Jul 22 2015

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How to Help your Child Play: Space

Play space bunk bed

Play space

You are not your child’s entertainment system, but you can give your child the gift of play by facilitating play. To facilitate play, give your child time, space, and materials.

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 considerations 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 impromptu play space (Like turning a livingroom into a blanket and sheet fort).

A different way to use a bunk bed

At one point, we chose to use the bottom bunk (in both of our kids’ rooms) as a play space. The floor was a place of contention for us. As a mom, I wanted the floor to be cleared (when they weren’t playing). 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 bottom mattress on the floor and covered the bottom board with fabric. The deal was this: anything on the bottom bunk board can stay. Build and put it on the board–the board counted as “away.” (This was a clear boundary.) Everyone won with the arrangement.

The girls’ room with play space

I tackled the girls’ room first. Because Babycakes was still using a toddler bed, and it didn’t matter iif she was on the bottom bunk or had the mattress on the floor. The bottom bunk provided both a place to sit or a raised surface for play.

The boys’ room with play space

My Bear decided he wanted to have his mattress on the floor so he could use the bottom bunk for building. The title picture was Bear’s Lego building lair. He felt proud of his EV3 project: robot race car. At the time, I teased him that we were on summer break and learning is for the school year. He smiled. We both knew. He was playing. He was learning. And there is no distinction—except self-directed play puts learning into high gear.


It’s difficult to get into space without also mentioning materials, you can read about it here. 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 interests, a closet can be the perfect size. Or, an entire back yard. 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

Bottom of the steps

She sat at the bottom of the steps with an interesting toy. The steps provided a solid surface. And, when she was ready, a place to climb.

A table

This table became the location for a tea party. This took planning and transporting supplies to the perfect place. Notice the arms of the chairs were seats for the smaller guests.

Play Lego

Bedroom floor

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

Water play

Pool of water

Water play provides a variety of play experiences. Here, she was testing out how to float–independently and because she wanted to figure it out.

Play materials near

Bin full of material

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

A stage

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

Kitchen play outside

Backyard bench

They turned a bench into an outdoor makeshift kitchen.

If we parents provide our children time, space, and materials, play begins naturally.

Versatile outside space

Dedicated, open-ended play space

This was a dedicated play space, but not limiting. Clothes pins and sheets outfitted this space for creativity and imagination. What do you think they were making this space into?

Indoor movable kitchen

Livingroom foyer

Yet another kitchen. Notice how the bin became a working surface to play.

Outside Play

Balanced and Barefoot (affiliate link) is a book about the importance of play, especially play outside. Nature provides a variety of place spaces, but it allows for unique play experiences. You never know what new adventure awaits outside. It could be finding a caterpillar or climbing a tree.


  • 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.

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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