Whether you are starting from scratch and creating a brand new playroom, or are thinking about refreshing and redesigning your existing playroom, this blog post will hopefully provide you with a few tips on what to include, what to consider, and where to begin. Having worked with children and their parents in London for over a decade, I have seen some spectacular playrooms - some purpose built, some crafted by interior designers, some resembling nursery classrooms, and some simply a cosy room full of toys and useful storage. Some have been upstairs, some have been downstairs, and some have been multipurpose rooms - part playroom and part kitchen/living room/dining room. In this post I will share all the things that I have found most useful, most helpful, and most suitable in a playroom when caring for and working with young children.
Do I need a playroom?
If you have the space at home, it is always nice to use one room as a "playroom" for small children. It can provide a designated play area, classroom, creative hub, showcase for their creations, and of course a specific location in your home to store all their toys, games, books and creative materials. This room will hopefully keep all your child's bits and pieces together in one room (keeping the rest of the house tidier and toy free!), and will be a room where it is ok for your child to make a little mess, tip out their toy boxes onto the floor in search of that one piece of plastic, and dive into with their friends when they have a little pal over for a playdate!
A playroom is not forever!
If you are currently uncertain about whether or not to turn one of the rooms into your house into a playroom, then it is worth considering that this room won't be a playroom forever - by the time your child reaches around 7 or 8 they will probably prefer to spend more solitary time in their own bedroom, and the "playroom" can revert to being a study, a guest bedroom, a gym or a dining room! If you really don't have the spare room to create a playroom, you can always consider using one wall or corner of a living area or reception room, a large landing, or even a summer house/spacious shed! And of course, many children don't have a playroom, but simply have all of their toys, books and games in their bedroom, which can work equally well, and if that is the case in your home, you can simply use all of the tips below but apply them to your child's bedroom!
Where to start? Declutter and organise your existing space!
If you are redesigning or reorganising an existing playroom it is always good to start by decluttering and sorting your existing space. Professional declutterer and organiser Joanne Ford of Harmonized Living UK shared her top tips for decluttering and organising your child's bedroom or playroom with me:
Joanne says: "Work on the basis of 3 sections:"
"Items you are keeping, find homes for each item and keep similar items together i.e. games, books, pens/pencils."
2: Let go
"Items you are letting go, have a bag/box ready to put items straight into then decide whether you are disposing/recycling, giving to friends/family or charity or selling."
"Items you are not sure whether to keep or let go, make a note and make a decision later, you or your child don't want to regret letting go of an item they may miss or would find useful in the future."
Joanne adds, "Involve your child or children - they may enjoy making decisions, enjoy knowing they are giving items away to a friend, family member or a charity shop or if selling, making a little profit. Once you have decluttered and organised your child's bedroom or playroom it will be much easier to keep tidy and if your child was involved they will know where everything is kept and could help with the tidying. Finally Have Fun! You never know you may find the missing piece to that game or puzzle!"
Think about size and proportion
Once your space is organised and clutter free, next turn your attention to planning your storage and furniture. Award winning children's store The Modern Nursery has a beautiful selection of nursery and playroom furniture (as well as now providing an interior design service!), and is their online collection well worth browsing through if you need a few new items! Before you begin, I highly recommend squatting down to your knees, and viewing the room from your child's perspective. This space is a designated area for your child, and therefore everything needs to be at their level. Try to consider the following in your planning of the space:
Make sure everything is on a level that suits your child (books, games and toy baskets need to be easily accessible for their reach - this will promote independence in your child)
Make sure furniture is on the correct scale for your child (a small chair and table to suit their size is always good - you will see these in any nursery classroom! This will also promote independence)
A wall or cork-board at your child's eye-level where you can display your child's own artwork and photos of them is always a nice addition (as is a designated shelf too display their 3D creations!).
An area where your child can have privacy and be alone with their thoughts and imagination (a cosy corner or teepee is always good for this!).
Screens and soft furnishings - keep it simple!
Try not to have anything too expensive in your playroom, whether it is a rug, an ornament, or a piece of electrical equipment. Children are infamous for spills, breakages and general destruction, so keep things simple! The following principles are always helpful:
Out of sight out of mind - it is best not to have any screens (TVs/iPads), other expensive equipment, artwork, or ornaments in a playroom. They will be too tempting for your child.
Keep soft furnishings simple and washable - children spill things, puddles happen, and sickness occurs. It is a normal and natural part of childhood! (NOTE: babies find it easier to learn to crawl on carpet rather than hard floors, so I would recommend a soft carpet or non-slip rug in your playroom!).
Colour and lighting
Careful consideration of colour and lighting will make a simple room into a beautiful room, and can influence your child's mood and creativity. Colour and lighting can also be artfully adapted to take your child from the busy part of their day to the bedtime transition.
Think about the colour of the walls - what kind of atmosphere and environment are you trying to create for your child? Green is thought to aid studying, blue to create a calming environment, and orange is thought to enhance social skills and communication.
Think about lighting. It is good to have lighting that can be altered to suit different times of day. It is nice to have lower lighting in the evenings to promote sleepiness during those last few precious moments of playtime, so although you will need bright lighting for daytime reading, playing, and creative activities, make sure you can turn down the lights later in the day.
Overstimulating or understimulating?
You will want to strike a balance between a room that is stimulating and provides a rich learning environment for your child, and a room that is over-cluttered and overstimulating (this can worsen challenging behaviour - some children operate better in calm, uncluttered, quite space). Equally, try not to make your playroom too sterile and neat, as this may be under-stimulating.
You may not believe it, but some children actually like mess (they find it stimulating), and are "OK" with toys all over the floor, while some are quite obsessively tidy, and like things nice and neat - just like adults! You will quickly learn what kind of mess level your child prefers, but regardless of preference, it is always good to teach your child to help to tidy up at the end of each day or play session.
You don't need to have all your toys, books and games on display 100% of the time. If you have the storage space, you can always pack away a certain selection of toys (to reduce clutter and mess potential), and get them out again at a later date. Swap them with the toys currently on display when you think it is time for a change - this is called toy rotation, and will stop your child from getting bored with their toys too quickly. At least once a day do a good tidy-up sweep, and put out an interesting selection of toys for capture your child's imagination at the start of their next play session!
A rich learning environment
A good playroom should have plenty of toys and tools to promote your child's learning and development through play (the best way for your child to learn!). Below is a list that I have formulated over the years of items that will create a "rich learning environment" in any playroom (remember you don't have to have all of this on show at once, you can use toy rotation for these as well, and you certainly don't have to rush to buy any missing items - birthdays and Christmas will provide more than enough opportunities for new toys!). These of course will vary in suitability depending on the the age of your child, and it goes without saying that all are non-gender specific:
Toys sorted into different baskets (e.g. cars, dolls, Lego)
Labels on toy boxes and storage baskets (e.g. "cars" "dolls" "Lego")
A visible clock with ticking hands (not digital)
A globe of the world and/or world map
A calendar visible on wall
Money in a jar (real coins and notes)
Measuring tools e.g. rulers/measuring jugs
Defunct technology eg. old mobile -phone/laptops
Small world play e.g. farm/fire station/garage
Dolls/figures (different sizes, both genders)
Books of all kinds (fiction and non fiction) - within reach of the child
Drawing and writing tools
A selection of arts and crafts materials, Play-Doh, etc. (you might want to store this particular selection out of reach of your child!)
Fine motor skills toys e.g. Lego
Balls (can also work well in the garden!)
Water play toys (can be used in a deep tray or in the bath can work well!)
Baby doll and babycare items
Role play items (a.k.a. a dressing-up box)
A toy till with toy coins/notes for playing "shop"
A timetable of activities for the child to see (e.g. swimming on Tuesday, ballet on Friday)
Photos of child at key moments in their life (e.g. birthdays/outings) in an album/wall display
An "emotions" wall chart can be helpful (or books that talk about feelings)
Children learn through play so all activities will provide opportunities for learning!!
Planned and unplanned play
Speaking in a very broad sense, there are two kinds of play - planned play (which is play that you plan in advance for your child, by laying out a particular selection of toys and planning specific activities) and unplanned play (which your child will create for themselves by picking up a toy or object that has taken their interest, and turning it into a game). You can use both planned and unplanned play to create learning opportunities - planned play can involve puzzles, messy play, or construction play, and unplanned play can involve whatever has caught the child's interest that moment (for example a spiders web on the window, pretending to be a grown-up working on a laptop, or a complex social situation between dolls!). A good playroom should provide unlimited potential for both planned and unplanned play!
If you are now worrying that your home does not provide a stimulating enough learning environment, that you don't have enough toys or books, or that you simply don't have the space in your home for a designated playroom, then don't sweat! Many children (myself included!) grow up without a playroom in their home, or a carefully planned selection of learning tools, and even the most disadvantaged children can succeed and flourish in life with very little in the way of toys and games! Your home environment needs to be consistent and supportive more than anything else! Children have natural curiosity and a desire to explore the world around them, they will learn from everything and everyone around them.
What was your favourite toy as a child? I remember having a large collection of handed-down My Little Ponies, Barbies, and a train set that I had a lot of fun with! My sister and I also went through a quite intensive Spirograph phase if I remember correctly!
If you feel that you need some support and advice regarding your playroom or your child's home learning environment, please get in touch, I would be happy to help, and would love to hear from you!
And if play is something that you struggle with, and are still trying to find that connection, don't worry, my guide to finding your "Play Mojo" is coming soon! Play doesn't come naturally to everybody, and getting it right can take a lot of practice! All you need to do is find the right kind of play to suit you! Your child will do the rest!
Check back soon for my next blog post, which will be all about screen time!
Visit the rest of my website to find out more about my parenting coaching services, and for more info about child behaviour, child development, improving your parenting skills, and how I can help you reach your parenting potential.
And visit Harmonized Living if you need some decluttering advice from the lovely Joanne Forde!