Let's Build a Playroom!
by kristen brown.
One of my favorite things to do when I am having a day at home with my charges is to set up different areas in our playroom. I love arranging the playroom by different areas of learning. Looking for some ideas on fun nooks for your charges? Here is a (nonexhaustive) list to get your wheels spinning:
- Library/reflection area
- Dramatic play
- Cause and effect
- Gross motor/music and movement
- Fine motor
- Sense of self
My philosophy is that learning is based all on play, which is why I think it is important to provide children with fun materials that can engage their creativity and a designated and safe space for playing to happen. However, not all families have the space to have a playroom or the money to buy the materials. So we improvise!
Improvising is one of my favorite things to do, especially considering it’s fairly common for children to lose interest in toys over the course of a year. You can use recycled materials or materials you already have in the house for any of the areas presented below. If you don’t have the space for a playroom, store the materials and take them out when you are going to use them. Only you will be able to determine what materials are best for your charge because you know his or her interests and what’s age appropriate when it comes to safety. Let’s break it down!
The library area is all about the books! Whether you set up a bookshelf, bring in baskets of books, or just create a cozy area that day and pick out a bunch of books to read together, the library is a great way to inspire reading. Make this a soft area with pillows, blankets, and favorite stuffed animal friends. My charge and I love building a tent and throwing all soft things under it and reading. The more comfortable it is, the more time we spend reading. Books on tape are also great for this area! Now you are in a comfortable position to encourage children to read independently and practice their listening and direction-following skills.
Dramatic play can involve anything your charge plays with while using his or her imagination. We love our puppet theatre. We made it ourselves out of a box. We also made some puppets with brown bags. Don’t forget your kitchen area. Whether you buy a play kitchen or bring out some household pots, pans, spoons, and cups, playing kitchen is a great opportunity for children to explore their imagination.
Here are some more ideas for dramatic play: hats, scarves, gloves, shoes, sunglasses, dolls/stuffed animals, farm/people/animal figures, costumes, telephones, broom, vacuum, dust pan/brush… The possibilities are endless!
Cause and Effect
This area is great for infants and toddlers! My favorite must-have toys for this age are cause and effect toys. The pop-up toys, hammer and shape stands, pull-string toys, and press and spin toys are great fun for kids. These toys are also conveniently sized so you can easily store them on the shelf and grab them down on the next rainy day!
Everyone needs some science in their life! A good location for the science area would be a shelf near a table. We love making our own sensory bottles out of any of the materials listed below. You can even make your own weather chart. Grab a poster board and make thunder sounds. How about some rice in a bottle to make the sound of rain? Sensory tables (or large bowls/buckets) are great for the science area. Fill them with ooblick (corn starch and water mixture), snow, ice, rice, pasta and scoops, water, sand, leaves, sticks, magnifying glasses, and animals! You can even go on a nature hunt outside with your charge and have them collect items to explore in their sensory bin or at their science table.
Make sure you remember these in your science area: magnets, magnifying glasses, scales, test tubes (for mixing water colors), sponges, recyclables, straws, modeling clay, leaves, sticks, rocks, and books about flowers, trees, and animals.
Math in early childhood can be so much more fun than it is in high school! At this age it’s all about shapes, sizes, counting, pattern matching, blocks, stacking, building blocks, and animal crackers. Yes, I said animal crackers. We love counting animal crackers at my NannyFamily’s house. (Oh, and eating them!)
Here are some great items for your math area: building blocks, shape sorters, stacking cups/rings, abacus, geo boards, play money (also tie this into dramatic play), pattern blocks, and magnetic blocks. There are so many math activities you can make yourself. My charge loves using tongs to pick up pompoms and sort them by color.
Gross Motor/Music and Movement
The gross motor area is for building those muscles and getting some energy out. We include everything from ride-on toys to yoga cards in this area. Yoga cards include yoga poses to do individually, with a friend or caregiver, or as a group. They include breathing exercises and balanced poses. I feel that these cards help to promote social awareness as well as teach other healthy habits. These can be found online through a simple Google search. My charge also loves painting with bouncy balls and cars. He rolls them in the paint and runs after them. Gross motor skills are so important. Exercise is crucial to promoting good healthy lifelong habits, and what better way to get in exercise than by going outside? I also love incorporating part of our music in this area because music is all about the movement too! Create a marching band, make up a new beat to an old favorite song, or have a crazy dance party.
Here are some ideas for your gross motor area: swings, small slides, trapeze bars, push-toys, ride-on toys, cars, balls, and balance beams.
Now, let’s discuss fine motor skills. This can be an area or just a skill you incorporate into other areas. You can add puzzles to the math area, scissors to the art table, tools to the dramatic play area, and so on. The children are already practicing their fine motor skills in the library while turning pages in a book!
Sense of Self
Creating a sense of self in children is what makes them realize they are individuals. This process starts at birth (think about a baby exploring mirrors, eventually holding their own bottles, trying new things, self-feeding, and eventually problem solving). The list goes on as to why this is so important to encourage. When an infant simply smiles at you, smiling back instills a sense of self in the child. That is the child communicating with you, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to a child’s “cues.” “Simon says” and “follow the leader” are great activities for self-discovery activities. Pay attention to their language! Baby sign language is also a great way for a baby to communicate when they do not have their words yet. I start practicing sign language at three months old with my charge. We stick with the basics (milk, more, eat, all done, change diaper, etc.) then we move onto manners (please, thank you, you’re welcome, etc.). You can also hang baby sign language pictures in this area for reminders.
Here are some items to keep in the sense of self area of your playroom that will promote self-discovery: family pictures, growth charts, mirrors, and pictures of accomplishments (like your charge succeeding at stacking blocks, building towers, or trying a new thing).
Typically I start art projects with children around three months old, always with supervision of course. I bring out sensory bags, sensory bottles, various materials, and even nontoxic paint. Tummy time painting is all about being sensory while incorporating baby’s gross motor skills. It’s not about the end product, but rather about the process of the project and what they are exploring and learning while they are doing it. Consider having a table instead of an easel; having a table lets you do so much more. Gluing is a favorite with my charge. He will make a project out of glue and anything that he can possibly use with glue. Remember that you can make art out of anything you have in your playroom, provided it’s able to be cleaned. And don’t forget that art should be child led. Let the children choose what interests them and what they would like to explore. Finally, don’t forget to display those art projects! Your little ones will be so proud!
We all know the basics that go into an art center, but here are some reminders: paper, drawing utensils, paint, paint brushes, stamps, stamp pads, glue, pompoms, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, tissue paper, felt, sticky paper, crinkly paper, etc. The list goes on and on!
The most important thing to remember when building a playroom is to remember that you are creating a safe, fun, and loving learning environment for you and the little ones to explore!