Create the perfect playroom

With a little planning, you can create a stimulating,fun space that will keep your little ones occupied and happy throughout the year.

Montreal’s winter season is here and children’s bicycles and soccer balls are now stored away as play time moves inside. With all the hours children have to spend hibernating in winter, it just makes sense to offer them an indoor space where they can keep busy playing, creating and relaxing. Here are some ideas for creating such a room.

Plan your space

Choosing a place in your home for a playroom will depend on the age of the children using the space. If they’re younger, you’ll want them to be near you on the main level, but if they’re a bit older, a finished room in a basement might offer them more opportunities to move around.

Lucy Malagisi, an interior designer and a mother of two boys, ages 10 and 12, suggests dividing the space into areas for specific tasks such as active play, arts and crafts, reading and more. Think of a kindergarten classroom where little ones know exactly where the dress-up corner is or where they can play with blocks. Her top picks for space planning? “You need an area where they can roll and jump around and let off some energy, which is important for a kid of any age,” Malagisi says. “You also need a place that has books or music.” Incorporate low book shelves stocked with various types of reading and activity books. “You’ll want to have a nice area where they can do creative work with paint and colouring,” she adds, so bring in a table with chairs, an easel and baskets with art supplies.

Malagisi suggests that parents include children in the planning process, as they probably have strong ideas about what they’d like to have in the room. “Consider your child’s personality and cater to that,” she notes. “If they like camping or building forts, set up a little tent, or have a dress-up area with a trunk. Sometimes they like a little stage to perform on.”

Think safety and organization

As you organize and stock the playroom, keep safety in mind. Make sure large pieces of furniture, such as bookcases cannot topple over. (Look in hardware stores for wall-mounting brackets that can be used to secure large items to the wall.) A room used by a baby or toddler should have covers on the electrical sockets. If there are blinds on the windows, ensure that the cords are cut short and tied up out of reach — they can be a strangulation hazard to little ones. For more information on safety, visit SafeKids Canada at www.safekidscanada.ca and click on Home Safety.

A well-used playroom is unlikely to stay neat and tidy for long, but you can make clean-up time easier by having good organizational tools. Caroline Mains is a teacher at the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf, and a mother of two boys ages 10 and 7. She suggests purchasing large, coloured bins and then sticking on a picture of what goes in each one. “It will encourage independence and kids will clean up their own mess,” she says. Bins are easy to find at large retail stores such as Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire and IKEA.

Mains also notes that less is more when it comes to children’s playthings. Consider a rotation system for toys, books and games by swapping different items in and out of the room every few weeks. To encourage her children to take care of their toys and to practice charity, she has her sons give away some of their old toys during the holiday season. “They don’t want to give away broken toys – they want kids to have as much fun as they did with those toys, so they take good care of their things,” she says.

Pile on the style

While a playroom is meant to be functional, it’s great if the room has a splash of style too. Malagisi suggests parents choose more neutral colours and avoid having a theme (such as Disney characters), because a child may tire of the theme within a year or two. Look for durable, easy-to-clean furniture. “I put carpeting in my playroom, but it made playing with certain toys difficult, so now I would suggest wood flooring.” If you still want a soft area to get cozy on, you can buy tiles of carpet or rugs to go on top of floors.

There is also a slew of fun products specifically for playrooms. Chalkboard and magnetic paints can transform an entire wall — you can apply them just as you would ordinary paint on a section of a wall or even on a play table or the side of a bookcase. Removable decals are also a great way to personalize a room without permanently marking the walls. Benjamin Moore carries all of these products; you can also find a wide range of wall decals at specialty shops like Mortimer Snodgrass, Zone, DeSerres and Bebe Plus.

Although your child will miss running around in the backyard playing in the summer sun, winter confinement doesn’t have to infect you and your family with cabin fever. Creating a comfortable, well-designed playroom will give your child endless opportunities to play as well as learn.