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A Space to Grow: Adjusting Your Kids’ Play Area for Toddlers and Tweens

Children playing in a playroom

In 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a definitive paper on the importance of play, stating, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” 

While children will often find a way to play no matter where they are, creating a play area in your home can give them a safe and designated place to let their imaginations run wild. Whether an extra bedroom, a nook under the stairs, or a portion of a shared room, a play area offers your kids a place to take risks, problem-solve, and discover new talents and interests at their own pace.

For parents, a key to keeping children engaged is to adapt the play area to their evolving needs. As your children grow and change, so should their play area. In this article, we’ll look at how you can update your kids’ play area for every stage of life.

Play By Age

The goal of any good play area is to provide a well-designed space that encourages the development of age-appropriate exploration, imagination, and learning. The specifics of the play area should change as your children grow and their play style becomes more complex and nuanced.

Here are the primary needs a play area should address at each major age milestone:

Toddlers (Ages 1 to 3)

Your energetic toddler is a learning superstar, picking up new words every week and tackling major motor skills like walking, running, jumping, and climbing. Keep the play area well padded and offer toys and games that support basic problem-solving, language acquisition, and refinement of motor skills.

Preschoolers (Ages 3 to 5)

At this age, your little one is learning to master fine motor skills, and their language skills are getting more complex. They are imagination wizards, often using play to develop social and emotional skills. At this age, children love crafts, puzzles, and simple books. 

Early School (Ages 6 to 8)

At this age, your child is able to integrate more rules and structure in their play. They have a longer attention span, allowing them to enjoy more complex games, puzzles, and crafts. Friendships are also growing in importance, and group play is in full bloom.

Pre-Teens (Ages 9 to 12)

Your pre-teen is experiencing rapid cognitive maturation and may be developing one or more passionate hobbies, like painting, photography, dance, robotics, or writing. Friendships are everything at this age, and a lot of downtime is spent in groups, developing important social connections. 

Functional and Flexible Play Area Ideas As Your Child Ages

How can you create a play area that continually adapts as your child grows and their play style changes? It starts with good design and planning. 

Here are a few of our top tips:

Create Designated Zones

Design your play area with designated zones for different kinds of play. For example, include zones for:

  • Arts and crafts.

  • Reading.

  • Sports and physical play.

  • Dramatic play/imagination.

  • Board games.

  • Homework.

These zones will make it easy for you to update different areas as your child’s preferences change.

Rotate Items on a Regular Basis

Consider rotating the items in your children’s play area. You’ll want to rotate toys, crafts, and games often for younger children who will benefit most from different types of stimulation. As your children grow, you might want to change things out once or twice a year. Upgrade books and games to more complex options. Offer more challenging crafts and building sets. Add electronics as appropriate.

Invest in Adaptable Furniture

Younger children will do best with small tables and chairs where they can work on crafts and games. As your children age, think about adding furniture that can grow with them. Buy a desk that can also serve as a table for games and building. Add group seating options, like small loveseats or poofs where friends can lounge. More blankets and pillows can keep kids comfy and be the perfect material for forts. 

Incorporate Organization From the Beginning

Play areas are meant to help kids naturally develop the skills they need to thrive as adults, such as problem-solving, creativity, patience, and self-control. As a parent, you can help guide this process. One great way to do that is to teach children to be responsible for their play area at a young age.

Add baskets, tubs, and shelves to the play area and encourage your children to put their toys, books, and games away at the end of each play session. Invite your kids to participate as you rotate items out of the play area. What do they want to keep in the space, and what do they want to move out? (Now is a good time to donate toys and games your child no longer likes.) 

Take a look at other top tips for organizing kids’ spaces.

Give Your Children More Control

Even from a young age, children begin developing strong opinions. Since a play area is meant to encourage imagination and creativity, why not invite your children to help design the area itself? Work with them to pick out decorations, figure out a good layout, and choose games, crafts, and toys. 

As your children grow older, you can cede more of the decision-making power. Once you’ve got a pre-teen on your hands, they may need little, if any, oversight in determining how to organize, decorate, and take ownership of a project that will be meaningful to them.

A Play Area That Grows With Your Child

A play area should never be a stagnant place. Instead, it should reflect your children, offering opportunities for play and adventure that meet them where they are. While toddlers need toys that inspire imagination and dramatic play, pre-teens may want sophisticated robotic kits, musical instruments, or advanced art supplies. Make an effort to review your play area on a regular basis with your family to ensure that it is keeping up with the needs of your children.

1 Comment

May 17

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