Since having Hunter, I have loved styling and organizing his playroom (I think I have already written 3 blogs on this). But it is so much fun as he gets older and I can now organise it for the 3 kids. I do a reshuffle and re-organization for their playspace often (a big redesign change only happens once a year or every 2 years) but a reorganization is done regularly so we are rotating toys, focusing on particular topics and to make the room engaging and fun. But the principals stay the same. I set the playroom up like I would a classroom, however with an ‘at home feel’. I use the principles of Montessori and the early learning Australian curriculum.
Whether you work from home or this space is just used for the weekends, or a grandparent comes over to help and it is a place for the kids to play, the system remains the same, so the children’s expectations are clear and it is an easy transition for play time. It supports their social and emotional wellbeing and is a holistic approach to learning. Below are my top 10 tips to help you design or reshuffle your current learning and play space for your children.
1. Stylish design that is a continuation of your homestyle
We have decided to keep the children’s play space in our spare living room. As they are young, I don’t want them closed in another room. This also allows me to be able to do some work whilst they are playing independently whilst next to me. When designing a playspace for the children, I like to involve them in the process and show them that their area is just as important and beautifully designed as the rest of the house. It reminds them to look after their space and to take pride in what they have. As the room is in a lounge room, I wanted it to be a part of the aesthetic of our home whilst still a fun and playful design for the children. I personally don’t like bright colours, I like to provide a blank canvas for children to create their own stories and bring to life their learning which is why I chose a design that is neutral. Most of the pieces in the playroom are from Kmart. Together we painted them (which was a week’s family project). We decided on the theme of rainbows as that is a big focus in our home and links in with our family values. Family values are really important when designing a space, so children don’t see this space as something different, it is a continuation of their family life. Learning isn’t separate. This is their hub for learning about themselves, others and discovering their strengths and providing a place to work on their weaknesses. This is a great opportunity to instill values, how to play with others, independently and how to deal with emotions which will assist with their overall development (not just in the playroom). We have our family’s 10 commandments placed in our playroom so it is reinforced throughout play. This is explained in MY HAPPY BOOK. If you would like to start determining what your values are, you can get my FREE printable VALUES guide here.
2. Behavior management system
Before I even start academic learning in the classroom I always set up a system for the children so they feel safe, expectations are very clear and they know what to expect from me and from each other. This heavily will link in with your values. I use the TRAFFIC LIGHT system which I used at school and I now use at home with my children. It is a wonderful, positive reinforcement tool which gently allows children to work on their intrinsic motivation (not always getting physical rewards), but also develops safe consequences that relates to their behaviour. All children will test boundaries, will fight, will talk back and have tantrums, that is a part of growing up and learning to express emotions and communicate. It is important to have a system that helps children through these times. This is a great system that can be used from 2 years to upper primary aged children. I have this on display in our playroom. This stops the power struggle that using happens between children and adults, and everyone knows where they stand. This will really help with family life and help curb the tantrums and fighting amongst siblings. Remember to be consistent with this and set it up with your children involved in the process. If you would like your FREE TRAFFIC LIGHTS system you can download it here.
3. How to play independently
A big part of learning it to teach children how to play independently. This is a skill that needs to be taught to children and shouldn’t just be expected of them. Spend time setting this up with them. Not only is this great for autonomous learning, self esteem building, leadership but it is great for you so you can have some time to do the things you need to get done. As parents we can fall into the trap that we need to sit with our children and teach them and be by their side every step of the way. This actually isn’t beneficial for children’s development. Allowing them to explore, play and learn independently you are allowing them to problem solve, build resilience and discover their strengths. It is important that all toys are easily accessible to the children, and of their height. As my children are younger, craft, painting and playdough activities need to be set up and supervised by an adult, so in this space there is no need for a table and chairs as we usually do this outside, so I decided to have a playmat and chairs that they can easily get on and off themselves. The rainbow table allows the children (including Evie who is 1 years old) to easily access standing or on their knees. It reminds them this is their space and doesn’t require an adult to play and learn. I have a system that I have created that is displayed in the playroom, which we discuss what activities we can do independently, with an adult to help set up and what we need to do with an adult. I have a system which the children can problem solve before coming to ask me if they have a problem. Even for Archie who is 2 years old, he might not be able to read but it is language that is reinforced and I use pictures so they know what activities are for independent play time. It discusses when something isn’t safe and what to do. If you would like to get a copy of my FREE boundaries with learning at home guide you can download this here.
4. Daily planner
At home we play and learn in time blocks like I would at school. It allows me to be organized and it gives the children structure and routine for their day which they love. You don’t need to do this everyday, and remember to be flexible with kids. Have a gentle family planner which is displayed in the playroom, the children know when it is time for morning tea, lunch time, outside play, and independent play. Every morning I write in on the planner with the kids which gives them security knowing what to expect, we set our intentions for the day and do our daily gratitude which is an important value for our family. If you would like my FREE DAILY FAMILY PLANNER you can download it here.
5. Celebrate wins and a space for holistic learning
It is really important to ‘fill-up’ your kid’s bucket. Research has shown when you praise (correctly – not just a ‘good job’ but for a particular task they did well), it increases self-esteem, self-worth and provides a solid foundation for learning. Throughout the day your child will have many wins (sometimes we tend to focus on the negative and discipline for the negative behaviour only) but if you stop and actually write down the wins for your children throughout their day, it will make them want to achieve more and remind them of their strengths. This is a great way to discover and monitor what their talents are (for example, if you are always writing their wins for helping others, then emotional intelligence may be a strength you can further nurture). When hubby gets home it is a great conversation starter for the children to talk about their wins for the day. Have a place where the children can share their craft and share what they have learnt to celebrate their learning. Our ‘show and tell’ area is on our ABC mat. I discuss more about the ‘wins’ system and how to support social and emotional wellbeing in MY HAPPY BOOK which you can get yourself a copy here.
6. Kindness Jar
The kindness jar is a part of our behavior management system and a true reflection of our family values of showing kindness in our actions. I really encourage the children to show our values through their actions so we are living and breathing them and not just speaking them. The kindness jar was created from the children just saying a meaningless ‘sorry’ to each other. Whilst I highly encourage saying sorry, sometimes children (and adults) don’t know how to show that they are sorry which is what really counts. So usually after a red light (time out) or if they are on the yellow of the traffic lights, when they apologize they choose something from the kindness jar to show in their actions they are sorry. They can throughout the day go to the kindness jar and pick one at random to encourage random acts of kindness too. You can get my FREE KINDNESS JAR activities that can be used in your own jar here.
7. Toy selection and rotation
I remember my Dad telling me when he was young, he had one toy car and some marbles growing up. He had 8 siblings and he cherished his little toys so much. He appreciated them and looked after them because he didn’t have many. He was very creative with his imagination because he had to make do with the small amount of toys that he had. Nowadays our children have so many toys and can often not appreciate what they have if they have so many to choose from. So I don’t like to over-crowd our toy room with too many toys. Children get sick of them quickly and by not having too many, it reminds children to look after their toys and to be imaginative. For birthdays and Christmas, I put some away and rotate the toys so every few months they have something new to play with and allows them to really appreciate the toy and get use out of them.
8. Cleaning up and organization
It is ok to have a messy playroom whilst they are playing. So get comfortable with it. You don’t have the time and kids don’t want to constantly have you nag them to pick up their toys whilst playing. I teach my kids, as early as 18 months to clean up their playroom. This is important to set up from the beginning with the behavioral system too. I get the children to tidy up after each block. We put a ‘clean up’ song on (anything they are currently loving listening to) and it gets them moving and gives them responsibility over their space. I use this as part of our rewards system too, they can choose the song (which children love). Everything has its own place and I teach the children where things go. In the beginning I spend a lot of time showing them how to do this and eventually they do it really well by themselves. This is a great transition time for you to organise the morning tea whilst they are cleaning up.
9. Imaginative play
Imaginative and creative play is really important not only in the early years but throughout learning (unfortunately the magic of childhood and imagination starts to get lost in upper primary). To promote imaginative play and creative comprehension after we have read a story is through the concept of Godly play. This was created to re-tell scripture passages, which we do, however I have now incorporated this into our learning with the stories we read. Rather than just asking children – what was the story about? (Or older children to practise retelling a novel), when someone teaches someone else, they retain 90% of the learning experience (opposed to only retaining 10%). We have a special tray in which they have a turn of retelling the stories which has developed into them creating their own stories. It is a time for us to celebrate the wins (I incorporate this time into our schedule to make sure I am present) and the children can practise their storytelling during independent play. When the tray comes out, everyone knows it is time to sit and listen quietly and respectfully (it is a visual reminder). This encourages their language and active listening skills. I have created a group work guide which we have displayed in the playroom which can be used as a bookmark as well. This reminds children how to respectively play together, learn together and a gentle way to show friends and family who come over on playdates on how we play together respectively in our home. If you would like to get a FREE copy of my GROUP WORK guide you can download it here.
10. An area to discover and nurture strengths
Is your child musical? Artistic? A leader? Spatially aware? Providing an arena for children to develop their strengths and having the freedom to explore is so important and so much more effective for parents to be doing with their children than teaching them long division or how to write (leave that for your children’s educator). We have musical toys, mathematical toys, blocks, dress ups, cars, dolls, a kitchen, tools, locks and keys, gross motor toys and sensory toys plus activities that bring the outside in with nature play for patterns and counting. Having a variety of options for your children to choose to play with, is a great way for them to discover what they love and what naturally comes easy to them but also allows you to observe what they choose to play with and how they express themselves and their understanding of the world around them. If you would like to discover more about how to nurture strengths at home, develop higher order thinking skills, effective and easy to use book and retelling strategies and so much more, you can get this from my downloadable GIFT AND TALENTS ACTIVITY AND EDUCATIONAL KIT here.
Now over to you!
How is your play area currently set up?
What areas do you need further assistance with?
What is a tip or hack you can share with others that you have found useful in your learning space?