by Nicole Shiffler
One of the best gifts I've given to my young children has been space to grow, create, and imagine. And I mean literal space.
In every home we've ever lived in, I've carved out a corner of a room, turned a potential library into a cozy little art room, or repurposed a basement storage room into a play room. Carving space out for your child can happen in any size house—even in an RV!
Once you have intentionally assigned space for your child to create and play in, the next most important step is not filling the space with "stuff". I've always been careful to design my kids' play spaces with a sprinkling of magic to inspire their creativity and imaginative play without overwhelming and overstimulating their senses.
Here are 3 ways to design a simple (yet magical) play space in your home:
1. Get things off the floor and onto the walls for visual space (and to eliminate visual clutter).
The more you can hang creative play things on your walls, the more your child will play hard without floor clutter. I like to keep our costumes, play dresses, and knight shields hung on pegs right next to their play space. Not only does it invite my kids to come and get dressed up to play the part in their imaginative play, but the pegs stand as a visual reminder as to where the costumes should be returned.
Another way to get things off of the floor and assign a "home" for your child's things is by storing them on basic cubby shelves. When you get their toys off the floor, out of the corners of a room, and onto a clean shelving system, you're highlighting a few toys that will entice and invite your child to play with them instead of being overwhelmed by a pile on the floor. And once again, your child begins to understand at a young age that every toy has a home to be returned to after play.
2. Invite your child into the world of imaginative play by bringing a simple collapsible fort or play house into their space and watch what happens.
The nice thing about foldable or Collapsible Forts or Playhouses is that they are perfect for smaller living spaces. They are also great for our younger kids that want to be / play where mama is. Setting up a simple fort in a living room for afternoon play makes tidying before supper even easier. It means you can transition any room into a playroom and then back into a family room within minutes. Your child can learn to help fold up the play house and store it in a closet, for example, for the next day of play. They begin to own the process of play and tidy each day.
3. Limit the amount of toys that are visible to your child to play with at any given time.
Our children play best when they have fewer options. That sounds counter-intuitive, but their imaginative minds need visual and mental space to play or else they feel over-stimulated, which leads to shorter play spurts and an overwhelming feeling that can come from clutter.
A great place to start is by being very intentional about the parameters of toys you want in your house. Stay true to those parameters when buying gifts for your child for birthdays and Christmas—it is also beneficial to make grandparents aware as well. Years ago, we ditched any and all noisy or plastic toys and made room for fewer, better-made toys. Not only have the fewer, better-made toys lasted longer, but my kids actually take better care of them. We traded the 15-Piece Woodland-Themed Tin Tea Set or porcelain and the talking doll for the fabric sewn doll. I noticed that fewer, better toys were used far more in deep creative, imaginative play than when they had more toys and were "interactive". Your child has to do the work of play when the doll doesn't talk. And your child learns at a young age that a real porcelain tea set is fragile and begins to take extra care when using.
These young years of creativity, exploration, and play for our children establish important lessons that will stay with them for life: order, responsibility, and reenacting what they see adults do in their play. You can help lay a beautiful foundation for that vital play by creating a simple, relaxed, and inspiring play space for your child.
Nicole Shiffler is a homeschooling mom to 7 kids in central Virginia. She loves providing natural learning opportunities through play for her kids and watching how they flourish as they grow.
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