By Leanne Heilman, Editor, Blogger, Rave and Review
When I was young, not one of my friends had a “play room”. Instead, our bedrooms were our domains and we stuffed them with toys, games, posters and memorabilia accordingly. Since then, the play room has become the new house must-have and designated rooms for toys and games are popping up in a number of friend’s houses around town.
At first, I was very drawn to the idea of a play room and all that it promised – a toy-free living room! Peace and quiet while the children play! And then, to the horror of my new mom’s group, hubby and I opted not to create one in our house plan. It’s not that we didn’t have the space – in fact, we currently have an empty room that one day is going to be my craft room – it’s just that the play room layout simply did not work for us and our lifestyle, at least not right now.
The thought of corralling all baby’s pink, pink (and more pink) plastic atrocities into one (hopefully shut tight) room in the house is certainly appealing. No more apologizing that a slightly hideous play kitchen is now occupying my favorite room in the house, and no more noisy and annoying toys making up the soundtrack of our home. I’ll admit it, there’s a lot to love about play rooms.
But then the reality of creating a space for a toddler really set in. Certainly I wasn’t going to let her loose in the play room alone, shutting the door behind me and going about my grownup business while she played. And if that’s not an option, that means I’m sitting in a play room all day long. Now, there’s something to be said about this scenario in terms of quality play time with kids and no outside distractions, but this clearly is not a permanent solution or every day plan for any mom that has anything at all on her personal schedule.
Thus the play room was out, at least for the time being, and instead we set about to bring a little play into every room in the house. We found that a little creativity went a long way in including baby-friendly areas in very grownup rooms, and the result was a much more flexible and parent-friendly solution to spending as much time as possible with our daughter.
We started our plan in the main living areas, carving out little spaces for play and making those areas as appealing as possible. While still a work in progress, the plan below outlines a few of the changes made to invite play into the every day:
Our first task was to convert an under the stairs closet in our living room into a child haven by adding a little paint and pizzazz. The boat-like shape of the closet was our inspiration and we called in an artfully inclined sister to help us paint it up to look like a pirate ship on the sea, complete with a water horizon and tropical island in the distance that is just begging for imaginations to run wild. We added a light, a flag and a soft sided treasure chest with a few pirate themed toys and dress up kits and the “Scrog Pit” was ready for play. With just a little bit of extra work we turned this semi-useless little closet into the favorite “room” of the house for all our little visitors and really maximized the potential of our living space. The kids like that they can go inside and shut the door for privacy and I love that even with the door shut they are completely safe, as I am never more than a few feet away. The loud sounds of play and the mess are fully contained within the closet and my living room stays intact, enabling me to work, entertain friends or merely cook dinner while they play. The best part about it is that when the closet is shut it looks like any other door, but when you open it up, the painted mural has a glowing effect that is nearly impossible to resist, even as an adult.
Then to really bring some creative fun in the kitchen, we added a kid’s play kitchen to the space so that we could talk and interact while we cook, clean and create together. While the plastic play kitchen leaves a lot to be desired in terms of style and sophistication, we have big plans to design a wood play kitchen that will sit right beside our cabinets and be stained to match, becoming more like an extension of our current kitchen plan and something that we won’t mind keeping around for years and years to come. Hubby even has plans to make the oven the size of our cookie cooling racks so we can put our baked goods in the play oven to cool and really include our kids in the cooking process.
When the main living areas were finished we set about the final step in our Life Without a Play Room plan and added some parent space into the nursery. Since the nursery is already fully baby proofed and stuffed with toys, it made sense to us to add a place where we could sit and play, work from home, or blog while keeping an eye out. We ended up finding a toy box that could be used as a seat for us and then used a lap desk to create a mini office. So far it has worked out perfectly in that we can carry our work station around the house into whatever room we were playing in and still get our work done while supervising.
Since the plan has shaped up and the play spaces have really come to life, we couldn’t be happier about our decision to cut out the play room. The end result has been a house that really is for all of us and encourages as much play and interaction as possible. We feel safer knowing the kids are close by at all times and they seem happier being part of the action and not sequestered into a back room. Besides being safe and enjoyable for both kids and adults, the huge added benefit of multiple play areas means that if the attention does wane, we can move the play to another area and reignite the play again.
So, have we written off play rooms for good? Absolutely not. Instead, we are going to continually re-evaluate the needs of our family and keep creating better ways for us to all share the house… even if that means giving up my craft room.