Play is the work of the child! Therefore, as much as it would be important to provide a home office to accommodate the work of adults, it is just as important to have a designated space to facilitate the development of our child. Play is not just a process that impacts upon children’s cognitive assimilation of concepts, but reaches deep within their inner world to develop their social, emotional and psychological domains, as well as greatly nourishing their souls. The environment greatly impacts upon their ability to engage in meaningful, independent activity and predicts the quality of their play.

‘The environment must be rich in motives, which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.’ Dr. Maria Montessori

The play spaces that we carefully construct for our little ones can promote satisfying periods of play or unknowingly be hindering it.

What do children really need to develop well in the early years?

Contrary to some beliefs about small children, they are born explorers, with an incredible ability to focus and concentrate. There are ways to encourage these inbuilt traits. Children don’t need entertainment they need a set environment where they can experience the satisfaction of cycles of play and become inspired independent players.

The foundations of a play space are:

1. Choose a designated space and make it safe

A safe play space not only keeps them safe from the many dangers of a typical household, especially through toddlerhood when they keenly explore anything and everything within their reach, but it also provides them with great freedom. Within a safe play space they are free to explore everything on offer without the need for limits or interruptions from their loving adults, which can allow for opportunities to promote and extend their concentration. Make this play space in an area that is in close proximity to primary caregivers. Young children can feel comfortable to settle into play when their caregivers are near!

(kidsafe is a great resource)

2. Set it up from the child’s perspective

Our little ones spend much of their early lives surrounded by big people and big things. Getting onto their level when designing their space is worthwhile, so you can see it from their perspective. By providing low shelves and child-sized furniture, not only allows them easy access, it also provides opportunities for them to pull up and do things for themselves (fitting in toddlerhood ‘me do it!’). This so vital as in toddlerhood children are craving opportunities for appropriate autonomy. Providing images displayed at their eye level and appropriate décor can create a feeling of warmth and invitation. A playmat and soft cushioned area can create that homely feel too! It is not necessary to bombard the child’s senses with every colour, shape, number and letter in the alphabet in order for learning to occur. In fact, neutral and natural tones are not only calming, they can be complimentary to the aesthetics of the family home.

3. Less is more!

One of the main reasons children find it hard to get into a pattern of independent play is because they don’t know where to start. Studies have found a child with more toys will trade from toy to toy more often, whereas a child with only a few toys will spend longer with one toy (along with their play lasting longer). Therefore, we recommend having only up to 8 items available to toddler age children and even less in infancy, with the remainder stored in categories for rotation. We also suggest less books displayed in a forward-facing basket or bookshelf to invite focus and positive engagement.

4. Simplify Display

Displaying play objects in small open baskets or trays where the child can see, decide and access for themselves what they wish to engage with promotes self-directed play, which in turn promotes internally satisfied and therefore internally motivated children. This presentation also compartmentalises objects which supports motivation to begin play, whereas a large toy chest that gets emptied each day can distract and overwhelm the child.

5. Provide objects to meet play urges

In the early years children repeat a number of play urges that they wish to master and become more complex as they grow. We want to provide play objects that allow these desires to be met, with many of them met with open ended toys. The main urges they have include:

To move: provide opportunities for gross motor movement such as climbing

To transfer: provide little baskets with handles, pushcarts, bowls, loose play parts for them to transport items

To throw: provide soft balls

To build up and pull down: provide construction type items

To enclose: provide silk scarves and items to wrap, posting type toys such as a box with a hole and a ball

To mimic: provide opportunities to mimic adult life such as kitchen play, child-sizes dustpan and brush etc, baby doll play

6. Provide a range of materials not just plastic

Wood

Stainless steel

Various textures- smooth, soft, ridges, fluffy

7. Simplify concepts in toys presented

Many commercially sold toys target multiple concepts in one and this can overload young children, it is best to simplify the offering we present to the child, for example offer 1 to 3 small neutral coloured rings on a stacking toy rather than 10 with various colours and size

8. Provide passive toys to promote active little ones!

Most importantly, remember to provide objects that the child is the master of, rather than the other way around. We want them to entertain themselves as opposed to toys entertaining them (think singing, flashing toys…)

The ideas shared in this article are of a general nature and precaution must be taken to your child’s own age and development in regard to providing safe play objects.


Any more questions related to children’s various play urges, how to support natural development and set up beautiful play spaces and homes contact Mandy raiseearlyyears.com or visit us on Facebook or Instagram @raiseearlyyears to find out more about our ‘Natural Play online support forum’ and ‘Toy sort & set’ services.