9. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    LAP BOARDS! YES! Would you believe Kyle still has the one I made for him when we were in college?! And the girls love to use it. I have often thought of making mini-ones for the girls to use but hadn’t thought of taking them along on road trips. LOVE THIS, Eren!
    .-= Megan@SortaCrunchy’s last blog: SortaCrunchy Q-ampA – Parenting Books- Some Favorites of Mine =-.

  10. Stephanie

    I am so into this! I just found this when I googled lap desks for kids because we are embarking on a 2500 mile road trip in a few weeks (Seattle to Denver and back) and my kids, ages 3 & 5, are big into coloring and drawing. I’m going to make two for sure. I am also going to add a clip on the top to hold their paper and thinking about a solution for holding pencils and crayons somehow, any ideas?

    Thank you so much!

  11. Maggie

    We just did a road trip across Canada with our two little girls (4 1/2 and 2). Over 100 hours of driving (9000 km) and 28 days. If you can get a wonderful audio series you will be a happy driver or passenger! We listened to the Chronicles of Narnia, about 22 hours, almost every day. We also had a great reading of Alice and Wonderland. That coupled with a basket of toys between the carseats and bathroom/runaround breaks plus a couple of magna-doodles made for a great trip. You can read more about our adventures on Funktion Rambunktion ( Have a great time!

  12. Desiree Furman

    Thank you for giving me some idea’s and when the child gropw and they using table they will remember the time that they used the lap desk

  13. Desiree Furman

    Thank you for giving me some idea’s and when the child grow and they using table they will remember the time that they used the lap desk

  14. Maxwell

    Hi Eren, thanks for your great post! I could see that you were already a very creative and resourceful person ever since you were in college. Man, I wish I could be just like that. I wish I thought of that lap desk before when my family went for a long trip. But we managed. I’m thinking of buying a new Computer Desks For Home for my kids, and your post just gave me brilliant ideas. Thanks! Keep it up!

  15. Lesley D. Chaney

    Wow, such a creative idea. I was looking for do-it-yourself secretary desk with hutch, but I think I’m going to do this with my kids. I wanted them to learn to recycle things and be creative. Thanks for the idea.

  16. SearsKIRSTEN23

    The business loans seem to be essential for guys, which want to ground their own organization. As a fact, this is easy to get a term loan.

  17. paul

    Welcome to Student Desk Shopping Advices site! You are looking to buy a desk for your children? Maybe you search to find the best desk for your own studies.Student Desk
    nice art.

  18. forum posting service

    Some guys create their websites knowing nothing just about linkbuilding. Thence, their internet sites have low ranking. Some fellows just do not realize that forum posting service can resolve such issue!

  19. Carpet Cleaning

    Get environmentally friendly Carpet Cleaning service here!

  20. Free ebooks

    Use our Free ebooks and remain slim!

  21. photographers

    Book best photographers and get quality photos.

  22. shayari sms

    Use our shayari sms and amuse your friend!

  23. essay writing

    Check the next site and let professional essay writers to support you with superb writing services. Buy cheap papers from the agency that runs all day and all night.

  24. buy custom essays online

    Are you looking for professional essays and paper writing service? View this link and buy origonal essays for college from the best company.

  25. write my college essay

    From time to time it happens that you’re only one with your academic writing questions. Nonetheless, you’re not alone just because you have a possibility to turn to reliable academic papers writing organization and buy term papers online ( It is much better to utilize professional assistance than to try to manage with academic writing tasks by your own.

  26. business essays paper

    Don’t you know what real freedom looks like? At time you don’t compose your asia essays paper (, but custom writing service furnishes you with free essays, you will bw able to smell the real freedom.

  27. scan several pages into one pdf

    It is pretty fast and easy to scan several pages into one pdf by using Compressimo software product.

Join thousands of readers
& get Tsh’s free weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where she shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

It's part of Tsh's popular newsletter called Books & Crannies, where she shares thoughts about the intersection of stories & travel, work & play, faith & questions, and more.