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Today we are talking about improving our children’s play spaces. Firstly, before we start, I just wanted to mention what a wonderful sense of community I have been feeling from you these last couple of days. I also wanted to say that please don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to get each task done each day; keep chipping away at them a little each day, make plans to work on different tasks at times you have available. We’ve got plenty of time left.
Now. On to today. In order for us to improve a space we really need to think about what space we have available at the moment and how we can make best use of that space. Do your children have a dedicated play room? Maybe the bulk of their toys are in their bedrooms. Or maybe like us, you use a small space connected to your main living area. Embrace what space you have and work towards making that space an inviting area for your children to play.
Loris Malaguzzi (the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach) talks of environments which speak and ones which are silent. An environment which speaks sees and reflects the child as an active and productive person. An environment which is silent seems void of life with no real sense of who plays there.
How do you feel about your children’s play areas? Does it speak? Or is it silent?
- Do you feel comforted in this space?
- Does the style of this room reflect your own style?
- Does this space allow your children to be themselves?
- If they like to sit quietly and read, does it allow for this?
- If they prefer to build sprawling Lego cities across the floor, does it allow for this?
- Do they prefer to tinker and create? Just like the explorations and activities that we create for our children, their play areas should also reflect their own individual play styles and interests.
- Does the space encourage our children to play independently? Can they easily see and reach everything and does it allow them to tidy up afterwards by themselves or do they need to ask for help?
I remember reading an interview with one of the founding Reggio Emilia teachers where she was commenting on the interesting way Western educators designed their early childhood rooms. She found it baffling that you could visit a preschool on one side of a country and another on the other and find an almost identical set-up; as if they had both shopped from the same catalogue.
What she was saying was that our children are individuals, are families are unique, our community and the culture we live in are unique and so why do the spaces we create for our children all look the same? Instead we should be working towards creating a dynamic space which holds the presence of the people who live and play within it.
How does your child play? If your play area isn’t being used in the way you would like, knowing how your child plays will help you to make changes which will make the space more inviting to your child.
- Do they play big? Do they like to completely take over an area? Clear the room of any large pieces of furniture like tables and chairs and create a large floor space which allows them to do this
- Do they prefer to tinker and draw like Jack does? Then maybe you’ll need to bring a table and chairs in for them to sit at while they are creating
- Do they like to build? Dedicate a space like a shelf or side table for them to place ‘works in progress’ creations
- Do they enjoy dressing up? Make a hanging space with a mirror to display the dress-ups in an inviting way
What really matters is that the space reflects your children.
Just a quick note on arranging your toys. As you work through your sorting think about each toy or material as you place it back on the shelf:
- try to keep some space around each toy or material – you don’t want too much on the shelves
- try not to put toys behind other toys on the shelf – this makes it more difficult for your child to see the toys
- keep the corners of the rooms or some wall space clear – try to keep the room looking light and open
- separate all your small toys and arrange them in baskets or containers – most of our baskets were bought from charity stores
- bring some warmth into the room by displaying some photos of your children playing and some framed artworks – little narratives of your family
- bring in some living plants
- choose toys which reflect your child’s current interests
Think about how your child plays and make changes to their play area which will support this play