Today, I’m sharing five steps that will help you create a play space that really fires your child’s imagination. And this is for you if you’re hearing things like, “Bored! Can I go on the iPad?”
Or if you just simply want your child to thrive!
Because good play is an essential part of a healthy and happy childhood. So if you like the sound of that, do read on…
Watch the video or scroll down to read more…
So why is a play space that fires your child’s imagination important?
Well, your child’s ability to be imaginatively involved in play is the doorway to their enthusiasm and passion. It also satisfies that part of your child that wants to have agency over their life – that wants to be in control of things – because in the realm of play, they are the boss.
Play is real food for your child’s soul. So, by providing a really inspiring play area, you nourish your child at a really deep level.
I believe our school system today – and I’m not talking about the teachers, but the school system – doesn’t allow as much space for imagination as most children need. And so, if Albert Einstein is right in saying that imagination is more important than knowledge, when kids come home, it follows that it’s vital for them to have time to play. Ideally at least 40 to 45 minutes every day.
A well designed play space will help your child catch up on that need for play, as well as digest the experiences that they’ve had at school or nursery.
So here are the five steps to a play space that fires your child’s imagination:
#1 – Designate an area
Firstly designate an area, whether it’s a corner of a room, or part of a larger room, or a whole playroom. This may involve shifting furniture, turning sofas around or moving a coffee table aside. Then, within this area, create a magical play space for your child that supports the unfolding of their imagination. The idea is that when they go into it, that magical process starts. I don’t know if you can remember what that felt like as a child.
I remember there was a park near us where there was a tree, with branches that draped right down to the ground. Once I was in, I felt I was in a magical world – just by being inside the embrace of the tree and a little bit hidden away. If you have the possibility of creating something like this, just a suggestion of an area (it doesn’t need to be totally hidden away), it’s different to just having stuff lined up along the walls or dotted in different parts of the house.
Here’s a great example of a play space, created by Szidonia Juhasz, a client of mine, for her three-year-old. daughter. It offers the opportunity to be fully immersed in play, free of adult clutter and slightly apart from the shared family spaces. This space reflects the things this particular child loved to do. Yours is likely to look very different.
#2 – Identify play materials
This has a few aspects to it.
- First is to let go of materials, toys, playthings that your child is no longer playing with. And this step alone can really fire up your child’s play. It’s so inspiring for your child when they enter a play area where only the favourite, most beloved things are visible, and the clutter has been set away.
It’s like when you go to your wardrobe and all the old dusty old clothes have been taken out and only the ones you love remain. You feel inspired and motivated by what you see!
It is important to be tactful with this. You don’t want to get rid of toys that your child may still have attachments to that you didn’t know about. So the best idea is to put things in store where you can still retrieve them if your child asks.
- The second part is to add in some loose parts to the playthings that are remaining. The term loose parts points to a whole play philosophy, that I won’t be going into in much depth here. But basically, provide your child with materials that are not really toys.
I’m talking about items that don’t have a specific play purpose but that your child can turn to many purposes. It might be cardboard tubes, it might be shells, it might be clips, or cloths, it might be buttons, or marbles. Have containers or collections of things.
Make these available so that your child’s play can go in different directions. Use your good sense. You will know what’s safe for your children.
- Include some craft materials. I’m talking about play dough, crayons, paper.
And rather than just the standard paper, if you can find or create paper that’s different sizes, thicknesses, colours and shapes. Also card and cardboard – just the plain old cardboard that things arrive in in the post.
And offer glue and materials to connect things – soft wire, string, and tape. And of course make sure that your children know how to use these things or that you’re close by.
#3 – Lay things out interestingly
The key word here is ‘out’, and make it look inviting. The more your child’s materials and playthings are on display, the more inviting it is for them. You can use shelving to put things out and you can put things in baskets – but don’t have them too full.
You can of course also put things in cupboards or in drawers. And here the key thing would be for there not to be too much in there so that when your child looks in, it’s inspiring because everything has a place and a space around it. If you read last week’s blog, you can learn a bit more about the potential problem with drawers and boxes.
Here’s what’s really key in all of this. You’re laying things out interestingly – invitingly – giving your child’s imagination space to work.
If everything’s packed together, your child’s imagination can’t get to work so well.
#4 – Include opportunities for physical play if you can
Physical activity invigorates your child’s play. Sometimes I’ve seen children in my groups playing with something on the floor – blocks, for example – and then hopping up, doing something more physical and coming back. They clearly re-energised themselves by being able to do some larger movements.
To give you some ideas, some examples of this could be a Pikler triangle with slide* – wonderful for toddlers. And then for an older child something like a wobble board**, or balance board. Or you can even get amazing frames*** to put up the wall or in the doorway, whereby children can climb and pull them selves up. Offering opportunities for physical play is a real gift to any child.
But if all this feels too much and just not possible, just having an uncluttered space in the middle of the play area – or maybe with a mattress there at times – invites play.
I hope this inspires you.
#5 – Simply observe
Observe how your child’s play is inspired when you take these steps. And you can rotate toys, too, if there are enough toys that your child really enjoys playing with. Rotating can be a great way of bringing old toys into new relief.
The other thing (which may even give you a morning lie-in sometimes) is to lay out interesting combinations of play things that ‘go together’ in the middle of the space you’ve created.
Leave it out for your children overnight. Then, when they come in early in the morning, you can tell them that there’s something for them to explore downstairs in the play area…
* For information about where to buy a genuine Pikler triangle, please email Pikler UK
** This is one example I found to illustrate what I mean. I have no affiliation with this and will not receive anything if you decide to buy from here.
*** Here’s what a wobble board might look like. They are available from various UK sellers. I have no affiliation with this company.
If you’ve found this inspiring, please feel free to share with friends who might be grateful for some inspiration to rejuvenate and reinvigorate their children’s play.
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