The Playroom: Defining and Choosing the Space

The Playroom: Defining and Choosing the Space

If you have the space, choose a dedicated room, that can be “theirs,” where the rules are “different.” In their space, they can dump out toys, drop things, throw things, spill, tumble, fall safely, and more, without getting hurt or in trouble. A dining room or spare room works great.

If you don’t have an extra room, splitting a room in half also works, such as a living room, or you can set up different learning areas in different parts of the house. Each space just needs to be clearly defined so children know what to expect and what to do in those areas. They’ll begin to know that those areas are important and to be used every day (writing, reading, listening, movement, and more).

For full-time play areas, basements aren’t ideal. I do have a play area and toys in the basement (even now), but using the space solely as your play area means that children are generally out of sight, and most don’t like to play alone. Even in double digits, they will ask for someone to go into the basement with them.
Whatever area you do decide, try to have it close to or part of the main living area. It’s a much better option than a bedroom that is upstairs or down the hall, out of sight. A child needs to feel he or she is a part of what is going on, and will require less attention while you are cooking dinner, or when the other parent comes home from work if the child is close to you and can see you. The child will feel a part of the unit even if playing alone.

Leaving a child unattended, even in a safe environment, can cause anxiety, stress, and fear. It isn’t conducive to play, let alone healthy development.
Many parents experience this separation anxiety when a child is left alone with a babysitter or starts preschool for the first time.

When the play area is in or near the main living area, you can still engage with them, answer questions, listen to their stories, get them a drink of water, and give suggestions. Children are social beings. They want to be seen, heard, acknowledged, and recognized!

Children also need boundaries. Healthy boundaries begin with space. Gates are a great way to define space. I purchased two large gates to block the large openings of my dining room. One side was open to the foyer while the other had French doors adjoining the kitchen. I could leave the gates open for supervised exploring or close them when I needed to check an email or make a phone call. The children were in a safe, fun place, and they knew it too.

When children learn to open and close the gates themselves, they are likely old enough to freely go in and out as they choose.

When they are small, they are dependent on us to feed them, pick them up, help them dress, wash, herd them into safety, buckle them into their seats, and so on. But as part of healthy development and growth, a child transitions to being the boss of his or her own body and realizes he or she is ultimately in control of what happens to him or her.

Early on in life, every child needs a “secure base” and later a child needs a “framework” around him. Only when he feels securely anchored and contained will a child be able to follow rules consistently.
-Dr. Michael Thompson, How to Raise Responsible Children

A child should not be left in a playpen for a long period. This not only hinders physical development but most other areas of development as well. Play pens are best for naps, and short rest times, to keep a child contained and safe if you need to do something quickly, for travel, or less than 30 minutes at a time.

As your children start walking and need more daily physical activity, set up different activities in different parts of the house to encourage exploration and curiosity, as well as movement. This will break up the boredom of being in one room (even if the activities are temporary). For example, set out a puzzle on the coffee table or a game at the kitchen counter where you can work together.

The paperback version of Create a Home of Learning is available at Amazon, your favorite bookseller or

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