When it finally came time to set up a play space for my daughter, something I had been dreaming of doing since before she was born, I had a few important goals in mind. I wanted to create a space that was inviting, engaging and special. A space that would make her feel competent and capable and spark creativity and imagination. Below is a list of my “must-haves” that I have included in my daughter’s playroom. Items that I believe accomplish my goals for her.
Low Shelving & Shallow Baskets
I always like to say, start with an Ikea book case! They are affordable and very child friendly. Low shelving is important so children can actually reach their toys and can choose what to pull off the shelves independently. We are giving children autonomy over their play, we are giving them a voice and we are telling them that we believe in their capabilities. Low shelving, where children have easy access to toys, may seem scary at first and you might be thinking, “But my child is going to make a huge mess and there will be toys everywhere!” Believe it or not, when we show children that we believe in them, that we trust them, they gain a sense a responsibility. They become proud of their space and learn to treat the space with respect. It’s also important to have those meaning conversation with your child about the importance of putting away their toys at the end of the day and what it means to take good care of their space.
Something to keep in mind – less is often more. Children do not need an abundance of toys to keep them busy and engaged. It is quite the opposite. Keep the shelves simple. Children get overwhelmed and overstimulated which will actually cause your child to become less engaged. Children need time and space to explore their toys. This is important because it builds concentration and increases attention span. Instead of putting all your child’s toys out at once, consider toy rotations every week or so. Take direction from your child and focus on toys that are of interest to them.
Shallow baskets are a great way to store and display toys. I always recommend storage that is open, shallow or clear so children can actually see what’s inside. I am a very organized person and clutter makes me feel uneasy so it is very tempting to want to place toys in fabric storage bins because they look “neat.” Unfortunately, it may look cleaner or more organized, but when children can’t see their toys, you will find they will not get played with or your child may dump or throw toys more often. When we keep toys hidden away like that, we are actually eliminating that sense of wonder and imagination. The space isn’t inviting, it’s not playful and not easily accessible for creative and imaginary play.
Early exposure to literacy often leads to a love for reading later in life, so I often tell parents the sooner you start reading to your baby, the better! Reading is a special bonding experience and allows babies to recognize and listen to your soothing and calming voice. Books also improve language skills, so the more words babies hear, the more words they will learn. Click here to read my blog post with baby book recommendations to enjoy with your little ones.
Babies are stimulated by music and enjoy listening to the sound of the voices of people they love, as well as find ways to make their own music. This is why I always like to have musical instruments on my play shelves. My daughter absolutely loves making sound right now by clapping her hands, banging cups together and using her shakers. Musical instruments can be expensive. You can make your own shakers by using different materials you already have in your own home. Recently, I used my leftover storage bottles for milk and added loose parts to them like beads, gems and buttons. They are a huge hit in our home and we play with them daily.
Loose parts are open-ended, mobile objects that can be carried around, poured and dumped. They can be used for sorting, counting and role-playing. You can build with them, stack them, manipulate them in different ways, pull them apart, put them back together, line them up and mix them. Loose parts can be found in nature or in your own home. They provide children with unlimited play possibilities since there is no specific way to use them, which is why they are so appealing. Some examples include buttons, ribbons, scarves, pinecones, leaves, rocks, gems, fabric, boxes, corks and my favourite, blocks.
If you are to invest in anything for your playroom, invest in a really good set of wooden blocks. Blocks are timeless, they are durable and the opportunities for play are endless. Block play allows children to be creative, to express themselves and to explore different math and science skills. Block play develops language skills, social skills and reasoning skills. I will write an entire blog post about the benefits of playing with blocks because there is so much to be said!
Simple, inexpensive but so important! Babies love looking at faces so when they are given a mirror, they are able to see their own reflection as well as others around them. Mirrors are excellent for tummy time since they encourage babies to keep their heads up. Babies are also able to understand their body, learn different emotions, track objects and learn new words. It took me some time to find the perfect mirror that was inexpensive and shatter proof. You can purchase one here from Ikea. My daughter loves watching herself play in the mirror and when we point and name our different body parts.