Creating an Inviting Play Space

“EEEKKK! My kids are running around like crazy people and there is CRAP everywhere! 

If you’ve been here, then congratulations, you’re a totally normal parent!

It seems like no matter what you say the entire house becomes a playground full of kids toys, craft projects, discarded shoes, the random Cheerio, and stuff!  

Maybe you feel frustrated and can’t quite put your finger on why. Maybe you feel stressed when your home isn’t tidy. Maybe you feel inadequate because your house isn’t immaculately decorated like the perfect Moms on Instagram. And maybe you feel guilty because your kids are playing and making memories, and all you want is for things to be a little cleaner and a little quieter so you can take a breath.

We get it – you can’t even begin to think about all the steps you need to take to straighten up an indoor play space for kids.

We got you! We’re sharing 6 steps for creating an inviting playspace that will help save your sanity! 

Step 1: Choose a location that works for you.

There are countless areas where you can set up a play space, but think about a convenient place that both works for you and gives your kids a chance to play independently, a space where you can perhaps read a book or keep an eye on your children while making dinner.

Step 2: Designate the space with a rug or play mat and make it cozy

Knowing that this is a space for play, containing the inevitable mess will help keep your stress levels down and all the “stuff” in one area.

Placing a rug or play mat on the floor helps show your little one the boundaries without the need to put up a gate. Adding soft cushions or a tent can make the space feel safe and cozy. You can even include an armchair so you can sit nearby but not necessarily be part of the play. 

Step 3: Set up shelves and storage tubs at your child’s level

When you are selecting items to put out for your little one, put them at a level at which they can independently retrieve them. You want to minimize their need to rely on you, thus fostering their independent choice and child-led play.

Store toys and books on the floor or on low, open shelves. Then, at the end of an activity, (if they are old enough) start encouraging them to help you put everything away in the proper spot.

By having a place for everything, your little one will know where to find it and where to replace it. Tubs and baskets without lids are also a great choice.  

Step 4: Display 6-8 toys at a time and rotate the rest each month

Keep 6-8 toys and books easily accessible in your play space and a handful more in clear storage tubs. Then store the rest out of sight. Having only a few toys to choose from will help your little one focus as they play and allow you to introduce new (read: old) toys when they’re ready to change it up. 

In fact, the benefits of shifting to a minimalist approach to your baby’s play space at home include:

  • Reduced sensory overload, leading to calmer, more focused play
  • Increased attention span and ability to concentrate
  • Encouragement of creativity and imagination
  • Less clutter and a more organized play area
  • Reduced parental stress and frustration

An uncluttered environment will help your child build an internal sense of order and calm. With the burden of overstimulation lifted, they are free to learn from and appreciate each toy they endeavor to engage with. You may find that this tip is your favorite out of the list, as it will make clean up at the end of the day a breeze!

Step 5: Clean out your existing space and choose open-ended toys

This is the big one. As parents, our child receives so much stuff, especially when our babies are very young or have a birthday party. Make it our goal to clean out the play space once a year. 

When surveying toys, consider whether they inherently provide opportunities for your baby to use their imagination, creativity, or problem solving skills — or if, conversely, they essentially do the “work” for them. Many toys capture kids’ attention at first because they are flashy and make noise, but after just a few minutes, they’ll get tossed aside because there is not much else to do with them. Let these toys go. 

Blocks and stacking toys, kitchen play, dolls, arts and crafts, nature-based toys, and puzzles are some examples of open-ended toys that tend to provide for more learning experiences and extended periods of quality play. Open-ended play encourages problem-solving, creativity, and decision-making skills as children experiment with different ways to interact with objects. Focus on the toys that are age appropriate for your little one.

  • Toys for Baby Spaces (0-12 months): Help your child develop their large and small motor skills, as well as social, intellectual, and language skills with board books, the Ball in a Box activity, and black and white sensory objects.
  • Toys for Toddler Spaces (1-3 years): At this stage, focus on sensory exploration and gross motor development. Ensure open space for crawling and walking, while incorporating age-appropriate toys like large building blocks, stacking cups, and textured balls. Keep furniture low to the ground and provide areas for climbing and exploration within safe boundaries.
  • Toys for 3-5 Year Old Spaces: As children become more vocal and engage in pretend play, their needs evolve. Include a dramatic play area with dress-up clothes, dolls, or dollhouses, encouraging creativity and social interaction. Add a designated art corner with easily accessible materials like crayons, markers, and paper. Don't forget to also encourage quieter activities like reading and puzzles.

Play spaces for kids shouldn't be static. As your child grows, rethink and rearrange the existing elements to better fit their evolving interests, needs, and skills. Swap out toys regularly, rotate furniture positions, and introduce new books to keep the space fresh and stimulating.

Step 6: Set up invitations to play

Your Happy Little People Toddler and Baby Activity Cards can help set up invitations to play in your child’s improved space. Keep your child’s current age-appropriate deck in the play space and make it part of your child’s routine. You could:

  • Pull a card before naptime as a way to wind-down
  • Choose an activity card before snack time, as a way to mark time
  • Select an activity after reading time, as a reward 

Bonus: Take Your Play on the Go

Want to create a portable and temporary play space that you can take with you? Here are some tips:

  • Designate a Bag: Have an old backpack in storage? Pull it out and make it your child’s play bag. No need to cram extra things into your diaper bag or buy something new. 
  • Set Aside Special Toys: Keep a stash of small toys and books that are only used when you leave the house, to prevent your child from getting bored of them quickly.
  • Pack the Essentials: The goal is to be able to grab your bag and head out the door without having to stock it first, so don’t skip snacks and a blanket!
  • Don’t Forget Your Deck: Happy Little People cards can be used anywhere! Make sure to have the age-appropriate pack available.
Remember, this is your child’s space. The key to creating an engaging play space for kids is to adapt and personalize it according to your child's age, interests, and what you already have available. Embrace the flexibility and keep the space evolving as your little one grows, ensuring endless opportunities for discovery and imagination!

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