5 Tips for Creating an Effective Children’s Play Space
Tips from a Play Expert, 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 in 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 decrease your child’s ability to focus and engrossed in their play. But how can you use game space effectively?
How Many Toys Are Too Many Toys?
The Surprising Benefits of Limiting Toys in a Children's Play Space
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 four 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!
4+1 Tips for Creating an Engaging Play Space
These 5 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. Declutter and Organize Your Child's Playroom
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. Choose Quality and Versatile Toys For Your Children’s Play Area
When choosing toys to buy for your kids’ play area, 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. Display Your Children’s Toys for Maximum Engagement
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 four 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. Understand & Prioritise Your Child's Interests in Their Play Space
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.
5. Embrace and Empower Your Child’s Independent Play
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 by what they can achieve!
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