Creating Space for Play: the basics
A question that often comes up when chatting to mamas of little ones is:
how do encourage my children to play independently, without constantly entertaining them?
Children who play happily for short periods of time, and longer as they grow, enable pockets of “breathing space” for us mamas. Additionally studies repeatedly show that free play builds resilient children who are able to deal with the ups and downs of life.
It’s something I’ve noticed a lot since becoming a mama – the struggle mamas have to get their children to play without the help of media and constant adult engagement.
One simple way we can help our children, is to create play spaces that support healthy play.
There are many other things that we can look at that affect our children’s ability to play, including the purposeful work of the adults in our children’s life, our children’s media exposure & the rhythm of their days, and our own emotional wellbeing. Today we will simply look at making a physical space for play.
So are you ready to make space for play in your home?
I want to share an image to hold in mind as we talk about creating a play space……..A child experiences the world through their body and absorbs all their surroundings as sense impressions, unable to judge or filter them. Each and every sense impression shapes our children’s physical growth and development, as well as how each neural circuits of the brain are wired.
So let’s get the basics sorted
Open Ended Toys
Without a doubt the best toys for our children are those which we can call “open ended toys”. These are toys that lend themselves to our child’s desire to imitate (the world & adults around them) and as they get older, their ability to imagine. Examples of open ended toys are such things as wooden blocks, seed pods, pebbles, bowls, pots, cloths and balls to name a few.
A bag of differently shaped wooden blocks may be used to create a house, bridge, telephone, magic wand etc. A shell, may be a plate for a fairy or some coins when playing shops.
Sourcing Open Ended Toys
Op shops and garage sales are the perfect starting point. Two wonderful online (Australian) shops are Honeybee Toys and Dragonfly Toys. ETSY also has some beautiful handcrafted affordable toys.
Making simple toys yourself is a beautiful way to slow down and tap into your inner child, and at the same time giving your child a sustainable mindfully made gift infused with love. Wool felt animals, simple dolls, small pieces of knitting and sanded pieces of wood are always much loved by children.
A note on Natural Materials
Take a moment to think how you feel when you hold something made out of wood, wool or clay. Now compare this to how you feel when you touch things made from plastic or silicon. Wood warms with the heat of the body and this in itself gives our child a sense experience. A doll made made from natural cotton or wool takes on the smells of the home and of your child. It is comforting in a soulful way. Add to this the sustainability of natural materials which may go back to the earth.
Keep it Minimal & Mindful
You may have heard me speak about de-cluttering and how our physical space can energetically support our mindset. Well the same goes for our children’s play space. Keep it minimal, aesthetically pleasing and ensure that everything has a home.
When something new comes in, make sure that something else goes away. Ensuring the consistency of the basic ‘toys’ I’ve mentioned above.
The way WE care for the toys speaks a thousand words to our children. Think about how your child would experience your movements & actions. Do you pick things up carefully or are your movement hurried, are you gentle when picking up the dolls and animals? Do you place things down with intention or toss them into a basket? We have a wonderful opportunity in every single moment to be mindful & share this gift with our children.
My favourite toys for children:
I passionately feel that all children (even boys) should have a doll. Dolls teach our children about love, nurture and friendship. It is through the play with dolls that our children can act out their own day and sort through their own emotional experiences.
You may notice that some of the dolls I make (if you follow me over on instagram) don’t have detailed faces. This allows our dolls to be a true archetypal image, giving our children the ability to live in their own imagination with the doll – it can be sleeping, awake, happy or sad. Together with some clothes, pegs, baskets and cloths – a doll is hours of nourishing play for any child.
Can you ever have enough baskets? I love using baskets in place of plastic containers and they are perfect way to give everything a home in your child’s play space. Fill them with items such as shells, wooden blocks, bean bags and balls to name a few. Make sure you have a few empty perhaps with a handle as children simply love collecting things and carrying them around.
Wooden & felt animals
Animals are an important part of childhood and our child’s play. The simpler the better, so look around for what speaks to you. There are some beautiful handmade wooden animals on ETSY as well as my favourite Ostheimer wooden toys. Wooden arches or fences also make a lovely addition.
Wooden blocks are the kind of toy you will have forever. I remember my girls using these when they were teething and only last night did they both tip out the wooden blocks and begin building (they are 6 & 4 years). They can also be used in story telling to create bridges and homes.
Coloured Cloths or Silks
If you don’t have a basket of coloured clothes for your children, get yourself some! Seriously I think this is the one basket that is played with e v e r y . s i n g l e . d a y. You can buy cotton muslin from spotlight (an Australia craft store) very cheaply and can dye it yourself. If this isn’t your thing – there are many places online that sell beautiful “play cloths” for children. My girls use coloured clothes for everything – dressing up, blankets for the dolls, playing horses, and they are perfect for when the girls set up stories (as grass or water).
Pots, Pans & Bowls
Again the local op/ thrift shop is the perfect place for collecting little pots, pans and wooden bowls. Together with seed pods, shells and stones (depending on the age of your children). These are also great for sand play outside. A tea set is a lovely birthday gift for a child turning 2/3 years.
Kitchen Sinks, Stoves, Fridges?
My feelings on this are to be selective and minimal. I would say the more specific you get, the less open that ‘toy’ is for your child. Something simple that ‘suggests’ a kitchen sink or oven is a wonderful archetypal image for our children – especially as meal times are such an important part of daily life and is (hopefully) one homemaking role that most children these days experience and are hence able to imitate in their play.
Outside Play spaces
An outside play space such as a sand pit with some simple toys of second hand wooden bowls, spoons and pots is also a wonderful addition and brings hours of free play.
As with anything, consider what is age appropriate for your child. Gum nuts and other small seeds from nature are for older child, who have stopped putting everything in their mouth!
I’d love to know your children’s most played with toys?
If you give any of these ideas a try please share your experience on instagram tagging #mindfulmamalove.
Hi I’m Natalie,
I teach mothers to hand-sew treasures for a magical childhood while delighting their own creative spirit!
My ebook Magical Birthdays for Children: A guide to creating wholehearted & mindful celebrations has offered inspiration & creativity to thousands of parents around the world.