How to Create a Purposeful Play Space

We have rearranged our playroom more times than I can count, but have historically never been able to get it quite right for both kids with very different interests and ages. Until Dags introduced me to Courtney who helped us finally figure it all out in a simple but thoughtful way with only a few changes that didn’t break the bank.

The woman is a powerhouse of knowledge when it comes to kids and playing, so I asked if she would put together some of her top tips to share with you guys!

Courtney is a former Kindergarten teacher who founded founded Greenwich Play after having her own children, to help other parents create beautiful, functional spaces throughout the entire home that the whole family to enjoy.

Download her guide to creating purposeful play spaces to learn her most useful tips and tricks and her favorite materials and products to use with clients. It’s super comprehensive and I found it to be very helpful for us!

1. How do you make a family room work for both adults and kids (especially if you don’t have a dedicated playroom)? Very strategic furniture placement! I love using pieces that can function in multiple locations, and are easy to maneuver. A great example would be a little bookcase on wheels that works for kids, but looks chic in an adult room. My goal for these types of multifunctional spaces is to source items that are versatile and can literally go anywhere.

Another great trick is to break up your room by laying rugs in a way that defines the space (a larger rug for the adult area, a smaller rug (or rugs) to create a designated kids space).

Lastly, use furniture to create space within the space. For example, put a storage console on the back of a couch and you’ve automatically created separation AND toy storage. Your child will organically interact with the room based on its design – you don’t want the kids’ set up front and center in the room, but you also don’t want them stuffed in a back corner they won’t naturally gravitate toward – it’s definitely tricky and one of our clients’ top concerns.

2. Why does our playroom always look messy, even after it’s cleaned up? It’s usually one of two issues (or both): you have too much stuff or a bad organizational system. Things you can do to avoid total clutter chaos?

When choosing materials, imagine where it would live in your space, who it is for, and how it will be used. If you can see a clear benefit to having it in your play space, then it belongs. If there is any doubt, leave it out!

If you see a random piece amongst the rest of your toys, remove it! Everything in the space should have a purpose. If it doesn’t, toss it in the garbage or a “loose parts” bin.⁠

Label bins in a way your child can understand. It provides them with opportunities to be responsible for their belongings, work on problem-solving skills, and practice sorting.

Doing these three simple things really helps keep the clutter chaos to a minimum.

3. How do you store bulky toys and puzzles? Bulky toys are almost always gifts given by others. Your child loves these enormous eyesores because you would never buy them. No, but seriously, if it’s not gross motor material (trampoline, swing, climber, etc.) bulky toys should have a shelf life – literally.

Allow your child to play with it for a few days or weeks, and then it should make its way to the outside play world and/or donate it if it’s still in good shape. If it’s a bulky toy your child absolutely loves, something has to give – there isn’t space for everything, and it’s the perfect teaching moment to let your child be a part of a decision-making process.

Two items that deserve specific attention: When it comes to large trucks, I think two or three inside is great. The rest belong outside. If your child is wild about trucks, try to create a “parking garage” under a piece of storage furniture that tucks them away nicely.

The second – and if you’ve been my client, you know how much I despise this monstrosity – is the Barbie Dream House. I get it. It’s a right of passage and they are purchased and passed down for years and years for a reason. But, it is literally the size of my first studio apartment, and it takes away from other opportunities to play with different materials. If the Dream House has to stay, try to incorporate other materials that you wouldn’t ordinarily pair with it, to keep play progressing and developmentally appropriate.

Large floor puzzles are nice to keep stacked in their box in a corner, on bookshelves, or if space is really limited, you can “decant” the puzzle by putting the pieces in a bag with the picture from the box. For smaller wooden puzzles, I like stacking them in a bin. They are so hard to keep organized in general, if they’re in a bin at least pieces that fall out are contained.

4. How do you divide the space if you have multiple kids with very different interests? By kid? By toy category?  If you have multiple children, who are at different stages of play or have different interests, it can be difficult to create a room that supports everyone’s needs. I would focus on dividing the space by category (i.e. pretend play, arts and sensory, building, transportation). Within each category, it’s helpful to offer developmentally-appropriate materials to whoever is using them, in a way that is inviting and accessible.

For example, in the building area, you want Amalia to strengthen her fine motor skills by using small Lego pieces, but you don’t want Luca choking on those pieces. Storing the smaller Legos in a zipper bag that is kept with building materials makes them accessible to Amalia, but Luca can’t get into the bag. Another great way to create a space that works for multiple children is to designate small, but permanent areas for each child. It could be as simple as a shelf or a basket in the corner, but having a space that is entirely their own makes everyone feel supported by the room.