Play Is The Work Of Childhood Part II

If play is the work of childhood…then where does your little person “work?” As early intervention therapists, we often encourage parents to follow through with suggested strategies everywhere the family finds themselves. This means purposeful play can take place in line at the grocery store (“How many pears did we buy? What color are these apples? Ring Ring – here the phone (banana) is for you!,” in the bath tub (pouring, drawing with bath crayons, sink or float, anyone?), and while waiting at the doctors office (my favorite time for finger-plays).  Here’s a few suggestions of ways to set up a “workspace” at home for your child.

 I have to admit, I could drool through the pages of expensive childrens’ furniture magazines for days, dreaming of beautiful ways to organize all their “stuff.” It can be quite overwhelming (not to mention expensive)! I’ve also had the opportunity to sit in 5-7 playrooms per day while working in other people’s homes. One thing I’ve learned through observation is what seems to work in a play space and what does not. Here’s what doesn’t seem to work the best…too MUCH stuff!  Think of your own work space. If it had numerous options of projects to tackle, you’d never get anything done.  So as you are setting up your child’s space, keep this in mind. Limit the actual number of toys and supplies in the room. I love the idea of rotating different things in every few months or as your baby grows rather than keeping it all there at once. Just as it seems you have to go through clothing as they grow quickly, you need to go through toys. They will “outgrow” certain things and will need different and new things that stimulate them as well.
Try to choose supplies that “don’t do it all” for your child. I’m personally not a fan of toys whose purpose is to push a button after the stage where your baby learns this cause and effect skill, however you have to consciously think about this when choosing toys because a majority of the toys are the market fit this description.  Think about simple objects that can last you a long time. For example, good old fashion blocks can be banged together by a small baby, stacked by a young toddler, and turned into a castle by an older toddler. What toys will grow with your child and allow he or she to manipulate with their imaginations along the way? These types of toys and supplies will keep your child busy “working” in the long run.  
Once you have chosen simple toys (blocks, dolls, musical instruments, puppets, cars, art supplies, balls of various size), organize them into accessible bins that are easy for your child to access. Placing a picture of the object on the outside of the bins will help encourage clean up with practicing sorting skills as well. 
Every play space needs a bin or shelf for books (one of our favorite toys!). Having a soft bean bag or chair for your child to sit and look at or read books is a plus as well as a carpet or mat to encourage play on the floor.  It’s often nice to have a child sized table and chairs, not only for art projects as your baby grows but for tea parties, board games, and other types of table top play (this also doubled in our house as the oh-so-important kid table during family gatherings). We don’t recommend choosing something expensive as you’ll be sure to be dissapointed as it quickly becomes covered with markers and glue!  
Adding artistic elements can be a fun and nice touch. A chalkboard or an easel allows constant opportunity for doodling or group games.  Art boards with clips or a simple string across the wall with clotheslines clips are a way to display your child’s art and make them feel part of their room.  As your child ages, you can fill small bins with separate art supplies (paper, glue sticks, crayons, stickers, feathers, pipe cleaners, tissue paper, cotton balls etc.) so they can choose their supplies and create masterpieces daily.

A final touch is a CD player or iPod docking station. So often we fill our empty noise with the TV on during the day, but music of various styles can be very stimulating for our little workers!  Your play space doesn’t need to be fancy, monogrammed, or posh…it just needs to exist, be accessible and friendly to your child, and provide elements that they can make their own.  So keep it simple. And the most important element in your child’s playroom is YOU — a parent who is ready and willing to sit on that carpet and help build that tower of blocks! ENJOY ‘WORK’ TODAY!

 Simple wooden figures and blocks are wonderful elements for children to build imaginative skills!

How brave are you? Sensory bins (with lids for storage in a high spot) filled with rice, beans, popcorn etc. are fun for scooping, dumping, and hiding small toys.

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