Activity Wall: The biggest toy for the smallest yard

December 25, 2014 at 10:12 pm (Daily Awesomeness)

I had the idea of making an Activity Wall months ago after seeing a few seconds of something much simpler on TV. We already had ball pit balls, and the idea of a vertical plaything that could allow for a toddler “project” (such as sorting the balls’ colours by where they were placed on the wall) really appealed to me given the small size of our yard and the way certain toys (ones that take effort and allow decision-making) take up a lot of Miss Three’s time and others (like 90% of soft toys and button-pushing devices) don’t usually “do” much beyond the initial excitement.

Fundamentally, this is all about putting plastic balls in tubes and watching them fall down. Miss Three likes to either “race” the balls or catch them at the other end – which is much more randomised that you’d think, since even a slight breeze can change everything. Mr Six-Months loves to watch the balls fall, chew on them, or practice standing holding onto the lowest pipe. It’s a great party toy because no kid has seen it before, and five of them can race at the same time.


The first step is to have some kind of backing, since you’ll eventually want to drill through something in order to hold the pipes in place. We used a trellis drilled onto steel poles, which were then inserted into the upper and lower rims of the fence. A wooden fence will do fine if you use short screws or have very tolerant neighbours.

These PVC pipes are 90mL – much cheaper and easier to work with than 100mL (because 100mL is used for sewage, so it is a LOT thicker). The sections involving only half a pipe naturally contract, catching the regular-size balls. The small balls work much better, and will also fall through holes cut for them. Some sections have “doors” (short sections of PVC with a vertical cut so they can slide back and forth to block or release a hole), which works well and can be operated by a pre-schooler.

Cutting the lengths, drilling the holes, and filing the rough edges was a lot of work – at least twenty hours with good tools. We attached the pieces with string to test it out, and found that very slight angles worked much better that those pictured above.

We put up the trellis well in advance and covered it with a blanket, then hung up the pipes over a couple of nights, covering up the results and keeping the kids inside during the day. On Christmas Day, we had Miss Three follow a treasure map to find “a very big present”. Her initial reaction was confusion, because she had no idea what it was. She still prefers to play on it with someone rather than alone.

For safety reasons, the purple buckets (which also work as a step to reach the top) have holes drilled in the bottom to prevent possible drowning. The whole structure has been thoroughly sprayed with outside anti-spider spray. All the viewing holes become essential when kids inevitably experiment with putting other objects into the tubes.

Cost: Balls $20 for 100

Trellis: $80 (not including steel supports or screws)

PVC: $50

Buckets: $15 from a cheap shop (washing baskets would work too)


  1. aimlessaus said,

    I’v gotta say, that’s brilliant! Although I must admit I’m curious as to the ultimate plan and how it’s all supposed to work, but then I love seeing how things work 🙂
    I wish we’d thought of something like that when our boys were young!

    • Felicity Banks said,

      Just gravity really. Balls go in, balls come out. The rest is details. But things are close enough together and there’s enough miniscule variance in the balls that there’s a lot of randomness at play. We’ve even had balls travel uphill due to a breeze.

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