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4 Tips for Creating an Effective Play Space

4 Tips for Creating an Effective Play Space

By Catherine Guilfoyle. 

Catherine is a mum of 3 (which automatically turns you into a play expert!). She is passionate about play and learns so much from observing her children and following their interests. She has a degree Early Childhood Care and Education and also in Interior Design. She believes in open-ended and child-led pay as a way for children to learn, discover the world and develop skills. Follow more from Catherine here

Your child’s play space has a huge impact on the quality and depth of their play. Being surrounded by too many toys is overwhelming and will actually decrease your child’s ability to focus and really get engrossed in their play.

But how many toys are too many toys?

You might be surprised to learn that one study found that just 16 toys were enough to cause overwhelm. In the study, carried out by researchers at the University of Toledo in Ohio, US, the children who had only 4 toys available to them were found to be more creative and played for twice as long as the children who had 16 toys to choose from.

When you consider how many toys the average family home contains, it’s easy to understand why children can struggle to develop their ability to play independently, and instead become reliant on a parent or a screen to keep them ‘entertained’. There’s just too much choice!

These 4 tips will help you create a play space that will reduce the overwhelm for your child and allow them to really start to explore the world through play.

 

1. A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING

Most homes have a designated place for toys, whether that be a playroom, a bedroom or a corner of the living room. Ideally, the play space should be away from the area where toys are stored. If this isn’t possible, try to store the toys out of view instead. Declutter your toys regularly to remove any duplicates, broken toys or things your child has grown out of.

2. QUALITY & VERSATILITY

When choosing toys to buy, look for things that can be used in different ways. For example - instead of buying a playhouse for every set of character figures, choose a construction toy that can be used to build anything from a princess castle to a space shuttle. A good quality, open ended toy like this will last for years, through one obsession after another. 

3. SPOTLIGHT

Now that you have decluttered and organised the toys, it’s time to let them shine. Identify the area where your children usually settle down to play. (Younger children will generally tend to play close to their caregiver, but some children can prefer quiet and privacy when they play.) Find a small area in that preferred play space where you can display a few toys. (We know that 4 is optimal, so a low window sill or a small shelf or table is all you need for this.) Choose some toys; arrange them so they are neat, visible and within reach; then wait for your child to discover them.

4. FOCUS ON THE VERB

When it comes to choosing which toys to display, it can be very difficult to decide. (The overwhelm is real for us too!) The usual advice you’ll hear is that you should follow your child’s interests. This might seem simple enough - if your child likes tractors; give them tractors - but there’s a trick to doing this effectively. To truly follow their interest it’s not the object they like to play with that you should pay attention to, but what they like to DO with that object. So if they like hitching trailers onto tractors, give them trains or magnets, but if they like watching the wheels rotate as they drive the tractor, give them a yoyo or playdough and a rolling pin. Once you’ve identified the verb it will be easier to narrow down your selection. You won’t always get it right, but just try something different the next time and see what happens.

It’s important to remember that children won’t always play with a toy the way you expect, but that’s when you know they’re using their imagination to really explore. If it’s a skills based toy and you feel that they genuinely don’t understand what it is they’re supposed to do with it, sit with them the first time they play and take turns so they can see how you use it. Generally though, it’s better to resist the urge to step in and ‘help’. Try to give them the time and space to figure things out for themselves and you might be surprised with what they can achieve!

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