Call me seasonally cliched, but when springtime rolls around, I awaken. I open the windows wide, letting crisp breezes freshen stale air. I scrub forgotten corners. I clean closets. Spring is raucous with new life; what better time to invigorate your child’s play space?
My dream playroom is crisp and spare, so it is not surprising that my thoughts on indoor play spaces may read as a treatise on modern architecture. Never fear! You needn’t be a nerdy architectural history major (such as say…myself…) to follow.
Let us begin.
Less is more. -Mies van der Rohe
When it comes to toys, less is definitely more. Children easily become lost in piles of toys. It can be hard to settle into play when another toy vies for attention. Trim those toy drifts into the shockingly sparse and behold: what may seem to you like the same old wooden bear who sits nearly alone on the shelf, alights in your little one’s hand and stomps over to dear friend fox to share an acorn cap of soup. See for yourself: uncluttered play spaces foster imaginative play.
The ‘less is more’ mantra can also apply to individual toys. If a toy lights up and sings and dances a jig, what is left for the child to do? Toys that don’t ‘do’ anything, on the other hand, require active participation. The child becomes the singer and the dancer, all under her imaginary spotlight.
Form follows function. -Louis Sullivan
This one’s easy: design a child’s play space for a child. Watch your child play and plan accordingly. For starters, make the play space accessible with low shelves. Make it tidy so that the toy in need is easily found – try using baskets to store blocks & balls. Make it approachable – setting up figures in little scenes instead of burying them in aforementioned baskets. (I made this mistake mere days ago when I tossed little animals into a basket; after clean up, my five year old remarked: “I stood up the animals so I wouldn’t have to dig through a pile.” Point taken.)
Return to Nature
‘Organic’ toys needn’t be spendy. Gather pine cones and seed pods, acorns and stones. Voila – you’re providing your child with props for imaginative play.
Muster up some energy and make your own blocks from tree branches you’ve collected. (Not hard – simply sand cut ends and oil with olive oil or beeswax. Better yet – enlist your child to sand and oil.) Easily craft balls from wool roving or pompoms from yarn. Go really crazy and pull out a needle, thread and some wool felt. Warning – after seeing your child’s joy with his newly minted toy, you may officially become obsessed with toy-making.
…the flat plane; the square; the triangle; the circle!…All are in my fingers to this day. -Frank Lloyd Wright
Wright attributed his architectural inspiration in large part to Froebel blocks. He believed that playing with the blocks as a young child shaped the way he saw the world. Wright’s insight reminds me that what we play with as children can stay within us as we grow. Provide a few thoughtfully chosen toys that allow for open-ended play. Your child will create worlds with these toys, and these impressions, these early imaginative worlds, will stay with her.
Believe me, I am not a toy purist. My son’s favorite toy at present is a plastic space shuttle. (He is, however, so accustomed to receiving handmade toys that he asked me how his grandparents made it.) But I try to give consideration to my children’s play spaces. I don’t want my children to see their surroundings as a dispensable heap, with more always on the horizon. I hope that natural materials and uncluttered spaces will incite a strong respect of the natural world and a sense that their environment is as unique and important as that beloved old bear plodding with purpose to dear friend fox’s house.
Susannah Wood obsessively crafts toys for her two children in Charlottesville, Virginia. She also has a small shop where she sells her toys and patterns.