Small space living is our reality; and a good one at that! I hope to be able to show that despite what society and the media may lead us to believe, you do NOT need a mansion, a separate play room, or a million toys, for rich play experiences. Children are very adaptable, and will learn to explore and interact with whatever space is at hand.
Indoor play is influenced in part by storage solutions, choice of toys, and allowing your child to lead. Sure, we have a few ‘out of bounds’ spots – including a couple of cupboards with medicine and chemicals. However, it’s been relatively easy to develop a sense of mutual respect – all three of us going about our daily business of work and play (and play work!) within close proximity of each other.
Some may think that small space living would imply more screen time (TV, computer, iPad…), however, if anything, as we have been fairly strict on limiting screen time, believing firmly that Less is More, I think our son has just developed a habit of choosing something else to do.
This post highlights some of the ways indoor play has been facilitated over nearly 4 1/2 years living in a compact two bedroom unit with our son.
1. Interesting flooring options. We’ve found a trundle underneath the (single) bed is perfect storage for a number of floor mats for play – such as a piece of fake grass; city puzzle foam mats; letters, numbers and large foam squares; thermorest/air mattresses; throw rugs/ sarrongs/ material of different textures, bubble wrap, and a sheepskin rug. Alternatively, lying them down in layers with the options visible is also fun. The floor area underneath tables/chairs/shelving units etc should also be valued as play spaces – hideouts, train/car tracks, picnics…
2. Everyday, regular, household items. This is such an obvious, classic way to play, and the genius for small space living is the multi-use factor – Sweep the floors clean and row your pirate ship to land with the same tools!
3. Storage. It’s so important for everything to have a home, to be able to store things away easily and quickly, and for play props to be mainly out of sight when put away. We’ve loved having built in tub drawers as well as baskets in shelving to tuck things away. This way, there are regular tidying up practise opportunities, and settling at bedtime is calmer.
Having a place for items which children are not yet interested in or ready for, and designated spots for recycled loose parts, toy library/loaned items, and library books is useful too.
It’s helpful to also keep in mind what your children’s passions are at the moment and checking to see they can see or easily access resources around those play ideas in particular.
For more toy storage ideas check out these Toy Organisation Tips.
4. Keep only what is wanted and needed. The rest can be thrown out, recycled, given away to charity stores or friends, or sold. Be ruthless. We regularly (sometimes weekly) check to see what is excessive, inappropriate, broken, and never used. That includes going through ALL our ‘stuff’ – not just our son’s room. I can’t tell you how good it feels to de-clutter.
5. Hooks and handles. It’s great to make use of cupboard handles and coat hooks on the wall or door in small homes. We often use B’s wardrobe handles to display favourite dress ups. I’m not suggesting they should permanently live there, but sometimes…why not?! They look so much more inviting and ‘ready to play’! Which brings me to my next point…
6. ‘Mix things up’ often! We often joke that our home is a big, real life ‘Tetris’ game – always changing and moving things around depending on the activities of the day. We have one living room space, which becomes our lounge, dining, laundry drying areas as the need arises. Play is a constant though, meaning play spaces at our place are constantly changing. I like to think it keeps the imagination fresh;-) Yoga or circus trick space? Check. Obstacle courses? Check. Construction, art and sensory play space? Sure.
7. Cute little hideouts. Reading nooks and other spaces for quiet activities need not be overly spacious. In fact, children, being small people themselves, LOVE small spaces. They can fit where adults cannot – and how fun is that? Conveniently, they also love ‘simple’ ideas too – from open spots such as positioning a little sofa or seat so it faces a bookshelf, to more concealed hideouts like under a table, with a large sheet/tablecloth draped over top and a cushion or rug underneath to make it cosy. B has even loved helping to make his own ‘ball pit’ in his bedroom too (on more than one occasion) – which I’ve been surprised has been his place of choice to browse a few books!
8. Fridge- and other magnetic surfaces such as the washing machine! Our easy DIY Magnetic Roads have been a huge hit!
9. Walls and doors. We have a large magnetic whiteboard on the back of B’s bedroom door! Chalkboard paint would also be great, as well as felt boards. Walls are clearly also the best place for shadow puppet play too;-)
10. Windows – glass paint, shaving cream, ‘spray and wipe’ clean the windows, sun catcher art…
11. Foldable tunnels are awesome. In fact, foldable anything is awesome. We have a pop up tent we love too. Not only do they take up little space (sometimes they’ve sat on the bed for fun!)… they are perfect for little ones – right through to – well, big ones!
12. Shelving – our living room wall unit has also been the temporary home to train/car tracks, puzzles and a ‘hangar’ for aeroplanes and helicopters! Actually, whatever happens to be the obsession of the day tends to take ‘centre stage’ here.
13. Bed – what a great space for reading, picnics with soft toy friends, quiet puzzles, and – dare I say it… a mini ‘trampoline’?!! (Our little one’s bed has often featured as a fun ‘Jump and Crash‘ zone).
14. Window sill ledges – what a great, light filled play space to build with blocks; play out little scenarios with figurines, animals, trains, and cars; and to explore natural treasures collected from outdoor adventures such as rocks, sticks, tree bark and leaves… Oh! And B thought it was pretty cool balancing his whole body on our living room window ledge!
15. The portable clothes drying unit – sure, it might go away when we have visitors, but play stops for no load of washing! It becomes a bridge, a hideout, an obstacle to practise moving under and around. No big deal. In fact, I tend to think there could be more benefits having the drying unit out than if it were to be away all the time!
16. Removable stickers on the laminate covered toy drawers – so fun!
17. Balloons. Absolutely a favourite indoor play idea! Disposable, no storage space required, versatile! How many games and play ideas are there using balloons? Draw faces, puppets, decorate with stickers, balloon tennis, …
18. Dress ups– scarves, hats, puppets, masks… oh, and a mirror, of course! Small space living = imaginative play world!
19. Small worlds and sensory bins. I’m convinced that small worlds and sensory bins were created for small space living! Some of our favourites include: Beach Small World, Vanilla and Cinnamon Play dough, magic / kinetic sand, Plain Rice, Rainbow Rice, Animal Magnet and Recycled Foam, shaving foam Wild Jungle Sensory Bin, and Warm Spiced Citrus Moon Sand. We only have one large tub with a lid. It’s fun contents change regularly and the box with the lid on also makes a nice play surface!
Aside from the language and imaginative play benefits of small worlds, tactile sensory play is so good for finely tuning tactile discrimination skills; which in turn provides important sensory feedback for developing the ability to plan and organise efficient motor movements, including grasping and manipulating pencils and other ‘tools’.
20. Loose parts – Loose parts take priority in our available (limited) storage space. Recycled containers, bottles, boxes, lids, straws, rocks, blocks…
They are essential for child led play. I am in love with loose parts, and I know our son loves them too. The possibilities are endless. I have created a whole Pinterest pinboard dedicated to loose part play inspiration – feel free to follow along!
21.Bath/shower. Making bath time another play highlight of the day is easy, fun, and requires no extra space! Here are some of our Easy Toddler Bath Toys.
22. Bathroom basin. Water and messy play is a lovely sensory play idea, and needn’t be saved for Summer only! Even the smallest of places is sure to have a wash basin, so why not allow it as a play space option. Add a step/chair if required so that your child can reach, and supervise as appropriate (as always).
23. Play in everyday activities. Being an occupational therapist, this one is close to my heart. Since he was very, very young, B has loved joining in with the cooking, cleaning and laundry! Some of our favourite posts about play in everyday activities include: Fine Motor Food Preparation, 5 Ways to Learn, Play and Help in the Kitchen, and Orange Sultana Pancakes. 24. Music. Singing and dancing requires no space whatsoever! It’s a great family activity, physically active, good for the heart and good for the soul! Have you had your dose today?
25. More family time. After you’ve sung and danced yourself out…there are a whole load of play ideas that hardly require any space at all: yoga, reading, board games, lego, charades, and a plethora of symbolic play themes (Some of our recent games have included: ‘puppy families’,’mummys, daddys and babies’, ‘fire fighting’,’Frozen’, ‘Dusty Crophopper – Planes’, ‘Lightning McQueen – Cars’, ‘pirates’, ‘doctors’, ‘dinosaurs’, and ‘lions and tigers’)
This list is by no means exclusive – there are so many wonderful indoor play ideas for small space living. And while I refer to our place as ‘small’, it must be acknowledged that in many places around the world, our home would be considered very large indeed. We are very blessed.
I’d love to hear from you if your home is ‘compact’ too, or if you and yours are considering downsizing. Did you find this post useful? Feel free to leave me a comment below!
Thanks for visiting Kids Play Space! And stay tuned for the other posts coming out soon in the Small Space Living Series – ‘Outdoor Play’ and ‘Out and About’!