The Spaces Where Children Play

I get a lot of questions about our play room and I’ve determined that there are a lot of philosophies out there about play, spaces, the types of toys we allow, whether one should allow toys at all given the abundance of household items, whether a big happy mess is the natural state of children, whether we should rotate toys, or whether they should just be exploring nature outside, already.

My thoughts on play are that I encourage it.  I want my kids to play like it is their job because it is their job.  If there are ways to inject learning, or the even more important love of learning into the play activity then I am all for it.

I started out hoping to develop “stations” in our play room to consolidate like toys with like toys:  The Puzzle Station, The Social Studies Station, The Science Station, The “Things That Go” Station, etc…  I wanted every toy visible because I felt it would be easier to get the kids to help pick up if they knew where things went. I also felt they might be more inclined to play with items they could see.

To do this, I had to find shelving where I could find it.  We didn’t build anything but we did find bookcases at The Salvation Army, Target, Wal-Mart and Yard Sales to provide some organization.  A major goal was to create an enivironment that was inviting that would allow the children to gravitate to their interests to explore.

As my kids grew older, (they are 2 and 4), the un-compelled fascination with Super Heroes and trucks emerged in my son and dress-up and dramatic play in my daughter.  The play space evolved.

You will find descriptions of how I’ve organized our play space as well as photos and descriptions of two others organized in accordance with different criteria.  I love seeing play spaces because I know that they are places where genuine joy occur.

I do not believe that play spaces have to be ridiculously elaborate or even very well-stocked with toys. (I will say that I do believe that age-appropriate books are a MUST.)  We lived for a time in a place where the kids only had a small nook in the foyer for a play space with very limited room for toys.  They were just as happy and just as energized to play.

I feel the that most important thing we can do is to show an interest in our kids.  We don’t have to be wearing holes in our jeans trying to play blocks with them, but I think it’s good for them to see us seeing them play and learn.  (Note:  These are my opinions and there is zero reason for anyone to care about my opinion.  I majored in Political Science, not Child Development.  But I CAN kiss a mean boo-boo and make it ALL better.)

Here are a couple of my favorite blogs that talk a lot about wonderful, learning and sensory-oriented play rooms where the children are the self-guided teachers.  I want these play rooms.  🙂

Play At Home Mom  

Living Montessori Now  

And here are several photos of the play room.  You will  see that there is not a lot of uniformity of shelving.  It’s what we could find at prices that didn’t make us gag.

In the Science area, we put all science-related books and learning items.  Here is one of our favorite activities:  fossil, mineral and shell identification.  We take out the books about these things and use magnifying glasses to analyze the items and learn more about them.

The Social Studies area has all globe and map-related items.  The shelving unit also houses ethnic costumes for the kids to dress-up in cultural garb.  We included atlases  we would have recycled to talk about maps.  We saved brochures and country guides from places we’ve visited.  When de-cluttering, I found a lot of things we’d collected from around the world.  They were the tacky tourist proof we’d actually stepped foot in another country.  They did not fit our home decor.  These things found their way onto an educational cork-board and a ribbon board.

The Reading area.  Books.  Love books.  Two shelves are books from my own childhood.  Not much is sweeter than reading a book to your child that you remember gave you such delight in your youth.

And we are suckers for puzzles.  Just Love Puzzles.

To create a dress-up area that would actually hold a good number of costumes, I purchased an inexpensive garment rack and just left out the extender bars that would have made these stand taller.  It is pretty lightweight and could topple over if pressed aggressively, but my kids haven’t done it.  It’s a simple and cheap solution.

The Motorcade. We have a boy.  For sure.

The rest of the room is broken into mini-stations:  music and motor skills, art, construction and balancing toys, science, baby doll care…..

And there are the obligatory train and doll play spaces, a kitchen and pantry.  Also, one of our favorite items is that puppet theater. The puppets are hanging on a lingerie drying rack. We also use one of those to hang art up to dry.

But, enough about our play room, here are two others that I LOVE.

A friend of mine wanted a play room that was functional but that was also aesthetically pleasing.  Her play space is highly visible from the front door.   She installed wire to hang her kid’s artwork.

In a tucked-away nook, she emplaced shelving from Target and cubby bins to hold items.

She maximized storage available within non-traditional play room storage items like this table and put up photographs taken by her father on an African Safari to decorate with a playful yet sophisticated touch.

Another friend’s play space is divided according to gender and age.  At the time these photos were taken, she had a 2 year old boy and a 5 year old girl.  You can see she also strung the wire along the wall, but here it is used to display photos.

This is the common family area of her play room.

The boy’s side (from the train table out to the workbench)……

The girl’s side….

Well, that’s about it!  But, this post gives me a great idea.  I think we’d all love to see what your play spaces look like and what innovative solutions you’ve found to solve storage and space issues.  Send photos to and they might just appear in post about cool play spaces!

Happy Playing, Folks!

22 Responses to The Spaces Where Children Play

  1. These are impressive. We just haves bedroom. And a toybox. And some plastic bins for legos and puzzles. I can’t ever let the boys see this!! They’ll want to move in!

    • Bridget- There’s nothing wrong with that! I grew up with a play room and so it just seemed natural to build one. But, we also don’t keep toys in any other room in the house, not even the kids’ bedroom. 🙂

  2. Wow. That is one organized playroom. I was originally going to say holy cow you’ve put a lot of thought into that, and I don’t think I’d ever get that organized. But then I realized I do something similar with E’s toys, we just don’t have the same amount of space. We’ve got an 11 and 13 year old, and then the baby, and we only have two bedrooms for the three of them, so we have to be creative. I realized as I looked at your pictures that we do basically the same thing in very small spaces in the living room. E has two bookshelves and a basket where she keeps her toys and books, and except for the stuff at the bottom of the car/truck/vehicle basket, every toy is, in fact, visible. She has a TON of board books, and those are what she usually goes for.

    I read an article on another friend’s blog the other day where the woman said that she follows the rule that if her kids can’t put their toys away in 5 minutes by themselves, they have too many. Given our space limitations, I think that’s a good rule for us. 😉

    • Carie-
      That’s funny we do the same thing. We’ve lived in places with real space limitations and 90% of the toys in the photos were locked away in a storage unit. The kids were fine. I have a similar rule about clean-up. We use a piggy timer and I set it for 15 minutes. Believe it or not, most messes can be restored in that amount of time. So my limit is 15, not 5. haha!

  3. Love seeing this and look forward to other photos! Do you all really have your play spaces so clean and organized? Well… We have an “invention table” which is always a mess because it is constantly being used. It houses the usual craft supplies (glue, markers, pipe cleaners, paper) and also the unusual (recycled boxes in strange shapes, string, paper towel tubes, marbles, buckets of all sizes, lots of tape, broken fast food toys, and any random thing I might not know what to do with). It has been wonderful to watch my 7 year old son create everything from rockets for his imaginary play to pulleys that actually lift pennies from the floor to the table. If anyone has kids close to his age – I highly recommend it (however you may want to hide it around a not so visible corner as it will never look nice and neat like the photos here).

    • Lisa- We try to keep it clean and organized. What happens is that I don’t have a bunch of play dates. I really meter them so I can keep the room under control. We use a timer for clean-up and so each night we spend 15 minutes picking up together. The kids are at an age where they actually help. I LOVE the invention table. That is such an amazing idea!!!! We love science and so I know we will do that when the kids get older. Thanks for the idea!!!!

    • The Science Center is probably where we spend the most time. I can’t wait to break out the DNA Strand 3D building kit. haha! I hope you guys have lots of fun in yours! 🙂

  4. I love your playspace. Love it! I absolutely covet your science station, as we don’t have one, yet. My playroom is organized by station, as well, though right now the kids are all about integrating ALL of the toys into whatever project they have going. It’s messy, for sure. But it’s fun!

    • Desi-
      Believe it or not, Toys R Us has a really nice science and nature section. My daughter loves to put the human organ puzzle together. 🙂 I’ll be running a post one of these days about my play room in a less glorious state- which is bound to happen. Kidsa are kids! You can submit photos of yours for future play room posts! 🙂

  5. c&c, what an amazing space! As a baby boomer who had the typical classroom instruction – aka, boring! – I would have thrived in such a stimulating environment. This is fabulous for kids and brings out more problem-solving skills and creativity. What a fantastic thing you’re doing for those children.

    • Thanks, Michael! Stimulation was the goal…I’m so glad you like it. For some, play rooms are not a place of peace, but ours is for us. It’s a favorite place to be for our family and it helps with this heat in South Texas. Thanks so much for checking the blog!

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  7. Hello! Playspace envy! We live in a matchbox and would kill for that type of space. It looks totally awesome. I would totally set ours up with stations if we had room, but for now they get nooks and crannies 🙂

  8. I’m sure, like the rest of you and your blog, it’s fabulous! My play room is ridiculous and I know it. I didn’t grow up with much but we always had a huge play room and so it just seemed natural to have a big one. It was a pre-requisite to move here- I told my husband we weren’t coming if he didn’t find a home with a huge play room. I knew how hot it was going to be and I didn’t want us to get bored. haha! Thanks so much for the compliment!

  9. You should charge admission for play dates! That’s one organized playroom. Better than some day cares I’ve visited. Even if we had the space, my boys would just view the organization as a project to disembowel. They LOVE dumping the toy and Lego bins over. It’s, like, their job. Great ideas.

    By the way, found you through Twinisms – hope you don’t mind if I stick around.

    • Well, thank you for that kind comment! I’ve actually struggled with feeling like it’s a bit ridiculous- but whenever the kids outgrow the toys, they are donated to folks who could really use them. I don’t mind at all if you stick around and now I will mosey over to your blog. haha! Thanks so much for coming and I just love Twinisms.

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  12. Hey! SugarMomma here from The Mommies Made Me Do It.
    Yes, I’d love to be included in your next playroom series… COOL!
    And I love this post! I love any excuse to check out other play spaces… I’m completely addicted to Pinterest for this reason :/

    Love your Motorcade! And OMG, the garment rack, yes, that’s exactly what I need!!!! My son and his buddies that come over for playdates LOVE to dress up in his costumes but I hate the way it’s all cluttered up on the wall. I couldn’t figure out how to make that area look less junkie. Garment rack… brilliant!! Off to find one now 🙂

    • SugarMomma- Thanks for visiting! The garment rack has worked out well for us and has only toppled over once or twice. It’s lightweight- and we don’t use the wheel attachments. I recommend finding a spot near a wall to help limit the possibility of it toppling over- My kids have just been trained to not rip things off of it because I wouldn’t say the quality is the highest for those garment racks at Target and Wal-Mart for 20-30 bucks- 🙂 I’ll let you know when I run another play space post!

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