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How to Set Up Home Play Areas for Your Child

September 29, 2020

For children, a play space is so many things. It’s a place to explore, to wind down, to learn, to grow, and to express themselves. A great play space doesn’t need to have lots of room or lots of toys—by grouping materials into play areas, you can create plenty of opportunities for your child to play using the space and materials you have on hand! 

Play areas are “zones” that help children to engage in different kinds of play while giving everything its own place. Children love to explore each area and even combine materials between areas to create a new experience. You may recognize this kind of setup from our centres! Play areas are a great way to organize a play space to fit the space you have, whether you are using a playroom, bedroom, or common living space. 

Here are some areas you can set up in your home to help your child learn through play. 

A Dramatic Play Area 

Dramatic play allows children to “act out” scenarios that they see in real life—think about a toddler with a new little sister rocking a baby doll—or imagine brand new situations. A dramatic play area will help your child immerse themselves into this world of their creation.  

Try mixing these elements into your dramatic play area and watch your child’s imagination take over: 

Furniture 

Toddlers love to imitate the adults in their life through play, so child-sized furniture works great for children in that age group and beyond. You may recognize the wooden fridges, stoves, cabinets, and washing machines in our centres—you can make similar furniture out of boxes or crates! 

The larger “furniture” pieces you get or make for this area can be as unique as your child and can evolve to suit their interests. For instance, a box or a laundry basket can make a great train, boat, or space ship! 

Costumes 

Children love to dress up to suit the role they’ve taken on. Try adding old hats, clothes, sunglasses, or costume jewellery for them to wear! If you have any star pieces like a favourite apron or rain coat, adhesive wall hooks are an easy and inexpensive way to display them. 

Props 

Finally, add smaller items or toys that fit the space you have created. Things like extra measuring cups, loose parts, or egg cartons for sorting objects would make a great addition to a kitchen space. If they love to play “house”, this is where they can take care of their dolls, or maybe they would love to take their stuffed animal on an adventure!  

A Creative Area 

A creative area gives your child an opportunity to explore cause and effect—if I move the marker across the paper, it makes a line—and to express themselves. 

Here are some items you can include in your child’s creative area: 

A table with a chair or a floor space with a cushion 

If you’re using a cushion, outdoor fabrics work well for this space since they are waterproof and wash easily. 

Protection for the mess

Children love to explore with the different materials, and that can get messy! Add an art apron and a drop cloth or newspapers to protect their clothes and your floor. Craft paper can also cover your tables while giving children even more space to create. 

Paper 

Scrap paper and construction paper work great! 

Drawing and painting supplies 

As your child uses markers, crayons, paintbrushes, or their own fingers to paint and draw, they are strengthening the small muscles they will use later to grip a pencil or tie their shoes.  

Painting also gives children an opportunity for sensory play as they feel and see the paints and materials they are using. Check out these creative ways to paint

More art supplies 

Glue, tape, beads, safe scissors, and recycled objects like paper towel tubes, cleaned plastic bottles, and boxes create endless possibilities to experiment with new materials and 3D art.  

You may not know what to do with your child’s art, especially if they love to create new artwork often. Since children are more concerned about the process, they don’t often worry about what happens to their work when it’s done. Hold onto your favourites or any of their “firsts” (such as their first painting), and instead of letting the others pile up, check out these tips on what to do with your child’s artwork.  

A Quiet Space 

A quiet space will allow children to play independently and to decompress if they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated. It is also a great way to wind down for nap or bed time! Here are some ways you can create a quiet space that your child will happily spend time in: 

A cozy place to sit 

A comfy chair, blanket, or floor cushion will give your child a space to curl up with their favourite quiet activity. A corner of their bedroom or a spot by the window are some great options for a comfortable sitting area. 

Books displayed with covers facing outward 

Children will gravitate to what is visible and at eye level, so display your books in a way that they can easily access using a cardboard box, old drawer, or narrow shelves. Putting your books on display helps your child to identify their favourite book covers or find new books to explore. We love this idea of making small bookshelves out of wall-mounted spice racks! 

If you have a lot of books or are short on space, you can also use small boxes or shelves as a spot to display a few books of choice while the rest can be stored in a conventional bookshelf. Switching out which books are on display every couple of weeks will keep the selection fresh and will help your child explore different books from their collection. 

Still building your home library? Here is what we look for when choosing books for children

Quiet activities 

Puzzles, soft blocks, and sensory bags all allow children to focus on the task at hand and give them an opportunity to relax and decompress. Label the bins where these quiet toys are kept and put them at your child’s level for easy access and clean-up—picture labels will help younger children find what they are looking for! Children can access these quiet activities when they need them, which will help them learn what works best for them and develop self-regulation skills. 

A Sensory Play Bin 

Sensory play is any sort of play that engages the senses. For instance, snapping a rubber band engages the sense of hearing while playing in the sand engages the sense of touch.  

There are so many benefits of this kind of play! As your child explores different activities and materials, they are learning language skills, problem solving skills, and fine motor skills. Exploring with their senses allows their brains to make stronger connections, which sets them up for lifelong curiosity and learning. 

Many sensory activities, like goop and sensory bins, can be made right before play time and used in spaces where clean-up will be easiest, like a backyard, balcony, kitchen, or bathroom. Others like sensory bottles or sensory bags can be made ahead of time and kept somewhere children can use them, like in a bin or on a shelf. 

For sensory activities you can set up at play time or ahead of time, check out these 7 sensory activities to relieve stress!