Lily is 18-months-old and had begun to tire of her slew of store bought baby toys and her parents were at a loss at how to encourage her to engage and play for longer periods. They also wanted to create a play space that she could grow with and that was easy to organize and keep clean. They reached out for ideas/help, and here we are today – with a finished interior play space and an outside play space still to come. Below are most of the updates and changes we made:
Decisions decisions…. It’s always fun choosing materials in the lead up to a play space makeover. 🙂 These are all thrifted bowls, baskets, and tins that I will use for open shelving storage. Note: 1) they are all beautiful and unique, 2) they don’t match, 3) they are neutral calming colors.
When you think sandbox, what comes to mind is probably some kind wooden framed box filled with sand and toys like buckets + spades, maybe some cars, sand moulds, and other things you get in those sand toy multi-packs.
These classics are fun and I don’t doubt kids love them, but it’s so easy to take your sandbox to the next level and really create a fantastic open-ended play space with multiple play invitations for your kids. Here’s some ideas how:
- Look after your sandbox! Your outdoor place spaces should be treated with the same love and respect as your indoor ones. The sand should be raked and watered (if very hot/dry) so it stays fresh and inviting – no one wants to play in a dry dirty desert scape.
- Find a way to store all your toys and materials when your kids aren’t playing in the sandbox. This will help things to last longer and it keeps your outdoor play space looking nice too.
- Old pots, pans, and other baking supplies are fabulous tools/toys to encourage lots of cooking and potion making. Just like the toys you have inside, the less plastic closed-ended toys = the better and more engaged the play.
- Replace your plastic shovels with real metal ones!
- Get serious about your truck play and use vehicles that can actually dig and move the sand.
- Think about adding some toys like animal figurines to encourage small world play.
- Add an old mirror (if your sandbox is next to a fence) for added dimension.
- Rocks are awesome! One side of ours sandbox is entirely covered in rocks of different sizes. These are not only used in the sandbox, but also as an added element to my kids’ play arcs (in and out of the sandbox).
- Loose parts – we have baskets of loose parts around our outdoor play space with things like tubing, ropes, yard flamingoes, tools, safety cones bricks etc.
- Water! If you have water restrictions, even just a little water added to the sand play can enhance the play. If you don’t have water restrictions, don’t be afraid to go all out. In the photos above my boys had the sprinkler going on the sandbox at a very low level. This completely changed the play and was the most compelling play initiation ever. Both my five and one-year-old didn’t want the play to ever stop!
- Create a platform next to your sandbox which your kids can use as a building surface, staging area, or even just a place to sit (we built a triangular one onto the side of our wooden box frame and have storage underneath it).
Sometimes people hire me for mostly organizational reasons, and this was one of those times. Kate’s mum wanted to work together to get Kate’s play space and bedroom reclaimed from the piles and piles of toys, books, and art materials. There was no need to buy extra storage of materials because she had everything she needed. She just wanted help and motivation to get it done.
This was a day’s work together. We started downstairs and worked our way up. It was a matter of:
- pulling everything out
- sorting between throw away, donate, store, and use
- cleaning all surfaces
- putting things backs in an organized manner (we probably put back about 1/4 of what was originally there).
The end result* – cleaner more organized play spaces with obvious invitations to play, and a system that should make clean-up a breeze!
*There are still a few little extras things to finish up including a mirror over the little tables in her bedroom. We’ll also be tackling Kate’s brothers room in the near future.
Lego storage. So often it’s just a bucket filled with a jumble of assorted pieces from sets long disassembled. This however doesn’t work for me or my Lego loving five-year-old. He has big plans and knows the pieces he wants. Finding that tiny piece in a bucket with hundreds of others is next to impossible and causes frustration, upset, and usually disinterest in the Lego itself. It’s also not much of an invitation to play in the first place.
Does it take time to set up? Yes. Does it require my help at times to keep it managed. Yes. But it has changed the way he plays in such a huge positive way. He’s more autonomous and creative. There is less frustration. And he has taken more ownership of the space and works hard himself to keep it organized and clean. So was it worth the time and effort. Heck yes!
***Gorgeous photo from a recent session we had with the insanely talented Juliette Fradin.
What are they? Plastic bottles filled with colored water and (in this case) glitter, with the lids super glued closed.
What are they for? Whatever your child wants to do with them. They are great ‘heavy work’ for kids who need that extra sensory input – moving them around from place to place. They are beautiful when the sun hits them. Use them as potions in dramatic play. Pillars in the sandbox when building a castle. Sauces for the mud kitchen.
They are a wonderful open-ended material/toy that is practically free to make. Opt for attractive bottles vs your average plastic soda bottle (I used Califia Farms milk bottles for these ones). Think of your environment as the third teacher – you want what’s in it (inside and out) to be visually appealing so it draws your child in to play!
*Thanks to my son’s preschool for teaching me all about them. 🙂
Lia’s play space is large and had minimal toys but needed organization, more defined spaces, and more open-ended materials to play with. Her mums also wanted a table and chair(s) for her to play and work at. Budget was a factor, but thankfully they had a lot to work with and everything else I needed could be thrifted or made.