If you are part of our Facebook group LilHelper Unsnapped you know we are all about parents helping each other to make life just a little easier. With the holiday season coming, one question that comes up a lot is how to organize a great play space for kids. Whether keeping tots happy with cool toys, or parents sane with a few minutes of independent play, the perfect play space can make all the difference. So we asked Cherrie from parentinglittles.com to share some tips on creating the perfect play space.
Brain stimulating play requires more than good toys
Wooden toys, sensory items, Montessori materials, music-playing flashing light-up toys, blocks, balls, cars…..
You’ve done your research on the best toys to offer your little one that will help foster their development, you’ve forked out a pretty penny to purchase all the hot items, and your little one is “supposed” to be super interested and engaged with it, but instead they’re waaay more interested in chewing on the box the toy came in or they’ll play with the toy for 3.7 seconds before tossing it to the side, leaving a scattered mess of stuff to decorate your living room floor.
When it comes to learning through play for babies and tots, offering developmentally appropriate toys is only one half of the equation. How the play space is set up and how the toys are presented is usually what will determine whether you’re little one will explore your carefully curated selection of toys or spend the entire time clawing and pulling at you.
Here are 3 important things to remember when setting up your play space.
1. Include a play space in your main living area
Ok I know this is completely contrary to all the beautifully designed playrooms you see on Pinterest, but hear me out. Young children want and need to be around you ALL.THE.TIME. As they are getting more adventurous in exploring their surrounding environment, they’re constantly looking to you as a base of security for comfort and reassurance. So including a play space in a part of your home where you’ll be spending a large chunk of time means you’ll be able to do stuff around the house while your little one plays.
If space allows for you to have a separate Pinterest-esque playroom by all means, just know that your littles will want you to be in there with them, and the idea of sending them off to play in the room by themselves probably won’t happen until they’re past the baby and tot stage.
We have a separate playroom with ALL the things (aka toys, climbers, wobble board, Pickler triangle, a Nugget….etc.) plus a little nook tucked beside our fireplace in our family room, and our little guy will happily choose his little nook over the playroom.
So if you’ve been worried you don’t have a lot of space in your home, know that you really don’t need a huge space. Having a functional and practical space where little ones feel safe to explore will be a much better investment than having a big beautiful playroom that never gets used. Another bonus to having this space in your main living area is that you’ll have a handy place to redirect your littles when they start getting into ALL the household things they’re not supposed to.
2. Bins. Baskets. Shelving.
You might be a little worried from the tip above that your main living area will now be a dump zone for all your kiddo’s toys if they have a play space there, but don’t worry……adding in some bins, baskets, and shelving will help keep things organized.
Young children don’t need a huge selection of toys to play with at one time so only put out a handful of items and rotate them when you notice your little one is no longer interested in the item. Opt for open ended items that have many different ways for children to explore and play, and you’ll notice your kiddos will play for longer with less toys. This not only reduces all the clutter and over stimulation but it also helps foster your child’s creativity, ability to focus attention, and it will give them lots of opportunity to practice thinking outside the box.
Look for bins and baskets that are smaller and easy for little hands to maneuver so they can use it as part of their play. At the end of the night, stash the toys away in said bins and baskets. Now the mess is gone and you don’t have to stare at all the toys after your little one goes to bed.
3. Stage the play
Have you ever been to an open house where the rooms were beautifully staged with cozy furniture and cute decor that really invited you into the space? That’s the same with the play space for our kiddos. When you are intentional about displaying the toys in a creative way, it will naturally captivate your child’s attention and they’ll be drawn to the items without needing any prompting from you.
Get creative with how the toys are displayed. Stack and balance items on top of the shelf to encourage play on different surfaces and heights. Hang toys to add in different spatial orientations and dimensions. Combine items that aren’t part of the same set together. This last one might be a challenge for us adults to do because we’ve been conditioned to group and organize things that are “suppose” to be part of a set…..so we get to practice being a kid again ;)
Often times, children will surprise you with new and interesting ways to play with the toys when you leave the environment setup for them to explore. This little trick can also help encourage your little one’s to have longer periods of independent play where they’re not constantly needing you to entertain them. A win-win for everyone!
About the Author
Cherrie MacLeod is a positive parenting coach, financial educator, mama and founder of Parenting Littles. She completed her M.Ed at the University of British Columbia, and has been helping parents navigate the journey of parenthood for the past 15 years specializing in baby, toddler and preschooler development.
She is passionate about helping modern families reduce the overwhelm and stresses that come along with growing a family, and her work focuses on empowering parents with tools to raise children who are confident, kind, resilient and equipped with fundamental life skills that will help them thrive.