Jul 22 2015

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How to Help your Child Play: Space

Play space bunk bed

Play space

In order to play well, children need time, space, and materials. This is part of a series about play. You can read the intro, here. If you want to read about time, I wrote about it here.

Space for play. We think it has to be large, but it doesn’t. Not always. Space can be small. We think the space has to be complicated and expensive. It doesn’t. Play space can be simple and as inexpensive as the backyard you already have.

A few things about space:

  • Space provides parameters.
  • Space allows for planning and laying out plans for creating and development.
  • Play space can be outdoors and indoors.
  • The area for play does not have to be permanently dedicated to play but can be an improptu play space (Like turning a livingroom into a blanket and sheet fort).

A different way to use a bunk bed

One of the choices we made for both the boys and girls’ rooms is to use the bottom bunk as a play space. The floor had always been a place of contention for us. As a mom, I want the floor to be cleared. The kids wanted to have a place to leave their creations for the next time they were going to play. Can you see the conflict? So, we put the mattress on the floor and covered the bottom board with fabric. The deal is this: anything on the bottom bunk board can stay. Build and put it on the board–the board counted as “away.” Brilliant. Everyone is content with the arrangement. (I did this first in the girls’ room. Because Babycakes was still using a toddler bed, and it didn’t make a difference if she were on the bottom bunk or had the mattress on the floor. My Bear decided he wanted to have his mattress on the floor so he could use the bottom bunk for building. The title picture is Bear’s Lego building lair. He is very proud of his current EV3 project: robot race car. I tease him that we are on summer break and learning is for the school year. He smiles. We both know. He is playing. He is learning. And there is no distinction.)

It’s difficult to get into space without also mentioning materials, but we will get to that next week. The space isn’t empty, but it doesn’t need to be crammed full either. Depending on the age of the child and the child’s interest, a closet can be the perfect size. Or, an entire back yard fits the need. Variety and adaptability help build and maintain interest for play.

Here are some pictures of some of our own play spaces (most of these are not dedicated play areas):

Play steps

She is at the bottom of the steps with an interesting toy. The steps provide a great surface. And, when she is ready, a place to climb.

The table becomes a tea party. This took planning and transporting supplies to the perfect location.

Play Lego

Bear organized his Legos before he started. He could stay in this space for hours (days) building.

Water play

Water play provides many different play experiences. Here, she is figuring out how to float–independently and because she wants to.

Play materials near

Having a bin of interesting toys within reach, she didn’t move from her spot because the space had everything she needed.

Play purple fudge

What can “big kids” do at a park with an amphitheater? Play purple fudge. (They told me it was a drama game.)

Kitchen play outside

It’s an outdoor makeshift kitchen. Provide the materials and space, and play begins.

Versatile outside space

This is a dedicated play space, but the space is not limiting. Clothes pins and sheets are turning this into a…do you know what it will be?

Indoor movable kitchen

It’s another kitchen. Notice how the bin becomes a working surface to play.


Space is necessary for play. It doesn’t have to be large. It doesn’t have to be a dedicated play space. Different play spaces provide different play experiences.

Next week, I will discuss materials.

Have you given your child space to play?

What at have you noticed about the space your child chooses to play? What ways can you accommodate your child’s need for space to play?











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