Guest Blog by Alanna Gallo of @playlearnthrivekids
When we had our first baby we lived in a small house that didn’t provide us that much play space except for the small area between our Living Room and Dining Room.
As our toy collection grew, I became more overwhelmed and felt like there wasn’t a single corner of my home which was free of toys.
It was during my first year as a parent that I began to see the importance of having a play space that was organized and allowed for purposeful and independent play.
A play space in any space
One of the biggest issues I hear from parents is that they don’t have a dedicated Playroom and therefore they cannot envision creating a dedicated play space. They often have multiple areas around their home with piles of toys (like I did), or some system that is supposed to help you stay organized (but doesn’t).
Having a small play space can be a challenge, but it is possible to create any size space into a place that encourages purposeful and independent play.
It’s important to remember that kids are little people, and little people don’t need big spaces in order to be happy.
Getting creative with your space
The best way to maximize the impact of your space is to minimize. You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear it again. Kids don’t need tons of toys. In fact, it’s BETTER for them to have fewer toys.
Once you have minimized and find yourself with a collection of intentionally selected, preferably open ended, toys you’ll find it’s much easier to create a space that invites play vs chaos.
Five tips to create a small but powerful play space
1. Everything should do double duty.
When you’re working with a small space you want to make sure every piece of furniture (and even decor) does double the work in a smaller amount of space. For example, your Ruggish play rug. Play on one side, beautiful adult space on the other. It’s perfect to quickly transform a space to one or the other. Your cube storage can display toys, hold books and be placed under a wall mounted TV to hide cable wires. Your kitchen table can become an art space by wheeling over a small and well organized art cart. All the essential play spaces can be combined or spread out thoughtfully throughout your home.
2. Use open storage.
Many people end up using bins with lids, but that just allows you to hide and collect more stuff you don’t need. Using open storage like a cube shelf or even open decorative baskets allow you to create a display of toys that also look beautiful.
3. Be intentional with toy selection.
This is a hard one. But it’s necessary. Try not to buy things on a whim. Rather than buying 10 cheaper toys, put that money towards one higher quality item that will get years of play. Always choose open ended vs the latest and greatest toy store featured toy.
4. Consider a toy rotation.
This does not have to be elaborate. In fact, it should be as simple as possible otherwise you’ll be less likely to stick with it. Separate your toys into two piles, you should have about 15-20 max toys each pile. Put one pile in a plastic bin with a lid, and put it somewhere your kids can’t see. Keep a few favorite open ended pieces out all the time that will compliment any other toys that come out on rotation. Every few weeks rotate toys. Feel free to keep certain toys out if you find you kids are always playing with them. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The goal is to not have so much stuff available at once.
5. Enlist your kids in clean up.
If you create a space in which everything has a home it’s much easier for your children to help clean up the space. Give them a specific task. For example, “Do you think you can pick up all the animals and put them in the animals basket?” This gives them a sense of being able to complete a real task which will make them feel more confident in being able to help.
Need more help?
Alanna Gallo is a teacher, mother to three young children and the founder of Play. Learn. Thrive., which provides parents with the education and tools they need to become more intentional about their children’s toys and play spaces so they can foster independent and unstructured play that encourages individualized learning, problem-solving skills and perseverance.
After working in Connecticut’s public-school system as an English teacher for more than 10 years, Alanna realized that many of her student’s issues, such as a lack of motivation and independence, could be traced back to early childhood learning. Her desire to better understand her students drove her interest in child development but becoming a mother further pushed Alanna to understand what it takes to raise happy, self-motivated, kind, driven and independent children. Play. Learn. Thrive was developed out of her desire to transform the lives of children by encouraging parents to believe in the power of play and empowering them to bring high quality play back to childhood.
Play. Learn. Thrive. offers a mix of expert insights to help parents become more educated about the importance of play as it relates to development and learning, and more intentional about their children’s toys and play spaces.
Alanna resides in Ridgefield, CT with her husband Matthew and three young children. She has a Master’s in Teaching from University of Southern California and a B.A. from the University of Connecticut.