How to make an outdoor activity center from an old metal shelf

By Rebecca Hermance
For the Journal

As kids start settling into the summer routine, you might be finding yourself looking for easy activities to keep the “I don’t have anything to do!!” complaints at bay. Inspired by a recent article in Family Fun Magazine, I decided to make an outdoor activity center. 

My first step was rescuing a sturdy metal shelf from my donation pile. I deemed its black paint in perfect condition. However, if it starts showing signs of rust, I will clean it and use a primer and rust-resistant spray paint made for metal.

Ideally, you would place your activity center under a covered area to protect it somewhat from the elements. Because this rescued black shelf is pretty small, I added wheels to the bottom to make it easy to roll into the garage when needed.

Next, I shopped my house and collected tubs and containers that won’t get ruined outdoors.  Plastic milk crates, plastic shoe boxes with lids, and metal nut or coffee cans with plastic lids were my top choices. I also gathered a few plastic baskets from the dollar store for things that don’t need to be covered. To make things more colorful, I spray painted the metal cans and the shoe box lids.

The next step was to fill those brightly colored containers with plenty of fun, outdoor activities. Family Fun Magazine suggested some supplies: sidewalk chalk, sand toys, bubble mix, washable paints, outdoor games and balls, kid’s gardening tools, flashlights and jump ropes. I also added water beads, colored salt and metal trays for writing letters. I learned that putting labels on everything helps both kids and adults return items to their designated boxes.

Because my kids are still very young, but love to make huge messes, I will keep the paint up high most of the time.

To keep things interesting, we will also have a rotating ‘nature’ box where they can collect things like rocks, leaves or whatever we happen to be observing that week. A large plastic tub with a lid is great for storing outdoor pillows for reading, or towels and blankets for swimming and fort building. 

Add a tub of ice to keep water bottles cold, a small cooler for snacks and you have all the ingredients for several hours of outdoor fun. Pop open a large umbrella for shade, and don’t forget the sunscreen!

Rebecca is a local interior designer, educator and all-around fun mom. Check out more of her projects at


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