We used online tutorials to guide our project, but there are a few things we would do differently if we made another Rainbow Rocker
Baby Products,  Parenting

DIY Rainbow Rocker Critique: Six Things I’d Do Different

Matt and I classify ourselves as “reasonably handy”, and decided to build our own DIY Rainbow Rocker to gift Harry for his first birthday. It can be used as a rocker, flipped upside down to crawl under, or onto its side. With imagination, it can be a boat, a cave, a stage, or a bridge. That’s the point of this toy…it’s supposed to have open-ended possibilities. We used tutorials for guidance, and learned a few lessons on the way to this project’s completion.

Matt and I are capable of composing such a project, but we’re not handy enough to do it completely “on the fly”. Pinterest resulted in a lot of visual inspiration, but it was this “Instructables” tutorial we found most helpful: http://www.instructables.com/id/Kids-Rainbow-Rocker/

Per most first-time attempts at things, there are a few things we’d do different, and I’m sharing them so you can learn from us.

1. Food Colouring: Non-toxic? Yes; Colourfast? No

You can see on the unstained wood of this rainbow rocker the areas where the food colouring bled off the purple bridge pieces. It did this with every subsequent varnish application (we used four coats total)
You can see on the unstained wood the areas where the food colouring bled off the purple bridge pieces.

Using food colouring to gain a “rainbow-effect” is one thing most tutorials have in common. We decided to use a more muted colour scheme to go with the rest of our house. Food colouring is non-toxic, and food safe should your little one decide to sink their teeth in.

However, it is going to run and bleed onto EVERYTHING when moisture gets on its surface. Think clothes, carpet, skin. A Google search reveals anecdotal reports that even beeswax does not seal food colouring enough to prevent a mess.

My suggestion?

  1. Use a regular stain and supervise playtime until your child is past their “chew on everything” stage.
  2. Trial other natural dyes (and let me know how it goes!). I’ve come across many posts for fun-coloured natural dyes for Easter eggs and fabric (coffee, purple cabbage), but limited reviews of using such on wood.
  3. If you remain passionate about using food colouring, instead of brushing on your varnish and dragging the food colouring all over the project, spray it on instead with this Rust-Oleum Zinsser 408 Bulls Eye Clear Shellac Spray 12 oz” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Rustoleum Clear Shellac Spray (*Amazon Link)

2. Position bridge pieces wide enough to accommodate fingers

Playing on the

We rationalized when building our DIY rainbow rocker that closely positioned pieces would make it hard to get fingers stuck and subsequently injured during play. We neglected to consider that one primary purpose of this item is to actually climb on it… which you can’t do if there’s nowhere to grab to engage in said climbing.

My Suggestion?

  1. Space the pieces far enough apart that fingers can safely fit through for climbing without getting stuck

3. Don’t varnish it

We had fun building this toy, but theres a few things we'd do differently.

My compulsive tendencies struggled and won out with this one. Internally, my brain tells me: a wood project isn’t finished if it isn’t “finished”.

I wanted a project that would last, and sealing it would prevent stains and rough spots from catching on clothing. The aforementioned food-colouring incident  also made it necessary to seal it and prevent dye on our white carpets… Unfortunately, sealing it also makes it incredibly slippery, and tough for a little guy to keep his seat. If I were to do a DIY rainbow rocker again, I’d still varnish the side pieces (the bits that touch ground), but I’d leave the bridging,

My suggestion:

  1. Use high quality wood, sand adequately, and leave it alone
  2. Finish only the side pieces or plywood edges, leave the bridging pieces unfinished for traction

4. Use Thicker Plywood

One suggestion if you DIY your own rainbow rocker is to not seal or varnish the wood, since it becomes slippery and difficult to get traction on during play.

As it turns out, we “flubbed” this one. We trialled using 1/2″ plywood for the side frame rather than the recommended 3/4. We wanted it to be lighter and easier for a kid to maneuver. In retrospect, you don’t actually want it moving…other than rocking, this is really meant to be a stationary toy. 1/2″ has too much play, and may break once Harry gets bigger and more boisterous.

My suggestion?

  1. Follow the instructions and use the recommended plywood thickness

5. Why handles?

Harry is a bit young for complex play, but he loves climbing around and under his rainbow rocker.
Flip it over and you have a tunnel, a cave, or fort.

We added handles since all the examples contained them, but watching playtime occur, they don’t strike me as particularly necessary. Harry holds onto the edges just as easily, and in our design they are a weak spot. If something were to break, that’s where it would be. They are also A HUGE PAIN to cut out, sand, and finish because of all the angles.

My suggestion?

  1. Use proper thickness of wood so they are not weak relative to the rest of the structure
  2. Just get rid of them

6. Think about the size you really need

As he grows this toy can become a mountain, a boat, cave, and anything his imagination can come up with.

We used the spec’s we found on a website that no longer exists…and it wound up MASSIVE compared to a lot of the other examples we saw online. It is definitely something to grow into, but if I were to do it again, I’d go much smaller. Larger is fun for playing together on it, but smaller would lend itself more to independent play at this stage. For reference, our structure is 86 cm wide (the top of the two “bridge-pieces” the positioned “rocker-style”), and 58 cm tall when placed “tunnel-style”.

My Suggestion?

  1. Smaller!
  2. Shorter and wider?


Harry enjoys his DIY rainbow rocker these days with parental participation. He’s a bit young for the “creative play” opportunities that can be had with this toy, but it’s the sort of toy that is supposed to be adaptable over time. The goal of an open ended toy is to promote imagination, and someday I hope Harry will look at this hunk of wood and get down to playtime with his “mountain”, “ship”, “lemonade-stand”, “horse” or any number of things a small mind can come up with to use this toy.

There are a few things I’ve identified that we would do different in future, but so far this toy works just fine. Hopefully it will endure and grow to be a loved and well used toy for our son as he grows.


2020 Update:

This toy has officially been banished to the basement since Harry plays on it with a force  bound to send it through one of our sliding glass windows. It remains rugged and has seen all sorts of play.

I wanted to share the paint strategy I used in my post DIY Stepped Pyramid . Acrylic paint is vivid, bright and can be applied just like a wood stain. It’s non-toxic, cheap, and easy to find Like right here on Amazon (*Affiliate Link). If I did this project again, I would definitely use the technique I used making my blocks.

I have had a few questions about the shape, and whether we used a template for the side pieces. I TRIED SO HARD TO FIND ONE and could not! I taped pieces of paper together and drafted my own (the pieces of which are now long gone). To get the rounded edges consistent, I used a string tied to a pencil to draw the arch-shape, you can find a better description at this “Wikihow” link. My original post linked to a site that is no longer in service and contained various dimensions for building DIY rainbow rockers, for reference, our rainbow rocker (the one in my photos) measures 86 cm wide by 58 cm tall.


Grain and colours!
That wood grain, though! Acrylic paint on Oak

We had a lot of fun building this There were a few things that came up after we completed our DIY Rainbow Rocker project.

Have you ever wondered why a lot of blogs contain links to products or websites that sell things? Amazon specifically, despite Amazon not always being the best way to source certain items?

“Amazon Associates” is the name of Amazon’s affiliate program. Basically, it’s a way one gets rewarded for sending them traffic that makes them money. If you “click through” someone’s link and make a purchase (on anything!) in the 24 hours following, a fractional percentage of what you pay Amazon for your product is paid out to the blogger (basically). It doesn’t cost the purchaser anything at all, but those few dollars are so very appreciated by the little guys out there working on creating things.

I’m not a career blogger, I do this as a hobby and don’t make an income of much (I made $24 last year off my links, which I still think is pretty cool!). I see any income as a way to theoretically offset my yearly website fees, and I wanted to add this addendum as an “Aaah, I get it” opportunity for those of you that have no idea that THIS IS HOW IT WORKS?! Not just for the purpose of my links either! Find a site or blogger whose work you appreciate, and see if they have any affiliate links you can click through on sites that you would already be buying things for! They’ll be sending you mental hugs every time they see that 30 cent increment show up in their account!


*Amazon links part of “Associates” program, and purchase through linkages provided may divert a small payment to me, at no extra cost to you.


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