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So now that we have discussed the importance of play I wanted to share with you some must have spaces that will help encourage active play. While it would be great to have all these in one area of your home to reduce clutter and give kids a space that is solely designated for them (and keep them out of your hair), there are ways to do it without having a dedicated playroom. Consider finding corners of your home to use for different purposes, use part of their bedroom for a calm down corner or reading nook, make the dining room table double as an art space. If you want to make it happen, you can. If you can’t figure it out, email me. Seriously. I will help you. We can FaceTime. I will come to your house (if you’re within driving distance… or if you’re not and want to pay for my flight I wouldn’t turn that down). It’s that important.

7 Essential playroom spaces and why you need them

1. Calm down space: I love to have a place where the kids can begin to practice regulating their own emotions. The best way for them to do this is to have a space that is calm and quiet–I love canvas teepees and nest swings that give kids a cozy space for them to decompress.

Why you need this: One of the most important skills for kids to learn is the ability to identify and manage emotions. This ability is what allows them to learn to cooperate, negotiate, problem solve, manage relationships, persevere through difficult time, handle stress, and make good decisions. Emotional intelligence is key to success in almost all things.

2. Cozy reading area: This can be a favorite chair, a bean bag, a couple b blankets on the floor and some pillows. I love to have a few floor pillows in our teepee so kids can snuggle up and look at their books. Neither one of them can read yet but it doesn’t change the fact that they LOVE to read. They look at the pictures and tell themselves a story. Developing a love of reading is crucial.

Why you need this: Did you know that 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.

3. Space for gross motor play: Having an open space, a gymnastics mat, or a play mat (we love our Ruggish play mat because it’s two sided, super cushioned, and extremely easy to clean) is a great way to encourage gross motor play. We also love to have items for climbing, jumping and balancing like the Nugget, a piklar triangle, a wobble board or the Gonge Hilltops or 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.

4. Sensory table: 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, 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.

5. 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 although I would encourage a space that won’t have to be cleaned immediately as kids often create something and want 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.

6. Pretend play area: This doesn’t necessarily need to be it’s 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 and prefer more open ended simple things like silks, maybe a few hats, a pair of old sun glasses, 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.

7. 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.

Check out my recent post that outlines all my favorite toys for encouraging active play