How to Design a Space for Children That Supports Creativity
Baby Prep Phase 2: The Kiddo Room
If you have been following along, you already know that I am in full blown nesting mode and have been tearing up our little house in the process. No major construction projects thankfully…yet, at least. Just a lot of purging and rearranging. My number one priority in all of these house project efforts has been to create an awesome kid space before the new baby arrives. Before I could move forward with what I’m referring to as “The Kiddo Room” project, I had to tackle our guest room/office first. You can check out how that project turned out here. I am excited to finally share the completed Kiddo Room with you!
The playroom space ended up being more colorful and visually busy then I had really intended. Over the last several years, we have been gifted quite a few fun, decorative items from family and friends for our son. Most have been tucked away in closets or drawers until now, waiting for me to frame and display. I didn’t want to have to give any of these lovely gifts away so, as a result, the playroom ended up a bit heavy on the wall art. The room is bright and colorful which makes us happy, so I guess that is what is important.
Since the room’s aesthetic is visually stimulating, I wanted to make sure that I balanced that out by simplifying the environment in all other areas (layout, lighting, sound, toys, etc.). These days it is so easy for the spaces our children live and play in to get overrun by “too much”. Too much stuff, too much noise, too many options and so on. The problem is that all of this “too much” overwhelms children which has negative implications on their brain development and emotional well-being. By simplifying our children’s environments, we can help prevent over-stimulation and encourage creativity. For a young child, one the best things we can do for their brain development is simply to provide the opportunity for uninterrupted play time. My goal with The Kiddo Room design was to provide an interior space for my children that supports their need to create, build and move.
Below I’ve listed the elements of the space that I focused on in hopes to encourage both creativity and restfulness. When evaluating children’s bedrooms or play spaces, any parent will tell you that the biggest sources of clutter, or too much, is the quantity of toys, books and clothing. These items seem to multiply right before your eyes. Included in my recommendations is the list of criteria that my husband and I have use to determine what toys we will allow to stay in our home. Most of these same criteria points can be applied to books and clothing as well. Unless it is our son’s most beloved toy, book or piece of clothing, if an item doesn’t meet these check points, we let it go. Most of these suggestions for simplifying were inspired by the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, M. Ed. I highly recommend this parenting book for anyone interested in learning more about simplifying their home environment as well as simplifying other aspects of family life.
Open Space for Creating and Moving
My goal for the overall layout of the room was simply to maximize the open free space in the middle of the room to allow for free play. For this reason, all furnishings are arranged against the walls. A kid-sized basketball hoop was added to the space to encourage physical activity on those rainy Pacific Northwest days when we are stuck in the house.
We are big believers in the theory that young children should have little to no exposure to technology and screens. For that reason, there are no televisions, computers, game systems or tablets allowed in this room. Ideally, this will also include my cell phone…
Minimizing Toy (Book or Clothing) Clutter
Here are my recommended criteria:
o No Broken Toys or Missing Pieces Toys – With exception to absolute favorites, if I can’t fix it right then and there, I’m never going to, so it just needs to go.
o No Toys that are Age Inappropriate – My toddler does not need his old baby toys laying around and he also does not need toys intended for older children cluttering his space at this time.
o No “Fixed” Toys – This covers a large variety of toys because it includes any commercial characters (such as TV or movie characters) and overly detailed or conceptually rigid toys that don’t allow for any real imagination. This includes toys that “do” too much or are high maintenance with a bunch of pieces.
o No High-Stimulation Toys – Along with the technology or screens, I also avoid any toys that are battery operated with buttons, flashing lights, movement and/or noise. Manufactures of toys that fall in this category often claim to increase intelligence even though most research would suggest the opposite. These adrenaline-inducing toys not only have negative effects on a child’s development, they also make parents want to pull their own hair out.
o No Annoying or Offensive Toys – Continuing with the previous point, I have zero tolerance for toys that I find to be bothersome. Toys that involve bathroom humor or encourage disrespectful behavior are a big NO for me.
o No Toys that Inspire Corrosive Play – For us, this includes representation of weapons of any kind. I’m a stickler on this one because I feel strongly that children should be taught to handle weapons responsibly and taught to respect them for what they truly are. When our kids are older, this will also include any video games that involve violence.
o No Multiples – Just because my son loves his moose stuffed animal, that does not mean that he needs 10 moose stuffed animals. Too many options of the same type of toy only takes away from what makes the favorite toy so special in the first place.
o Avoid Plastic or Toxic Toys – We try to avoid toys made of plastic as much as possible. This is in part because of environmental concern and part because of concern for exposing our children to toxic materials. We try to avoid buying new toys but if we do, we strive to select toys that are made of sustainable and non-toxic materials.
Easy Access and Clean Up
I sold the tall book shelf that was previously in this room and replaced it with storage shelving that small children can easily access. All toys are within view and accessibly without adult assistance. This also allows for a child to be able to easily do all clean up themselves.
Encourage Art and Music
Art supplies and musical instruments were added to the room to help support creative play. We were gifted a secondhand child-sized table and chairs set that can be adjusted as the kids grow. These will be great to have for homeschooling purposes in the future.
Our home is greatly lacking in built-in storage. The tiny closet in the playroom is currently occupied by baby gear such as a pack n’ play and stroller accessories. For this reason, a large dresser serves as the main storage for all clothing, blankets, cloth diapers and other miscellaneous baby care items. Drawers are my favorite form of storage because I find them to be the most efficient and easy to keep organized. Each child has a single drawer designated for all of their clothing items. This helps limit excessive amounts of clothing from entering the house. It also forces me to stay on top of regularly rotating out sizes and seasons. The top surface of this dresser also serves as our diaper changing station.
My favorite thing about this room is that it gets great daylight. A significant amount of time that is spent in this room, though, is in the evenings after the sun has gone down. To help encourage restfulness and avoid disturbing our bodies natural sleep cycle, I’ve kept the artificial lighting options in this room to a minimum. There is a light hanging above the changing station out of necessity for late night diaper changes. This light is not very bright at all. The only other artificial light source is a Himalayan salt lamp that gives off a soft red glow that supports healthy sleep. I will most likely be spending a lot of time in this room in the middle of night for baby feedings. I will need enough light to be able to see but I still want to encourage a quick return to sleep for both of us after a feeding.
A Comfortable Spot for Me
Most young children naturally want to be close to their parents at all times. Even if you provide the ultimate playroom, chances are they won’t stay in the room very long unless you are in there with them. This is why I have created a comfortable corner in the playroom just for me. I’m referring to this as my “nursing station” since I will soon be spending a significant amount of my time in that spot feeding a newborn. My hope is that this will allow me to be able to feed the baby and still provide my toddler with some of the attention he desires at the same time. The corner includes a comfy seat that is low to ground and large enough to seat me, a toddler, a baby and two dogs all at the same time. There is a warm blanket and a spot to store a nursing pillow. An easy reach to the top of the dresser provides me with a place to store anything I might need access to, like a water bottle.
So far we have really enjoyed this playroom space and our whole family now spends just as much time here as in our living room. Though the real test of the room’s success will be after the new baby arrives. I hope these suggestions will be helpful to any of you who are struggling to create a special space in your home for your kids without getting overwhelmed by options and stuff.
Although I’m feeling really good about getting this much done before baby arrives, Baby Prep Phase 3: Master Bedroom is already in the works. Completing this final phase in time is probably expecting too much…but one should never under estimate the determination of a pregnant woman. We are in desperate need of a mattress upgrade so at the very least I would like to take care of some of Phase 3 before I get into the uncomfortable final stages of pregnancy. I plan to share our mattress research and purchasing experience here soon.
Sources: Many of the furniture and decorative items used in this room were purchased at Ikea USA (Rainbow Rug, Toy Kitchen, Dresser, Lounge Chair, Storage, Coat Hooks, Abacus, Art Paper Holder, Toy Train Set) The origami paper light fixture is by an Etsy artist. For picture frames, I love to go hunting at our local Goodwill. I find what I need every time for a fraction of what new frames cost. Much of the artwork was collected over time from art fairs, markets and received as gifts. Here are links to two prints that I have gotten a lot of comments on: Mountain Ranges of Washington State and Wild and Free. The metal and wood wall storage unit that we use for storing diapers and swaddles was found at Homegoods. The selection at Homegoods constantly changes but they almost always have neat wall storage options in stock. Our organic diaper changing pad is by Naturepedic. Here are links to some of the other toys we have: Sustainable Wood Toys, Organic and Eco-Friendly Stuffed Animals, Recycle Truck, Basketball Hoop, Children's Shopping Cart.