Play—it’s what gives us a feel for our environment from the earliest stages of our lives! While the world of parenting has seen its fair share of debates across the years, there’s no denying that healthy kids—and well-intentioned parents—receive continuous opportunities to explore and interact with their surroundings. But how do we balance the importance of play in a world where screens reign supreme? Whether incorporating technology is part of your parenting style or not, here’s some advice on how to create environments for your children that encourage play.
In this article, you will find:
- The Importance of Flexibility in Play
- How Do You Determine the Age-Appropriateness of Activities?
- Involving Your Children in the Process
- Making a Plan of Action
- Knowing What You Can Afford
- Finishing Touches
The Importance of Flexibility in Play
No, we’re not talking about physical flexibility; we’re talking about accommodation. Children often have the same basic needs, but how those needs are best met can look different. While play stimulates growth in a variety of ways depending on your child’s age, their environment can do the same. Consider these ideas and their benefits when planning your space:
Your options are limitless here! Sports surfacing, playgrounds, treehouses, gardens and beyond each provide their own opportunities. Outdoor stimulation is known to carry its own unique benefits and can help your kids gain a broader perspective on life and support their motor skill development.
Playing indoors doesn’t have to feel constrained! After two years inside, families have gotten creative with rock walls, game rooms, jungle gyms, and more. Creating a playspace inside allows your family to create something geared to your lifestyle, increase the value of your home, and have an all-seasons room to enjoy. This is also a great opportunity to create a multi-functional space for your working, living, and playing needs.
Exploratory & Educational
There’s never a wrong time to take up a family hobby that promotes play. Creating exploratory spaces in and around your home just means that they’ll be more topic specific. Interested in archaeology? Create a sand pit for digging up “dinosaur bones.” Install a greenhouse to experiment with different plant species. Or create a fun problem-solving environment with an at-home escape room.
Play looks different for everyone. As children attune themselves to social behaviors, it’s important that they can accommodate play in a range of environments. Designating quiet spaces in your home not only creates a comfortable environment for kids to process their emotions and overwhelm, but it also teaches them to entertain themselves when situations call for a different kind of energy.
Social & Sharing
Regardless of your home structure or what style of education your child is in, it’s important that they learn to socialize in environments of play. Not only will a child learn to have ownership over their words and actions, but they will also learn to collaborate and share with others. Consider making the space you design into something playdate-friendly.
How Do You Determine the Age-Appropriateness of Activities?
The answer to this might be more simple than you think: listen to your child! Kids begin to develop the more tangible parts of their personalities by age three. While play is a great opportunity for them to be challenged while having fun, it’s also a time for them to express their likes, dislikes, and where they are in their own development.
Create a space that can grow with your child physically and mentally. Whether this means temporary installations, modifiable furniture, or just growing into the tools they use, you’ll want a place where this kind of enrichment is sustainable.
The environment you create should be able to accommodate you as a parent, too! Parent-child bonds are pivotal in your family’s development and playing with your kids carries lasting effects. Not only will your children model your actions, but also know that their understanding of relationships starts with you.
Involving Your Children in the Process
Regardless of what kind of play space you’re looking to create, it’s important to involve your kids from start to finish. Whether you include their wants or design ideas, or you let them help with the DIY and final organization of it all, you can make the whole process engaging. Not only will your kids get to participate in the fun, but they can also learn why certain safety measures are put in place and the importance of adventuring safely.
All of this can spark a positive sense of ownership, collaboration, and responsibility in your child. They participated in the work it took to make the play space a reality—no matter how small of a contribution it was—and they now have something to enjoy and take care of as a result. This is an excellent opportunity to encourage your children and allow their imagination to run wild. If you take their ideas seriously and walk through the logic of them being implemented, you’re creating a type of discussion that will influence the rest of their problem-solving interactions in the future.
Making a Plan of Action
Here’s where things get going. Once you’ve committed to a project, you need to know what resources will get it done. Ask yourself if there are aspects of the project that you can DIY to save time and money. If you’re looking towards more major changes to your home, it’s best that you call in a professional contractor to make sure that the quality of the work is sustainable and safe for your family.
Consider what “extras” you might want for the space, indoors or out. Decor, built-in electronics, and single-use items can add up fast in a budget, and certain structures might see faster wear and tear if they’re not properly mounted or weatherproofed. With building and shipping seeing natural delays due to the pandemic, it’s important that your timeline remains flexible to the market.
It’s important to know what you want out of this space, as well as what your family needs. Perhaps your child responds best in sensory-friendly environments or in a space where a support animal can also interact. Maybe you’re looking to make things high-tech, or avoid lights and sounds all together. Ask yourself if you’ll need to accommodate other adults in the space such as specialists or homeschool teachers. If you want to build life skills through play, consider adding a theme to things for your little ones. Grocery store, movie theater, and restaurant-styled spaces all encourage your child to learn item exchange, social interaction, and responsibility.
Knowing What You Can Afford
Whether you’ve decided to embark on a minor project, save over time, or find more rapid access to funds through a home equity loan, there really is an option for everyone. Your budget should be multi-tiered depending on who’s doing the work. Designers, contractors, and specialty installers can all come with their own quotes and there’s a good chance that you’ll be spending extra on things like:
- Safety features
- Wall mounts
- Foundation laying
- Storage customization
- The overarching durability of your items
- Contingency factors (i.e. remodeling an older house can uncover hidden issues)
In Summary: Finishing Touches
One of the most important things you can do to promote a playful space for your child is to make the space inviting and show a vested interest in it. Remember that your actions will be modeled in your children, so if you’re hanging from a monkey bar, they’ll want to try it, too. You are the greatest contributor to your child’s sense of play, so make the most of it!