Finding the balance between letting kids just be kids and making sure they are learning everything they need to is a never-ending quest for most parents. It is possible, however, to design a playspace that fits both bills. Keeping your child’s own interests and individuality in mind, here are several rules of thumb to follow when creating an educational playspace at home.
Less is more. Kids can easily go into overwhelm if every single toy they own is underfoot at all times, diminishing their ability to enjoy, or interact, with any toy on its own. To avoid this kind of overload, rotate your child’s toys. This will provide the feeling of delight that comes from rediscovering favorites, as well as keeping the need to constantly buy new things at bay.
Choose wisely. Not every toy that makes the best-seller list is worth the bang for its educational buck. When deciding what types of toys to bring into your home, go for high-quality, well-made items that sync up with your child’s developmental stage. Other considerations include:
- Look for toys that stimulate fine-motor function as well as brain power. For young children, opt for interesting tactile features, such as textures ranging from coarse to soft. For older kids, look for how-to kits that match their interests, such as needlework or model building.
- Keep in mind that children often explore toys with their mouths. Opt for natural substances, such as wood or hemp as much as possible, and keep plastics to a minimum.
- Don’t skimp on books. Reading materials of all kinds help kids acquire early language skills and help to jump-start their imagination.
Stimulate their senses. An educational playspace requires more than just toys. Make music part of the mix, allowing kids to both listen to their favorite songs and also make music, with instruments and everyday objects. Music also provides an opportunity for kids to dance, move and explore their physical selves as well as just have fun.
Fold nature into the mix. All kids need outdoor time, but bringing the natural world indoors can also provide an educational plus. If your playspace has a window that looks out onto a natural scene, support your child to enjoy the experience by following the seasons and recording what they see, hear and smell in pictures, poems or clay. You can also create a windowsill terrarium or include a fish tank, turtle or guinea pig tank in their playspace.
Lose the screens. Making your child’s playspace a screen-free zone can support the free reign of their own imagination by giving them room to fill in the blanks with creativity. Boredom is not a dirty word. Computers and other electronics are immediate gratification fulfillers. By removing these, at least some of the time, children are more apt to rely on their own devices to cure boredom and learn new lessons in the process.
Harness the power of an empty box. Interactive spaces that kids can fill up with their own ideas and imaginings can supply hours of creative, educational time. For some children, blank paper and crayons will be all it takes to transport them to a world of their own. For others, bits and pieces of fabric they can fashion into costumes will fit the bill. Empty boxes may become stages, houses or hiding places.
Teach sharing. As much as your child may need alone time to explore and fully experience their playspace, don’t forget that children also need other children in order to develop and grow. Have your child invite friends over often so they can acquire socialization skills and learn how to share.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.