The playroom. If you are anything like me, you have a love-hate relationship with it. The colorful plastic it contains can be unyielding. It takes over your once adult-oriented, smartly decorated retreat. And the thought of figuring out how to make it kid-friendly and something that doesn’t swallow your house can be overwhelming. Yet, it provides hours of educational entertainment for your wee one.
Through three kids, two states and two homes, I’ve definitely concluded that one size does not fit all when it comes to choosing the best space for your kiddos’ toys or how to organize them. Not only do home layouts differ, but the needs of our kids’ play spaces change as they get older. With those caveats in mind, I’m going to open up our home and share how we’ve organized play spaces for Jax, who’s now 16-months old.
Their Home, Their Space Too
My philosophy is my home is my kids’ home too. As such, there’s a little bit of their stuff everywhere. My current house is a 2,200-square foot two-story with a finished basement. The basement is the 8-year old’s playroom with lots of itty-bitty pieces that Jax would surely pop right into his mouth if left to his own devises. So, there is very little of Jax’s there because we rarely venture down those stairs together. Only if I’m really desperate for a change of scenery do we find ourselves playing among the Legos, Snap Circuits and other 16-month old death traps.
The first floor, our main living area, is an other story. There’s a little bit of Jax in every nook and cranny.
As a stay-at-home mom, it’s important to me that he be able to roam the space safely and that there are things for him to do around every corner. That doesn’t mean that I have lots of his toys scattered everywhere. It means that what is out in the open and unlocked, he has access to. I know some parents believe that toddlers need to learn not to touch the “untouchables” in their home. I get that philosophy – I just don’t apply it. In my house, if it’s off limits, he can’t access it – it’s locked in a cabinet or high on a shelf. Now, as my kids get older this changes – my twins understand that some things are off limits. But for the littlest family members, I just don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze at this stage. First, I don’t want to have to hover over Jax all day making sure I’m telling him “no, you can’t touch that” and making sure he’s safe. Second, I want Jax to feel a sense of security, and eventually ownership, in his home. I think too many “no’s” and off-limit spaces make kids anxious. That’s just my personal parenting philosophy. All-righty then.
I need my main living space to be Jax-friendly and allow me to actually get something done during his waking hours when I’m not on the floor playing directly with him. My main floor is four semi-open concept rooms (kitchen, formal sitting room, living room and dinning room) all circled around a middle staircase leading upstairs. The kitchen opens directly to the formal sitting room. To the left of the formal sitting room is the living room. The living room shares a large open space with our dining room, which is connected via an open doorway back to the kitchen. It’s basically a big square with a smaller square (the stairway) in the middle. Hope you could picture that.
Because the formal sitting room is simply an extension off the open kitchen, it made the most sense to make Jax’s main play space there. Twelve months ago, this room was adult-friendly with two leather club chairs and two deep-seated wicker chairs cozied around our fireplace. It was a space into which we invited our dinner party guests to enjoy an after dinner drink. Fast-forward one year and it’s a Fisher-Price, Melissa & Doug metropolis. Tis’ but a season of life I say, and transforming this into a toddler-friendly room makes this current stage of life manageable for both of us.
Jax’s Main Play Zone
I believe that if toys aren’t visible, kids won’t play with them. I also believe in arranging their spaces so they have the greatest degree of independence possible for their age – this decreases frustration and promotes a healthy sense of self-worth. With those tenets in mind, I chose open shelving that Jax can access easily. He can see his toys, and he can take them out and put them back himself.
The canvas baskets above house toys that are “special” or require adult supervision. Keeping these hidden reduces Jax’s frustration in that he “forgets” they are there and rarely asks to play with them during times I’m not able to oblige. I also keep his puzzles up there mainly because I don’t have the table space to keep them out. I take one or two down, place them on the floor for the day, and rotate them often.
Kids feel safe and secure when they can predict their environment. A simple way to respect this need is by putting their toys back in the same place each day so they
know where to find them. Taking this concept a bit further, I like to create laminated
picture “labels” for our shelves. On the shelf, I mount a picture that corresponds to the toy that belongs there. This reassures Jax that, “Yep,this toy goes here,” and also helps remind him where to put his toys back when we clean up before nap and bed. Granted, at this age I do most of the pick-up, but the pictures help as I introduce this self-responsibility concept. And, the pics remind Dad and big brothers where the baby’s toys belong – bonus.
Every few months I “rotate” several of his toys on these shelves. I haven’t figured out if it’s because I need a change or if he does – but boy do I get bored with the same ol’ same ol’. Keeping his favorites out, but replacing things he doesn’t seem that interested in mixes it up for both of us. I keep a bin in the garage of age-appropriate toys and label it with the date of the last toy rotation. Of course, I change out the shelf labels too:-)
I think us tall adults, at least tall in comparison to our toddlers (I’m 5′ – so “tall” is all in one’s perspective ) forget that these little people have a very different view of the word. Artwork is almost always placed so adults can enjoy it, and the little guys are stuck staring at empty, painted walls. To give your littlest family members something beautiful to look at, frame inexpensive prints and hang them at their level. In Jax’s playroom, I used 3M Command Strips to hang this painting I did during a very fun girl’s night out (highly recommend such an outing, by the way). It’s not a Rembrandt, I’ll admit, but it’s more pleasing than blank red walls.
More Spaces for Play
Giving kids spaces to explore around the house encourages independence and gives them something to do while you are getting your own stuff done. I don’t know about you, but I spend more time in the kitchen than I’d care to admit. Therefore, Jax spends lots of time there too. I’ve intentionally made sure he has multiple things to do in the kitchen so, if he tires of one activity, I can encourage him to rotate through the others available for him. Most of my cabinets are locked (I love Kiddco Tot Locks – work like a charm and they don’t ruin the aesthetics of your cabinets), but I keep four drawers/cabinets available for him to explore. I also have a Learning Tower (that I bought used from a friend) that brings Jax up to counter height. From there, he can organize nesting blocks, eat a snack or “mix” ingredients just like Mom as I’m baking. Finally, I’ve hauled our old Little Tikes kitchenette into our small kitchen. Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle because it takes up valuable real estate, but seeing the pleasure Jax gets putting things in and taking things out of the cabinets and microwave of his own kitchen makes it worth while. In several months he’ll be ready for full-on pretend play, and I’m sure the kitchenette will be center stage as he mimics me baking bread or prepping dinner.
So Jax has safe, kid-appropriate things to do as he wonders the house, I have little spaces in nooks and crannies set up for him. Two of his current favorites are his chalk board and activity cube. I’ve fashioned a chalk board out of a framed bulletin board I bought at Hobby Lobby. Seeing as the bulletin board wasn’t going to be Jax-friendly until years down the road, I removed the corkboard from the frame, painted its backside with black chalkboard paint, and simply placed it back into the frame chalkboard-side out. I keep fat chalk and an eraser on the floor under the frame, and he’s free to scribble at his leisure.
Kids love to play in small nooks around the house. The space between our front entrance and hall closet creates a perfect little play “cave” for Jax. Because we sometimes need to get into that closet, I can’t put anything too cumbersome there, but his Parent’s activity cube fits perfectly. I can move it easily, and it’s the
perfect size for Jax to move around the cube in his own “special” space.
These are just some of my current solutions for our family and humble abode. Sure, if I had a million dollars, I might make other choices. And if my home layout were different, my choices would reflect that (my spaces for the twins were very different when they were Jax’s age because we had a rambling ranch). And what works at this stage in your and your child’s life will need to be adjusted as you move into the next chapter. So roll with it. Make changes, experiment and find what works for you.
I’d love to hear your comments and how you organize your space to best fit the needs of you and your Littles.