How To: Design a Space for Playful Learning

Mariah's February Jumpstart Project 2009

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Title: Design a Space for Playful Learning
Name: Mariah
Time: One Weekend
Cost: $10-$200 dollars depending on the shelving, number of baskets and materials you have at home.

Mariah started this project with the aim of encouraging meaningful, open-ended play. Click above for pics, below for the how-to and be sure to give Mariah a THUMBS UP if you find this project helpful....

Tools:
* Baskets of all shapes and sizes * Ivory card stock * Clear contact paper * Ribbon * Hole punch * Glue

Steps:
The overall goal was to reorganize my daughters’ toys and supplies so that they were easily accessible to them and encouraged meaningful, open-ended play. I applied basic principles of good classroom design and created distinct areas within the same room. I reorganized the activity shelf, supply baskets, writing center and library.

Activity Shelf - I wanted all of the girls’ favorite activities to be within their reach and easy to take out and put away. Attractively displaying the activities helped to draw the girls to games they have not used in a long time. I also provided everything they need together within one basket – for example the “chalk board” basket has two small chalkboards, chalk and erasers. I also plan on rotating the activities and games on this shelf every month or so to encourage interaction with different activities and to keep the room fresh for the girls. I am always amazed at how old toys take on new life when neatly organized and arranged in an appealing manner.

Supply Baskets – I created a few supply baskets in the room to encourage different learning experiences. Again, I tried to make all necessary materials available, and clearly visible to the girls, for any given project. The writing caddy has turned out to be an essential part of our household. I used a utensil caddy so that it can be easily carried around the house or outside for impromptu observational drawings or art projects. I included some inspirational art books with the art supplies to convey the message that books can be used as resources in many different ways. The “Bird Watching” basket is a wonderful example of how room design can encourage learning experiences that may not ordinarily take place. A couple of days after I put it together and left it out, I came upstairs after exercising in the basement. My oldest daughter had the whole basket in her hand and said, “Hi Mom. We were just looking for birds upstairs. Ella saw a cardinal and I saw a Morning Dove. Do you want to see our drawings?”

Writing Center – I wanted to create a space that invites impromptu writing experiences for the girls. By having an area dedicated to providing writing tools, they can independently write lists, letters stories or books anytime they want. By having a variety of writing papers (story, list, letter) available, they build writing skills through authentic and engaging writing experiences.

Library – I involved the girls in the reorganization of our library. I asked them to sort through their books and decide what kinds of baskets we should make for them. They came up with the categories of: seasonal (we will rotate these books each season), people & feelings, alphabet & numbers and science. We also put together book baskets with other categories for different rooms in the house. Involving them in this process has given them a new sense of ownership over their books. Not only do they know where to find the books they are looking for, they also know where to put them when they are finished. I finished the project by clearly labeling everything in order to foster independent interaction with the materials. I printed the names of the activities, books and materials within each basket on ivory card stock. After cutting the labels to the correct size, I covered both sides with clear contact paper and trimmed the edges. Next, I punched two holes at the top of the labels and tied them to the baskets with ribbon. I put a dab of glue on the knot of each bow so that they would not come undone.

Sources:
Baskets from Pier 1 - Wire Shelves from Home Depot - Playful Learning Activities & Materials

Give Mariah a THUMBS UP if you find this project helpful....

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Janel Laban is the Executive Editor of Apartment Therapy and has been working here, at the dreamiest of dream jobs, since March 2006.