Design Your Playroom for Purposeful Play

Picture of a playroom that has orange bins, a small table and chairs. The text reads 7 essential play spaces.
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So now that we have discussed the importance of play I wanted to share with you some must-have playroom stations that will help encourage purposeful play.

You don’t have to be a designer or child development expert to set up a playroom with a layout that not only promotes solo play but keeps your kids’ imagination going!

When designing your playroom floor plan you need to think about a few things. Your child’s age, how big it is (or how small), and what is the purpose of the space?

Do you want to have dedicated stations that promote learning and independent play or a toy box with some random toys and a bookshelf? How do you envision your child utilizing the space and what do you want out of the space for your child? 

While there’s no right or wrong way to layout a playroom, how you choose to design it and what you put in it will have a big impact on how it gets used and what your child gets out of it. As you guys know I am a fan of purposeful play and open-ended toys. Children don’t need a room filled with toys to be entertained, in fact being bored is a scientifically proven GOOD thing. 

So, just keep that in mind with creating your floor plan, the simpler the better! 

How to set up a playroom in a small space

If you don’t have a specific room in your house that you can dedicate as a playroom don’t worry! You can still design a space or spaces for your child to play.

While it is ideal for most parents to have a single room you can layout your stations in isn’t necessary.

Start looking at corners in your home that you can use for different play purposes, use part of their bedroom for a calm down corner or reading nook, make the dining room table double as an art space.

Having a small playroom or even no dedicated playroom at all is not a problem. You can make an amazing play space with the right playroom storage and by being intentional about the toys you choose to bring into your home.

What is Purposeful Play & Why Is it Important For Children?

The term purposeful play sounds all fancy, but really it just means to be conscious/mindful of learning opportunities for your child that they can experience/gain through play. 

  • Building with blocks of lego isn’t just play–it’s a STEM activity. When building with blocks kids are learning about angles, shapes, cause and effect, symmetry, and other math and science-related concepts. Additionally, they are using fine motor skills that will help them with daily tasks like tying their own shoes or zipping up their own jacket.
  • A dedicated space to learn and practice regulating emotions doesn’t just give you a break and a calmer child–it’s setting them up for success later in life. If a child, or adult, lacks the ability to regulate emotions and manage triggers they are going to struggle in all areas of life.
  • Allowing children to engage in gross motor activities doesn’t just help build those large muscles and increase coordination, movement actually allows kids’ brains to work smarter and harder. Additionally, this type of play often gives children opportunities to take risks. Risk-taking in childhood has taken a sharp dive in recent years (“safe” playgrounds, increase in helicopter parenting, lack of opportunities to play outside). This lack of risk-taking is detrimental to kids’ development. If kids don’t have a chance to take healthy risks while growing up, they won’t be able to manage risk when they are older.

How to Layout and What to put in a Playroom with a focus on Purposeful Play

These are just a few of many play station ideas that you can run with when planning your layout. There’s no right or wrong combo and if you just don’t have room to do everything don’t sweat it! 

Remember, what works for person A doesn’t necessarily work for person B. Also, don’t stress about creating the “perfect playroom” there is no such thing! It doesn’t have to be built in a day and you can gradually add in new stations over time and even swap out old ones as your childs development changes. 

If there was one spot that I just wouldn’t skip out on it would definitely be a calm down corner… this is a MUST for your child and you. If your children are still young and you don’t think it will make a difference, trust me, you’re going to need it!

Why You NEED a Calm down “Corner”

Having a space for kids to practice emotional intelligence is crucial.

Little people with big emotions tend to get overwhelmed and frustrated when they don’t know how to express themselves. Then in turn WE as the parents tend to get frustrated “use your words” is a big thing I hear a lot of parents say.

The problem… some children just can’t or aren’t able to verbalize what they are feeling yet because they, themselves, don’t even know!

I love having a place (and I guarantee you will too) where the kids can begin to practice regulating their own emotions.  A calm down corner is one of the best ways for them to do this.  It gives them an area that is calm and quiet and takes them away from the source of their frustration(s)..

Having something like a tent or this awesome nest swing will give kids a cozy space for them to decompress and process.

By creating a calm corner for your child your giving them the tools they need to learn how to identify and manage emotions, an invaluable life skill (I know many adults who can not do this).

The ability to recognize and “deal” with one’s feelings and emotions enables them to learn to cooperate, negotiate, problem-solve, manage relationships, persevere through difficult times, handle stress, and make good decisions. Emotional intelligence is key to success in almost all things

Add a Cozy reading area to your Playroom Layout

This can be a favorite chair, a bean bag, a few blankets on the floor and some pillows.

Even if your child can not read yet, a reading area full of books is great! They can look at the pictures and tell themselves a story. This helps them see and learn a little about the outside world.

It also introduces them to words (even if they don’t understand what it is yet they see it) and they engage their imagination pretending to read. It also helps them develop a love of reading, which is crucial.

FACT: Children who are in close proximity to books have higher cognitive, numerical, and problem-solving skills? Just by having books available you are providing access and helping to develop skills that will continue throughout their life. Score one for team Mom!

Space for a gross motor play area

Having an open space, a gymnastics mat, or a play mat (we love our Ruggish play mat) is a great way to encourage gross motor play. We have multiple items for climbing, jumping and balancing. Our favorites are the Nugget, a piklar triangle, a wobble board, the Gonge Hilltops and Riverstones.

Why you need this: Gross motor skills are developed by the movement of your large muscles. To encourage the development of these skills kids need a space where they can engage in physical play–running, jumping, and climbing. This type of play allows for kids to develop strength, coordination and confidence.

Sensory tables Make Great Playroom Additions

We actually have four sensory tables because they keep the kids busy and entertained for long periods of time. I love this basic one and we also have this larger one, as well as this one with two containers side by side.

My kids love to play with kinetic sand, rice, lentils, water, pebbles, leaves, or snow.

Really you can put anything in there and they will enjoy scooping, dumping, pouring.

Just make sure you also buy this little vacuum so they can clean up after any mess they make (mine took a few weeks but now they are mostly good about keeping everything in the actual table).

Why you need this: Sensory play is play that focuses on stimulating the senses. This types of play helps in brain development and the ability to appropriately process sensory input.

Flat surface for building and fine motor play

This can be a space on the floor or a nice play table. It can even be a table that doubles as a little snack area for the kids like this one.

If you don’t have space for another table the dining room table or kitchen counter will do. I would encourage a space that won’t have to be cleaned immediately. It’s important for kids to be able to create something and have the opportunity to continue working on it the following day.

This space is where kids can play with things like LEGOs, blocks (standard wooden blocks will do!)Magnatilestegu blocks, people and animals figurines (I love wooden peg people because they allow for more creativity).

Why you need this: Building and fine motor play are crucial for development. Building with things like blocks encouraged development of mathematical and problem solving skills, as well as critical thinking skills. Fine motor play with smaller pieces like LEGOs and figurines help kids develop fine motor skills which are necessary for things like self-feeding, writing, tying shoes, doing buttons and zippers.

Pretend play area

This doesn’t necessarily need to be its own area, but you should have somewhere to keep dress-up clothes and props kids can use in imaginative play.

I personally hate standard “dress up” costumes. We prefer more open ended simple things like silks, maybe a few hats, a pair of old sunglasses, a twirly skirt.

I also love Hanna Andersson’s Halloween line for “dress up” clothes. You can check their BST on Facebook and often find great used items for pretty cheap!

Why you need this: Pretend or imaginative play is how kids practice different social and emotional roles in life. It allows little ones to develop an increased awareness of their own thoughts, act out different scenarios and problem solve, and help aid in self-regulation.

Art space

Any flat or vertical surface can work as a place for kids to do art. And I’m not talking about perfectly coordinated Pinterest projects.

I’m talking about unrestricted messy creative child-led art. Just allow them access to paper, colored pencils, markers, crayons….just no sharpies, they are the devil. Check this out for a list of our must-have art supplies for kids of all ages.

Why you need this: Unrestricted art encourages cognitive development, fine motor practice, creativity, and visual processing. This is a great read about the importance of art.

Designing your Playroom Layout Doesn’t have to be a headache! Keep it simple & Your Child will love it!

Now that you have a couple of ideas of different stations you can set up in your playroom it’s time to really start planning your layout. Start with one area at a time and if you need to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed and gradually build it into the amazing space you want it to be for your child.

Interested in getting your little one to play independently?

Check out my Purposeful Playspace e-course to learn how to create a space for your children that invites them to play in ways that are more engaging, purposeful and independent.

Want more information about how play impacts your child’s development?

Check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood

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