The time has come. It’s a brand new year, and with that, comes an urge to organize; to start fresh. Now, I’m not big on resolutions, in fact I don’t make any at all. But I do like to have a new space. A place that is not only clear of unnecessary clutter, functional, and open…but also pretty to look at. If I have to spend my whole day in it, the space better be easy on the eyes, I tell you!
I have had many of you ask about our playroom here at Small Potatoes. And many of you, after reading An Educator’s Guide to Creating Learning Spaces in Small Places, want more specifics. Well, here they are at long last.
For me, a happy, organized play space should be inviting, not intimidating. It should be accessible, not limiting and frustrating. It should be comfortable, not sterile. I believe it is my responsibility to provide such an environment for the children in my care, as much as it is to feed them. Children are no different from us when it comes to learning…if we are miserable in our environment, we will not progress.
And so I have designed our playroom not only for my own tastes, but for the needs and desires of the smalls who play here everyday.
Let’s start with making your room and inviting space. To me, inviting means bringing light and colour into the equation. Without colour, you are left with gloom and beige. Don’t be afraid to use all kinds of colours in your playroom! I chose to stick with the brilliant, rich colours, as opposed to the pastels, simply because I think it’s a more cheerful palette.
I use circle mats on the floor in bright colours, not only for that punch of colour, but for keeping separate, designated play spaces for children to bring their “jobs” to. If a child brings their chosen toy or activity to a circle mat, they are to be left alone with that job. It is her space where she won’t be bothered. If she chooses to invite a friend, that is her prerogative. There can be up to 2 children per mat.
I use coloured bins, pillows, and labels elsewhere in the room to provide more colour.
As for light, I am blessed to have two great big floor to ceiling windows in our playroom. If you don’t have this luxury, bring in some pretty floor lamps with colourful shades on them, just to add a bit of fun to the typical ceiling lights and brighten up the corners of your room.
And please don’t be afraid to paint the walls. This is the one place you can get away with bright colours and not have someone say, “what the heck were you thinking?”
Just remember, that light and colour are just as important
Okay, now let’s move onto making the room accessible.
My playroom needs to be accessible to babies and kindergarteners alike. This is tricky, but not impossible.
Here is how I do it. All bins that are for babies AND older do not have lids and are lower down on the shelves. All bins that are for older kids, have lids and are higher up. Simple.
I have the play room divided up into centres, or zones. First we will go through our sensory and small manipulative centre…The top of this shelf is art supplies that I would like the children to ask for if they want to use them. This is not so they are restricted to times when they can use them, it is simply so I know when to be more watchful of smalls with markers, scissors, or pens! This cuts down on coloured walls and snipped doll hair. I used a wall shelf meant for gardeners, but instead of potted plants, we have potted pencil crayons, gel pens, glue, pastels, wax crayons, tape, scissors, chalk, and dry erase crayons! The little pots are from Ikea and the shelf was purchased at HomeSense.
The in between shelves are used for sensory bins and small manipulative toys…I use clear bins so the smalls can see what is inside without having to open them up. I tailor the shelf height to the size of the containers. Shallow containers are less frustrating for children who are searching for the “right” piece, and this also means less dumping of bins.You may think labelling containers for non-readers is sort of a waste of time, but I assure you, it’s not. Pre-readers will start to recognize the written words on their bins, as they see them every time they choose a container or clean one up. I suggest the Martha Stewart brand of label because they are cute AND repositionable. Our bins are changing constantly and I do NOT like to have to clean off the gooey crud left behind from a sticky label. Labels also help us teachers find the resource we are looking for without the headache. Remember, this learning space is for you, too.There are some baby safe activities in our sensory/manipulative centre. They are on the 2 bottom shelves, where crawlers can access them without a fuss…Our sensory/water table stands in front of this shelving unit…And we keep a rotating selection of sensory bins stored underneath it…
*Please note that our water table was purchased through a teacher’s store called Scholar’s Choice. It is over 14 years old now and has been repainted and refurbished. There are many models and sizes that can be purchased online or through a teacher’s store in your area. One thing to look for is a removable tub so that you can clean it out in your shower or with a hose. Also, it should have a drain in the bottom if you plan to use it for water. Oh, and a lid, if you have a cat…I speak from experience. Other than that, your only other concern is its price tag! Some of them are not cheap!
Now over to our play dough centre. It is simply stackable plastic drawers, tucked in at the end of the table. I tucked the drawers in just far enough as to not stick out too far from the table, and yet leave enough space under the table for little legs…The drawers hold the dough and all the day-to-day tools the smalls might use in their play dough activities.I keep the play dough tools in drawers close to the table so the table space is not taken up by big bins of tools hauled over from the other shelves. The smalls can choose their dough and the tools they need from the drawers and keep the table clear for creating.
You may have noticed that I have white melamine boards on the floor. These are to keep my carpets safe from paint, ink, play dough, and coloured water stains. I purchased them at Home Depot. But this also means the floor is slippery. A table that slides around, drawers that won’t stay put, and carpets that go flying when you walk on them is dangerous and frustrating. I use the little circle “jar grippers” you can buy at the dollar store as non-slip furniture grippers. Yes, I could buy sheets of the non-slip mats, but they aren’t near as cute as the circles!Our smocks are stored at child-height near the craft table…And our art is hung by clips on a string, or pinned to our new giant cork board…All of our basic toys and building materials are stored in bins on the big white shelf…All little Polly’s or Petshops are stored in their own bins and must be cleaned up before moving on to the next job. We also store toys in the Ikea toy towers, which are tethered to the wall so they won’t tip when small children pull their chosen bins out. I reach the tallest ones when the smalls ask for them, but otherwise they are quite capable of getting what they need. Sometimes they take the whole bin to their spot, sometimes just an item or two…Our dress ups are down at the end of the hallway, with a mirror close by for primping…We have a big fluffy carpeted area with all the baby-friendly toys on the other side of the room. I placed the biggest shelf in front of the furnace room closet door to block access, and also placed a safety lock on it…The babies like to sit in front of this shelf and pull all the toys out onto the floor. It keeps them busy for a nice long stretch.
There is also another set of shelves close by for babies…this area is also where we have Circle Time. We sing, dance and tell stories. The musical instruments and dancing scarves are hung on the wall in inexpensive plastic buckets…This is a great storage solution when you have run out of floor space and the wall is not big enough for another shelving unit.
And finally, we are getting around to comfort.
The room needs to have a soft place to land, a cozy place to read, and lots and lots of pillows! I added a child-friendly “fireplace” to our playroom to keep us warm in the cold winter…It blows heat, and the front glass does not get hot. the flames are just for looks…It makes a nice cozy place to curl up and read. We also have a big, comfy couch next to the fireplace if the smalls don’t feel like reading on the floor. And if you have a corner left over, just fill it up with pillows. They don’t have to match…they just have to be soft. Our toddlers love to bury themselves in the pillows and come up giggling with static in their hair!
And so there you have it. The ins and outs of our play space here at Small Potatoes. It is always evolving, as sometimes we just don’t get it right the first time. The children grow, their interests change, and so does the space. And to be quite honest, sometimes I just get bored with looking at the same things day in and day out and so I move something!
Don’t be afraid to try something new in your space…if it doesn’t work, change it!
Oh, and let me know how it goes… I’d love to hear about your happy play space!
Thanks for stopping by!
~Arlee, Small Potatoes