THE LOFT Play Zones for Organized Kid Play

Do you have a play area in your house?  Is it always a mess?
Don't worry -- everyone has this problem.  It is NOT just you mama.
Today, we are going to help you take a few steps towards sanity.  (TOY sanity at least).

Ready?  Let's enter "THE LOFT".

When we first purchased our home, we LOVED this huge open space above our living room.  It had nice wood (laminate) floors, fresh (green) paint, WONDERFUL light-filled windows on three sides and was just perfect for...

A.  A Master Bedroom
B. A Photo-studio
C. A Bedroom for ALL THREE boys
D.  A Guest Room
E.  A Playroom

Guess which option won?

With this space up a set of stairs and completely out of sight, the playroom was the obvious choice (though I DID attempt to use it for photoshoots for a short while AND it DOES double as a guest room).  For a few years, the kids had total free reign of the space.  Do you know what happens when you give total free reign to 3 little boys?  Yes, well, if you don't, let's just say you COULD NOT WALK through this giant space.  Literally.  We needed a change.  We needed zones.

We will come back to this photo, but I wanted to give you an idea of the entire space before diving into each individual zone.  The idea of the zones is simply to break up a large space into "centers" or areas where certain activities are done.  The kids can go wherever they want in the loft, whenever they want, but each zone has particular toys/supplies and they have to stay in that zone.  The result (hypothetically with perfect children) is that crayons no longer end up in the bedsheets (and subsequently in the dryer), trains no longer trip their pregnant mama going up the stairs and YOU CAN WALK across the floor.  Better, yes?

The first section or zone is the "library".  One small bookshelf, seating, our beat up STAR CHARTS, a little desk and a rug to define the space.  This little cutout of the loft was perfect for creating a semi-enclosed space for whichever kiddo decides he wants a little bit of quiet and peace (typically the cute one pictured below).

The "trick" to making a library section work for our boys is threefold.

1.  Comfy seating that is ONLY available for those hanging out in the library is a big draw for them.
2.  Adding a desk for writing and drawing makes the library a LOT more fun, but still calm.
3.  Adjacent to the library is a free play area, so they are not restrained into being calm everywhere -- just in the library.  
They have OPTIONS. (see below)

See that five letter word up there?


That was a biggie when defining the areas of the loft.  Our boys kept breaking beds by jumping, flipping and otherwise abusing them and then there was never anywhere for someone to relax and lay down in the loft when it WAS time to sleep.  The new rule?  Jumping is reserved for hotel beds (sorry hotels) and the beds can be piled high with anything SOFT, but HARD toys stay in their zones.

We have a king sized and queen sized bed in the loft that the boys can use for naps, but that we also use for guests.  To keep them in the same "zone", I laid the king bed out straight from the wall and turned the queen sideways for a "daybed".  There is just enough room to walk freely, yet the "bed zone" is clearly defined.

Moving on to the next zone:

My boys are still into trains, tracks, cars and anything that rolls.  The problem is that these toys end up EVERYWHERE and while ok most of the time, when mommy is pregnant and cannot see her feet -- they really become a hazard, so we needed a solution.  fast.  

It looks simple, but here are the basic concepts behind this little play area.

A. The trains and track table is set vertically out from the wall, defining the space clearly along with the corner of the wall.
B.  That new vinyl decal on the wall makes this space "supercool" to the kids.  They WANT to play here.
C.  The rug defines the space and the rule is that ALL rugs in the loft must be clear when playing is complete.

That rug rule applies for all three of the rugs seen in the loft. (1 cheap car rug, a $3 yard sale find and 2 $20 rugs from IKEA that define the free play and library areas).  It seems so simple, but for the kids, the understanding that the rug needs to be COMPLETELY CLEAR when they are finished playing is a big visual cue for them when taking care of their spaces.

All in all, in the loft we have six basic zones.  Here are the keys to making these types of spaces work!

A. LIBRARY - Quiet, set apart, clearly defined, just a FEW books/supplies that rotate.
B. FREE PLAY - Big box of toys, rug to define space and aid cleanup, OPEN SPACE.
C. SLEEP - An area kept clear of hard toys at all times, reserved for rest and sleep.
D. IMAGINATIVE PLAY -- Clearly set aside areas (Corners), clear activities available.
E. BLOCKS -- ONE area where they can build forts and be creative adjacent to free play.
F. TRAINS AND TRACKS -- Rolling things are clearly in one area, space defined.

I think they are happy, don't you?

One more note about creating the zones...

Though I had very clearly defined ideas about how I was going to set up the zones, the kids were part of the massive cleanup and helped to make smaller decisions about the spaces (Where should we put the desk in the library?  Which corner should the firehouse go in?)  Helping in the creation of the space gave them a lot of ownership over the space which results in a cleaner and more efficiently running space overall.

Curious about the decal?  
More details on the Shutterfly Blog about avoiding those terrible TBALL posed pictures!!

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